|Opera by Giuseppe Verdi|
Cover of a very early vocal score, c. 1872.
24 December 1871|
Khedivial Opera House in Cairo
Aida (Italian: [aˈiːda]) is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Set in Egypt, it was commissioned by and first performed at Cairo's Khedivial Opera House on 24 December 1871; Giovanni Bottesini conducted after Verdi himself withdrew. Today the work holds a central place in the operatic canon, receiving performances every year around the world; at New York's Metropolitan Opera alone, Aida has been sung more than 1,100 times since 1886. Ghislanzoni's scheme follows a scenario often attributed to the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, but Verdi biographer Mary Jane Phillips-Matz argues that the source is actually Temistocle Solera.
Elements of the opera's genesis and sources
Isma'il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, commissioned Verdi to write an opera for performance to celebrate the opening of the Khedivial Opera House, paying him 150,000 francs, but the premiere was delayed because of the Siege of Paris (1870–71), during the Franco-Prussian War, when the scenery and costumes were stuck in the French capital, and Verdi's Rigoletto was performed instead. Aida eventually premiered in Cairo in late 1871. Contrary to popular belief, the opera was not written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, for which Verdi had been invited to write an inaugural hymn, but had declined. The plot bears striking, though unintentional similarities to Metastasio's libretto La Nitteti (1756).
Cairo premiere and initial success in Italy
Verdi originally chose to write a brief orchestral prelude instead of a full overture for the opera. He then composed an overture of the "potpourri" variety to replace the original prelude. However, in the end he decided not to have the overture performed because of its—his own words—"pretentious insipidity". This overture, never used today, was given a rare broadcast performance by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra on 30 March 1940, but was never commercially issued.
Aida met with great acclaim when it finally opened in Cairo on 24 December 1871. The costumes and accessories for the premiere were designed by Auguste Mariette, who also oversaw the design and construction of the sets, which were made in Paris by the Opéra's scene painters Auguste-Alfred Rubé and Philippe Chaperon (acts 1 and 4) and Édouard Desplechin and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (acts 2 and 3), and shipped to Cairo. Although Verdi did not attend the premiere in Cairo, he was most dissatisfied with the fact that the audience consisted of invited dignitaries, politicians and critics, but no members of the general public. He therefore considered the Italian (and European) premiere, held at La Scala, Milan on 8 February 1872, and a performance in which he was heavily involved at every stage, to be its real premiere.
Verdi had also written the role of Aida for the voice of Teresa Stolz, who sang it for the first time at the Milan premiere. Verdi had asked her fiancé, Angelo Mariani, to conduct the Cairo premiere, but he declined, so Giovanni Bottesini filled the gap. The Milan Amneris, Maria Waldmann, was his favourite in the role and she repeated it a number of times at his request.
Aida was received with great enthusiasm at its Milan premiere. The opera was soon mounted at major opera houses throughout Italy, including the Teatro Regio di Parma (20 April 1872), the Teatro di San Carlo (30 March 1873), La Fenice (11 June 1873), the Teatro Regio di Torino (26 December 1874), the Teatro Comunale di Bologna (30 September 1877, with Giuseppina Pasqua as Amneris and Franco Novara as the King), and the Teatro Costanzi (8 October 1881, with Theresia Singer as Aida and Giulia Novelli as Amneris) among others.
Other 19th-century performances
Details of important national and other premieres of Aida follow:
- Argentina: 4 October 1873, Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (most likely the original Teatro Colón prior to the present one or Teatro Opera)
- United States: 26 November 1873, Academy of Music in New York City, with Ostava Torriani in the title role, Annie Louise Cary as Amneris, Italo Campanini as Radamès, Victor Maurel as Amonasro, and Evasio Scolara as the King
- Georgia: Tbilisi (Tiflis), 1873-74
- Germany: 20 April 1874, Berlin State Opera, with Mathilde Mallinger as Aida, Albert Niemann as Radamès, and Franz Betz as Amonasro
- Spain: 12 December 1874, Teatro Real
- Austria: 29 April 1874, Vienna State Opera, with Amalie Materna as Amneris
- Hungary: 10 April 1875, Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest
- Poland: 23 November 1875, Great Theatre and Polish National Opera, Warsaw. With Polish translation Aida was performed for the first time 9 June 1877.
