What Is the Opera "Aida" All About?

by Alex Jakubik

"Aida" is the story of two lovers whose commitment transcended worldly limitations.

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"Aida" is a four-act opera by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi that premiered in Cairo in 1871. The opera was a commission from the Khedive of Egypt to celebrate the recently opened Cairo Opera House. The libretto was a collaboration between Verdi and the Italian poet Antonio Ghislanzoni in which Verdi provided a scenario and plot details that Ghislanzoni then set to verse. Verdi would then comment on the verses in terms of meter to more closely match them to his musical phrases. "Aida" is now renowned as a timeless story about the dedication of true love.

Act One

The Egyptian soldier Radames hears of possible war with neighboring Ethiopia and dreams of victory so that he can liberate his lover Aida, who is the Ethiopian slave of Princess Amneris. The Egyptian king names Radames commander of the army that will soon go to battle against the approaching Ethiopian forces. Aida suffers conflicting emotions about her dedication to her country and her lover. The act concludes with a temple scene in which an Egyptian god is praised while Radames' sword is blessed in preparation for battle.

Act Two

The Egyptian army led by Radames triumphs over Ethiopia. Princess Amneris suspects Aida may have feelings for Radames and tests her by telling her he has been killed in battle. Amneris' suspicions are confirmed, based on the reactions of Aida. The triumphant army returns in a celebratory scene in which Radames is praised. One of the Ethiopian prisoners of war is King Amonasro, the father of Aida, although his identity is not yet known to his captors. Radames requests that the life of Aida's father be spared. The Egyptian king acquiesces, although Amonasro remains imprisoned. The Egyptian king also offers his daughter Amneris' hand in marriage to Radames.

Act Three

Princess Amneris is taken to a temple to prepare for the wedding. Amonasro asks Aida to press Radames for information about the upcoming Egyptian invasion of Ethiopia. Radames confesses the military plans to Aida just as Amneris emerges from the temple. Radames then admits his guilt in betraying his army and country and is taken into custody.

Act Four

Radames anticipates his trial and does not give in to Amneris' offers of amnesty should he marry her. Amneris reveals her love openly when she expresses anguish upon hearing his death sentence. Radames is condemned to be sealed in a crypt alive. Just before the sealing of the tomb, Aida secretly enters so that she can accompany her beloved Radames in his fate. The opera closes as the lovers sing their farewell to earthly existence while the voice of Princess Amneris appears from above, calling for peace.

About the Author

Alex Jakubik began his writing career in 2000 with book-cover summaries for Barnes & Noble. He has also authored concert programs and travel blogs, and worked both nationally and internationally in the arts. Jakubik holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University and a Master of Music from Yale University.

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