Giuseppe Verdi 1813–1901
Opera lirica in 4 acts
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni based on Auguste Mariette
First performed December 24 1871, Opera House, Cairo
Sung in Italian with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 minutes before performances begin
There's a chamber music concert on December 17 inspired by this work
There are loud sounds of aircraft and bombs, in darkness, between acts 1 & 2
Egypt’s at war with Ethiopia. The shaky Egyptian regime threatens to collapse and the elite have barricaded themselves into a luxuriously equipped bunker, where they try and deaden their fear of doom and force Ethiopian slaves to play perfidious games. One of the prisoners is the Ethiopian King’s daughter: Aida. It hasn’t escaped Princess Amneris’ notice that Aida and the young Egyptian Radamès are in love. She also had her eye on Radamès, so their relationship’s a thorn in her side. Suddenly, at the High Priest Ramfis’ behest, Radamès is to go into battle commanding the Egyptians against the Ethiopians. Divine providence has, supposedly, ordained it so. Almost simultaneously Ramfis is haunted by terrible pangs of guilt: How many young men have already died in this war? Act II The Egyptian army returns victorious with more prisoners as their spoils, including Aida’s father, the Ethiopian King Amonasro. Radamès is to be given Amneris’ hand in marriage to reward his military success. INTERVAL Amonasro coerces Aida into finding out about Egyptian secrets from Radamès. The plan works: She elicits the desired information from her lover, in Amonasro’s hearing. Amneris finds them: Radamès is arrested, for treason; Aida and Amonasro manage to escape. Act IV Amneris regrets her intrigues and attempts, in vain, to save Radamès from the death sentence. But, seeing no point in living without Aida, he surrenders to his punishment without a fight: He’s to be walled up alive. Aida follows him into the world hereafter.
Radames is to lead the Egypians into war against the Ethopians. He is loved by the Egyptian princess Amneris and Ethiopian slave Aida …
Verdi’s Oper Aida was written for Egypt – then part of the Ottoman Empire - belatedly fulfilling Viceroy Ismail Pascha’s dream. He modernised the region at a time of growing aspirations for autonomy, had an opera house built modelled on a French theatre and oversaw the achievement of the century, the Suez Canal. He wanted to commission a work – ideally an opera – by Giuseppe Verdi - to celebrate it’s completion, but the composer turned the offer down. The Viceroy didn’t give up, even after the canal and opera house opened in 1869. The French author and archeologist Auguste Mariette’s scenario eventually managed to change the composer's mind.
Aida lives a dream in Verdi’s conjured up exotic-oriental sound world which was omnipresent in the 19th century, led to catastrophe in the 20th and is alarmingly growing again, of national ascendancy. Strictly contrapuntal music reflects the rigid theocratic structures of the society evoked, while the emotional lives of the characters unfold in intimate scenes. Lydia Steier develops her ideas for the work she staged for Theater Heidelberg further, getting to the nitty-gritty of the mechanisms of power, the characters' anxieties, the impossibility of their relationships and losing out to political systems.
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