- France: 22 April 1876, Théâtre-Lyrique Italien, Salle Ventadour, Paris, with almost the same cast as the Milan premiere, but with Édouard de Reszke making his debut as the King.
- Russia: 1 December 1875, Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg
- Bohemia: 11 December 1875, New Czech Theatre, Prague
- United Kingdom: 22 June 1876, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Adelina Patti as Aida, Ernesto Nicolini as Radamès, and Francesco Graziani as Amonasro
- Monaco: 13 May 1877, National Theatre, Monte Carlo
- Australia: 6 September 1877, Royal Theatre, Melbourne
- Munich: 1877, Bavarian State Opera, with Josephine Schefsky as Amneris
- Stockholm: 16 February 1880, Royal Swedish Opera in Swedish, with Selma Ek in the title role
- Palais Garnier, Paris: 22 March 1880, sung in French, with Gabrielle Krauss as Aida, Rosine Bloch as Amnéris, Henri Sellier as Radamès, Victor Maurel as Amonasro, Georges-François Menu as the King, and Auguste Boudouresque as Ramphis.
- Metropolitan Opera, New York: 12 November 1886, conducted by Anton Seidl, with Therese Herbert-Förster (the wife of Victor Herbert) in the title role, Carl Zobel as Radamès, Marianne Brandt as Amneris, Adolf Robinson as Amonasro, Emil Fischer as Ramfis, and Georg Sieglitz as the King.
- Rio de Janeiro: 30 June 1886, Theatro Lyrico Fluminense. During rehearsals at the Theatro Lyrico there was an ongoing quarrel between the performers of the Italian touring opera company and the local inept conductor, with the result that substitute conductors were rejected by the audience. Arturo Toscanini, at the time a 19-year-old cellist who was assistant chorus master, was persuaded to take up the baton for the performance. Toscanini conducted the entire opera from memory, with great success. This would be the start of a promising career.
- Laibach, Austrian Empire (today Ljubljana, Slovenia), 1 October 1898, conducted by Hilarion Benišek
20th century and beyond
A complete concert version of the opera was given in New York City in 1949. Conducted by Toscanini with Herva Nelli as Aida and Richard Tucker as Radamès, it was televised on the NBC television network. Due to the length of the opera, it was divided into two telecasts, preserved on kinescopes, and later released on video by RCA and Testament. The audio portion of the broadcast, including some remakes in June 1954, was released on LP and CD by RCA Victor. Other notable performances from this period include a 1955 performance conducted by Tullio Serafin with Maria Callas as Aida and Richard Tucker as Radames and a 1959 performance conducted by Herbert van Karajan with Renata Tebaldi as Aida and Carlo Bergonzi as Radames.
La Scala mounted a lavish new production of Aida designed by Franco Zeffirelli for the opening night of its 2006/2007 season. The production starred Violeta Urmana in the title role and Roberto Alagna as Radames. Alagna subsequently made the headlines when he was booed for his rendition of "Celeste Aida" during the second performance, walked off the stage, and was dismissed from the remainder of the run. The production continued to cause controversy in 2014 when Zeffirelli protested La Scala's rental of the production to the Astana Opera House in Kazakhstan without his permission. According to Zeffirelli, the move had doomed his production to an "infamous and brutal" fate.
