Ahlan, Arabic fans! Probably, most of you have heard of Verdi’s famous masterpiece “Opera Aida أوبــرا عــايــدة” but does anyone know the story behind that great epic opera? Well, in 1869, The Suez Canal was opened with huge celebrations by Isma’il Pasha who was the Khedive of Egypt at the time. In the same year, Isma’il Pasha ordered that the Khedivial Opera House be built in Cairo within only six months. While the construction was being carried out, Isma’il Pasha commissioned Verdi to compose an opera performance for the opening celebrations of this opera house. Isma’il Pasha paid Verdi 150.000 francs. Hence the story of Aida came to life.
Opera Aida is based on a story written by the French Egyptologist Augustus Mariette who wrote the scenario. Some think that Mariette’s story was based on a document that he had found in the Nile Valley. The scenario then was translated into Italian and given to the Italian poet and librettist Antonio Gislansoni to write the libretto that came out in four acts. Then the whole work was given to the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi to write the music.
When the Opera was ready for the opening celebration, something happened in Europe that delayed the Premiere performance of the Aida Opera in 1869. The opera scenery and costumes were stuck in Paris because of the Siege of Paris (1870 – 1871). So, another Verdi’s opera; Rigolitto was performed instead.
On December 24, 1871, Aida was first performed in Cairo. It was met with great praise. Verdi himself didn’t attend the Cairo performance. He was dissatisfied when he knew that only politicians, critics and dignitaries were invited with no place for the public. Therefore, Verdi thought of the Italian premiere. He was fully involved in preparations for every stage and that version was held at La Scala, Milan on 8 February, 1872 and it was the real premiere. Up till today, Opera Aida occupies a central place in the art and receives performances every year all over the world. At New York’s Metropolitan Opera alone, Aida has been sung more than 1100 times since 1886.
* Aida’s Plot
It is an ancient Egyptian setting. Aida; daughter of Ethiopia’s king Amonasro, was young and beautiful. She was captured by Egyptian troops and served as a slave to the Egyptian Princess Amneris (daughter of King Ramses) in the royal palace near Memphis. Princess Amneris is in love with the military commander Radames who doesn’t return her love. Instead, he falls in love with the enslaved enemy Princess Aida. Amneris suspects the love story but needs a proof.
Radames leads the Egyptian army in a battle against the Ethiopians who were on their way to Thebes. Princess Amneris traps Aida by telling her that Radames was killed and Aida breaks down. Amneris discovers the love story and is seeking revenge out of jealousy. Radames defeats the Ethiopians and captures so many of them including King Amonasro. The Triumph March scene is an epic one with Radames marching into the city of Memphis with his soldiers and the salves behind. Aida sees her father among the slaves and takes his side. In front of the king of Egypt, Amonasro declares that the King of Ethiopia was killed during the battles. The King of Egypt is so happy with Radames that he declares him successor and fiancé of his daughter. Radames asks the king to spare the lives of the Ethiopians and the king agrees
In custody, Amonasro knows of his daughter’s love to Radames. He encourages her to persuade Radames to help them escape and live together happily in the land of Ethiopia and to know the location of the Egyptian army. Amonasro hides and listens to Radames telling his daughter about the army secret places. Then, he shows up. It happens that Amneris was also listening and also shows up with guards who arrest Radames who was put on trial and sentenced to be imprisoned to death. Radames was put in a tomb cell that was closed by a huge rock. To his surprise, he finds Aida hiding in the tomb cell. She chose to die with him.
Aida is a story of love, jealousy, revenge, patriotism and sacrifice. It is a great work of art that ranks to the great Shakespearean masterpieces.
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Peace ســَــلام /Salam/