Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni after a scenario by Auguste Mariette
First performed: 1871
Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs
Ramfis, the chief priest, tells Radames that the god Isis has chosen the general who will lead the Egyptian armies into battle against the invading Ethiopians. Radames hopes that he has been chosen so that he may return victorious to Aida, an enemy slave in the Royal household for whom he cannot openly admit his love. Amneris, Princess of Egypt, secretly loves Radames and questions him about his feelings. She jealously suspects from his reaction to Aida’s presence that he prefers the slave to her. The Pharaoh enters with the priests and his court to hear reports of the invasion. He announces that Isis has chosen Radames as Egyptian commander-in-chief and leads everyone in demanding savage revenge on the Ethiopians. Amneris bids Radames return victorious.
The Egyptians are unaware that Aida is the daughter of the Ethiopian king, Amonasro. Alone, she is torn between her love for her country and for Radames. In despair, she implores the pity of the gods.
Sacred rites are performed in the temple. Ramfis conducts Radames to the altar, where he receives a sword and the gods’ blessing on the campaign.
Amneris prepares for the triumph celebrations in which Radames will be welcomed back, victorious. Slaves dance for her amusement until she dismisses them at Aida’s approach. She tells Aida that Radames has been killed in battle. Aida’s grief at this news turns to joy when Amneris admits that it is not true; she lied to trick the slave girl into admitting her love. Amneris has now confirmed her suspicion that the slave girl is her rival. Threatening her rival, Amneris departs for the festivities.
The Egyptians have won the war. A triumphal procession celebrates Radames’ victory. Amneris herself crowns him victor, and the Pharaoh offers him any reward he may name. Radames first asks for the Ethiopian prisoners to be summoned. Aida recognizes among them her father; he is disguised as a captain and warns her not to reveal his true identity. He pleads for his fellow captives’ lives, but Ramfis and the priests demand their death. Radames, however, requests freedom for the Ethiopians as his reward. The Pharaoh agrees to the compromise suggestion that Aida and her father should be retained as hostages. He then presents Radames with the hand of his daughter, Amneris, and the promise that he will one day rule as Pharaoh. Amneris exults at this unexpected turn of fortune, while Radames and Aida despair.
On the eve of her marriage, Amneris is taken by Ramfis to pray in the temple of Isis. Radames has chosen a place nearby for a final rendezvous with Aida, who dreams of her homeland while she waits for him. Her thoughts are interrupted by her father, who demands, with increasing anger, that she help him to discover the line of attack by which Radames will make the next Egyptian invasion.
When Radames arrives she suggests that he does not love her enough to leave Egypt and live with her in Ethiopia. Although he is shocked, she will not relent; he finally agrees and she asks which route they should take to avoid the Egyptian troops. He tells her, whereupon Amonasro steps forward triumphantly, declaring to Radames his true identity: not only is he Aida’s father but Ethiopia’s sovereign as well. Appalled that he has unwittingly betrayed his country, Radames refuses to flee with them. Amneris and Ramfis emerge from the temple. Amonasro moves to attack Amneris, but Radames prevents him. Amonasro and Aida escape. Radames admits what he has done and gives himself up to Ramfis.
Amneris realizes that, although she is jealous of his love for Aida, she must try to save Radames from the harsh verdict of the priests. She summons him to her presence and begs him to forget Aida and to love her instead; this is the price of her intercession on his behalf with the Pharaoh. He refuses and, in a fury, she dismisses him. The priests proceed slowly into the judgment chamber and call out the three charges against Radames. Amneris becomes increasingly frantic as she realizes that he will not even attempt to defend himself. The priests condemn him to be entombed alive for treason. Amneris curses them as they leave.
Radames has been sealed into a tomb where he is amazed to discover Aida waiting for him. Amneris mourns for Radames while Aida dies in his arms.
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