Aida continues to be a staple of the standard operatic repertoire and appears as number 12 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide between 2009 and 2014, with 304 performances. As of 2016, the Metropolitan Opera alone has given more than 1,100 performances of the opera, making it the second most frequently performed work by the company after La bohème.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast,
24 December 1871
(Conductor: Giovanni Bottesini)
8 February 1872
La Scala, Milan
(Conductor: Franco Faccio)
|Aida, an Ethiopian princess||soprano||Antonietta Anastasi-Pozzoni||Teresa Stolz|
|The King of Egypt||bass||Tommaso Costa||Paride Pavoleri|
|Amneris, daughter of the King||mezzo-soprano||Eleonora Grossi||Maria Waldmann|
|Radamès, Captain of the Guard||tenor||Pietro Mongini||Giuseppe Fancelli|
|Amonasro, King of Ethiopia||baritone||Francesco Steller||Francesco Pandolfini|
|Ramfis, high Priest||bass||Paolo Medini||Ormando Maini|
|A messenger||tenor||Luigi Stecchi-Bottardi||Luigi Vistarini|
|Voice of the High Priestess||soprano||Marietta Allievi|
|Priests, priestesses, ministers, captains, soldiers, officials, Ethiopians, slaves and prisoners, Egyptians, animals and chorus|
The libretto does not specify a precise time period, so it is difficult to place the opera more specifically than the Old Kingdom. For the first production, Mariette went to great efforts to make the sets and costumes authentic. Given the consistent artistic styles throughout the 3000-year history of ancient Egypt, a given production does not particularly need to choose a specific time period within the larger frame of ancient Egyptian history.
Antecedent: The Egyptians have captured and enslaved Aida, a Nubian princess. An Egyptian military commander, Radamès, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To complicate the story further, the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris is in love with Radamès, although he does not return her feelings.
Scene 1: A hall in the King's palace; through the rear gate the pyramids and temples of Memphis are visible
Ramfis, the high priest of Egypt, tells Radamès, the young warrior, that war with the Nubians seems inevitable, and Radamès hopes that he will be chosen as the Egyptian commander (Ramfis, Radamès : Sì, corre voce l'Etiope ardisca / "Yes, it is rumored that Ethiopia dares once again to threaten our power").
Radamès dreams both of gaining victory on the battlefield and of Aida, the nubian slave, with whom he is secretly in love (Radamès: Se quel guerrier io fossi! ... Celeste Aida / "Heavenly Aida"). Aida, who is also secretly in love with Radamès, is the captured daughter of the Nubian King Amonasro, but her Egyptian captors are unaware of her true identity. Her father has invaded Egypt to deliver her from servitude.
Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian King, enters the hall. She too loves Radamès, but fears that his heart belongs to someone else (Radamès, Amneris: Quale insolita gioia nel tuo sguardo / "In your looks I trace a joy unwonted").
Aida appears and, when Radamès sees her, Amneris notices that he looks disturbed. She suspects that Aida could be her rival, but is able to hide her jealousy and approach Aida (Amneris, Aida, Radamès: Vieni, o diletta, appressati / "Come, O delight, come closer").
The King enters, along with the High Priest, Ramfis, and the whole palace court. A messenger announces that the Nubians, led by King Amonasro, are marching towards Thebes. The King declares war and proclaims that Radamès is the man chosen by the goddess Isis to be the leader of the army (The King, Messenger, Radamès, Aida, Amneris, chorus: Alta cagion v'aduna / "Oh fate o'er Egypt looming"). Upon receiving this mandate from the King, Radamès proceeds to the temple of Vulcan to take up the sacred arms (The King, Radamès, Aida, Amneris, chorus: Su! del Nilo al sacro lido / "On! Of Nilus' sacred river, guard the shores").
Alone in the hall, Aida feels torn between her love for her father, her country, and Radamès (Aida: Ritorna vincitor / "Return a conqueror").
Scene 2: Inside the Temple of Vulcan
Solemn ceremonies and dances by the priestesses take place (High Priestess, chorus, Radamès: Possente Ftha ... Tu che dal nulla / "O mighty Ptah"). This is followed by the installation of Radamès to the office of commander-in-chief (High Priestess, chorus, Radamès: Immenso Ftha .. Mortal, diletto ai Numi / "O mighty one, guard and protect!"). All present in the temple pray for the victory of Egypt and protection for their warriors (Nume, custode e vindice/ "Hear us, O guardian deity").
Scene 1: The chamber of Amneris
Dances and music to celebrate Radamès' victory take place (Chorus, Amneris: Chi mai fra gli inni e i plausi / "Our songs his glory praising"'). However, Amneris is still in doubt about Radamès' love and wonders whether Aida is in love with him. She tries to forget her doubt, entertaining her worried heart with the dance of Moorish slaves (Chorus, Amneris: Vieni: sul crin ti piovano / "Come bind your flowing tresses").
