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What is Aida?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Aidais four act opera by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, who is also known for Nabucco, Rigoletto, Il trovatoreThe Troubador, in English; La traviata, or The Fallen Woman; Un ballo in maschera, or A Masked Ball; and many other operas. It was composed in 1870 with a libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario by Egyptologist August Mariette and with adaptations made by French librettist Camille Du Locle and Verdi himself. The opera was planned to be the opening work at the Cairo Opera House. After a delay caused by the Franco-Prussian War, the opera premiered in Cairo on 24 December 1871. In the twenty-first century, it continues to be one of the most popular of all operas.

The story of takes place in Memphis and Thebes in the time of the Pharaohs with Egypt and Ethiopia at war. Radames, the Captain of the Guards in Egypt is hoping to be put in charge of the Egyptian army, and he dreams of this and his love for Aida, an Ethiopian slave. He does not know that she is the daughter of the Ethiopian king. Amneris, the daughter of the king of Egypt joins him, who is in love with him and suspects his affections are turned elsewhere. Aida appears, and Amneris, seeing how Radames looks at her, has her suspicions confirmed.

A messenger reveals that the King of Ethiopia is leading an army towards them, and Radames has been named commander of the Egyptian army that will meet them. Aida’s distress is a foil for the crowd’s anticipation of victory.

In Act II, the scene opens in Amneris’s rooms, with her servants extolling Radames’s victories. When Aida approaches, Amneris dismisses the others and confronts her about her affection for Radames, finally tricking her into confession. Strains of a victory march reach the women, who have opposing responses to the portent.

Radames appears by the city gates of Thebes, and Amneris crowns him with a laurel wreath. The King offers him anything he may wish for, and Radames asks that the prisoners be brought forth. Aida recognizes her father among them. Radames asks for clemency for the prisoners, which, after an argument, is granted. As a final honor, the king gives Amneris to Radames in marriage.

In Act III, it is the eve of the marriage. Amneris enters a temple to pray, while Aida heads for a final meeting with Radames. Her father tries to get her to obtain information from Radames about his military plans, and he chastises her. Aida and Radames meet, and she convinces him to run away with her. He asks and she reveals the army’s path, and as soon as he tells her, her father appears. Radames is distraught over the betrayal, and as Aida and her father try to comfort him, Amneris and the chief priest enter. Aida and her father flee and Radames gives himself up.

In Act IV, Amneris plans to save Radames, but he refuses to defend himself, and wishes only for death. Amneris speaks of her love for him and tells him that Aida is still alive, and his reaction brings out Amneris’s jealousy. At his trial, Radames refuses to answer the charges, and Amernis prays for mercy. The priests sentence Radames to be entombed alive below the god’s altar. Amneris curses the priests.

The priests close the tomb and Radames finds that Aida has hidden there to die with him. As they sing their final duet, Amneris at the altar above prays for peace for Radames.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
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Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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