When Aida enters the chamber, Amneris asks everyone to leave. By falsely telling Aida that Radamès has died in the battle, she tricks her into professing her love for him. In grief, and shocked by the news, Aida confesses that her heart belongs to Radamès eternally (Amneris, Aida: Fu la sorte dell'armi a' tuoi funesta / "The battle's outcome was cruel for your people ...").
Grand March from Act 2, Scene 2
Recorded in 2002 by the U.S. Marine Band (5:08)
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This confession fires Amneris with rage, and she plans on taking revenge on Aida. Ignoring Aida's pleadings (Amneris, Aida, chorus: Su! del Nilo al sacro lido / "Up! at the sacred shores of the Nile"), Amneris leaves her alone in the chamber.
Scene 2: The grand gate of the city of Thebes
Radamès returns victorious and the troops march into the city (Chorus, Ramfis: Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside / "Glory to Egypt, to Isis!"). The Egyptian king decrees that on this day the triumphant Radamès may have anything he wishes. The Nubian captives are rounded up, and Amonasro appears among them. Aida immediately rushes to her father, but their true identities are still unknown to the Egyptians, save for the fact that they are father and daughter. Amonasro declares that the Nubian king (he himself) has been slain in battle. Aida, Amonasro, and the captured Ethiopians plead with the Egyptian King for mercy, but the Egyptians call for their death (Aida, Amneris, Radamès, The King, Amonasro, chorus: Che veggo! .. Egli? .. Mio padre! .. Anch'io pugnai / "What do I see?.. Is it he? My father?").
Claiming the reward promised by the King, Radamès pleads with him to spare the lives of the prisoners and to set them free. Gratefully, the King of Egypt declares Radamès to be his successor and to be his daughter's betrothed (Aida, Amneris, Radamès, The King, Amonasro, chorus: O Re: pei sacri Numi! .. Gloria all'Egitto / "O King, by the sacred gods ..."). Aida and Amonasro remain as hostages to ensure that the Ethiopians do not avenge their defeat.
"O patria mia"
Sung by Marie Rappold, 1916
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On the banks of the Nile, near the Temple of Isis
Prayers are said (Chorus, Ramfis, Amneris: O tu che sei d'Osiride / "O thou who to Osiris art ...") on the eve of Amneris and Radamès' wedding in the Temple of Isis. Outside, Aida waits to meet with Radamès as they had planned (Aida: Qui Radamès verra .. O patria mia / "Oh, my dear country!").
Amonasro appears and makes Aida agree to find out the location of the Egyptian army from Radamès (Aida, Amonasro: Ciel, mio padre! .. Rivedrai le foreste imbalsamate / "Once again shalt thou gaze."). When he arrives, Amonasro hides behind a rock and listens to their conversation.
Radamès affirms that he will marry Aida (Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aida .. Nel fiero anelito; Fuggiam gli ardori inospiti... Là, tra foreste vergini / "I see you again, my sweet Aida!"), and Aida convinces him to flee to the desert with her.
In order to make their escape easier, Radamès proposes that they use a safe route without any fear of discovery and reveals the location where his army has chosen to attack. Upon hearing this, Amonasro comes out of hiding and reveals his identity. Radamès feels dishonored. At the same time, Amneris and Ramfis leave the temple and, seeing Radamès with their enemy, call the guards. Amonasro and Aida try to convince Radamès to escape with them, but he refuses and surrenders to the imperial guards.
Scene 1: A hall in the Temple of Justice. To one side is the door leading to Radamès' prison cell
Amneris desires to save Radamès (L'aborrita rivale a me sfuggia / "My hated rival has escaped me"). She calls for the guard to bring him to her.
She asks Radamès to deny the accusations, but Radamès refuses. Certain that, as punishment, he will be condemned to death, Amneris implores him to defend himself, but Radamès firmly refuses. He is relieved to know Aida is still alive and hopes she has reached her own country (Amneris, Radamès: Già i Sacerdoti adunansi / "Already the priests are assembling"). His decision hurts Amneris.
Radamès' trial takes place offstage; he does not reply to Ramfis' accusations and is condemned to death, while Amneris, who remains onstage, pleads with the priests to show him mercy. As he is sentenced to be buried alive, Amneris curses the priests while Radamès is taken away (Judgment scene, Amneris, Ramfis, and chorus: Ahimè! .. morir mi sento / "Alas ... I feel death").
"La fatal pietra"
Opening and close of act 4, scene 2:
("La fatal pietra" and "Morir! Sì pura e bella", with some cuts in the middle),
sung by Nicola Zerola in 1909
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Scene 2: The lower portion of the stage shows the vault in the Temple of Vulcan; the upper portion represents the temple itself
Radamès has been taken into the lower floor of the temple and sealed up in a dark vault, where he thinks that he is alone. As he hopes that Aida is in a safer place, he hears a sigh and then sees Aida. She has hidden herself in the vault in order to die with Radamès (Radamès and Aida: La fatal pietra sovra me si chiuse. / "The fatal stone now closes over me"). They accept their terrible fate (Radamès: Morir! Si pura e bella / "To die! So pure and lovely!") and bid farewell to Earth and its sorrows. Above the vault in the temple of Vulcan, Amneris weeps and prays to the goddess Isis. In the vault below, Aida dies in Radamès' arms. (Chorus, Aida, Radamès, Amneris: Immenso Ftha / "Almighty Ptah.")
The opera has been adapted for motion pictures on several occasions, most notably in a 1953 production which starred Lois Maxwell and Sophia Loren, and a 1987 Swedish production. In both cases, the lead actors lip-synched to recordings by actual opera singers. The opera's story, but not its music, was used as the basis for a 1998 musical of the same name written by Elton John and Tim Rice.
- Phillips-Matz, pp. 570–573
- Greene (1985), p. ??
- The New Groves Dictionary of Opera, accessed through Oxford Music Online
- Oxford Music Online
- Frank (2002), p. 28
- Auguste Mariette to Paul Draneht (General Manager of the Cairo Opera House), Paris, 28 September 1871. (Translated and annotated ), Busch (1978), pp. 224–225.
- The Cairo Opera House could only hold 850 spectators (Pitt & Hassan 1992).
- Verdi's Falstaff in Letters and Contemporary Reviews on questia-online-library.com (subscription required)
- Casaglia, Gherardo (2005).[http://www.amadeusonline.net/almanacco?r=&alm_testo=Aida "Aida performance history"]. Almanacco Amadeus (Italian).
- Phillips-Matz 1993, p. 628.
- David Kimbell, in Holden, p. 983
- Irvin, p. ?
- Biography of Josephine Schefsky at theaterspielen.ch (in German)
- Ek Biography at operissimo.com (in German)
- Loewenberg 1978, column 1019 (exact date, language).
- Wolff 1962, p. 27; Phillips-Matz 1993, pp. 652–653.
- Tarozzi, p. 36
- Nicotra, p. ??
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- OCLC 807743126; OCLC 65964014
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- Budden, p. 160
- Casaglia, Gherardo (2005).[http://www.amadeusonline.net/almanacco?r=&alm_giorno=08&alm_mese=02&alm_anno=1872&alm_testo=Aida "Aida, 8 February 1872"]. Almanacco Amadeus (Italian).
- The High Priestess's name was Termuthis in early documentation.
- "Aida and Ancient Egyptian History on the Met Opera website".
- Weisgall, The New York Times
- The original draft included a speech by Aida (excised from the final version) that explained her presence beneath the Temple: "My heart knew your sentence. For three days I have waited here." The line most familiar to audiences translates as: "My heart forewarned me of your condemnation. In this tomb that was opened for you I entered secretly. Here, away from human sight, in your arms I wish to die."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aida (opera).|
- [http://operabase.com/oplist.cgi?from=01+01+2001&is=Aida&sort=D List of performances of Aida] on Operabase.
- Aida: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Opera Guide, Synopsis – Libretto – Highlights
- "Opera in a nutshell" Soundfiles (MIDI)
- Complete libretto of the opera
- Aria Database list of arias
- Further Aida discography
- San Diego OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles: Verdi's Aida
- Aida by Antonio Ghislanzoni, music by Giuseppe Verdi (1871), Online Library of Liberty