“Aida,” a romantic grand opera in four acts, with music by Giuseppe Verdi, and with text translated from the French of Locle by Antonio Ghislanzoni, received its premier performance in Cairo, Dec. 24, 1871. The opera was written by the order of the Khedive of Egypt.
Aida, a Captive. Amneris, daughter of Pharaoh, King of Egypt. Rhadames, an Egyptian general. Amonasro, King of Ethiopia. Ramphis, High Priest of Egypt. A Messenger. Priests, priestesses, ministers, captains, soldiers, functionaries, slaves and Ethiopian prisoners.
The scene of the opera is laid in Memphis and Thebes, :n the time of the Pharaohs. Aida is the daughter of Amonasro of Ethiopia, who has risen unsuccessfully against Pharaoh. The girl, sharing in the fortunes of war, is taken captive by the Egyptians and is given as a slave to Pharaoh’s daughter, Amneris. Rhadames, a young general, is loved by both Amneris and her slave and the latter is secretly loved by him.
The High Priest, Ramphis, announces the approach of the Ethiopians against Thebes and Rhadames is chosen to march against them. He returns in triumph with their King, Amonasro, disguised as an officer, chained to his chariot-wheels. It may be added that he is ignorant of the fact that Aida is the daughter of Amonasro. The suspicions of Amneris that there is an attachment between the general and her slave have been growing and during his absence she has devised a pretty test. She announces in the presence of Aida that Rhadames has fallen in battle and the girl’s misery is sufficiently evident to set her doubts at rest.
Pharaoh is so pleased with the military prowess of Rhadames that he concludes to recompense him with the hand of his royal daughter. Naturally, the joy of Rhadames is not overgreat. Meantime, Aida fearing for the fate of her father, whose identity is not known at the Egyptian court, pleads that the captives may be released. Rhadames adds his prayers to hers. Pharaoh pardons all save Amonasro, whom he retains at the palace and thus the father and daughter are brought into communication. At Amonasro’s suggestion, Aida begs from her lover the military plans which shall lead to the recovery of the Ethiopian kingdom and the liberty of its ruler. The lovers have a secret meeting near the temple of Isis and Rhadames, influenced by Aida, yields the plans and consents to fly from Egypt with the captive King and his daughter. The inter-view is overheard, however, by Amneris and the High Priest and Rhadames is denounced as a traitor. Aida and her father escape but Rhadames is tried and sentenced to be buried alive beneath the floor of the temple of Phtah. He is offered the hand of Amneris as an alternative but refuses to accept it. When he descends into the vault, he finds Aida waiting to share his death. The priests seal their tomb with a rock, while Amneris kneels in prayer above their living sepulchre, her jealousy proving stronger than her anguish even at the last.
The music of “Aida ” possesses marked dramatic power and native oriental coloring is woven into its texture, the effect in the sacred chants and dances being achieved largely with harp and flutes. The opera, in its entirety, is stately and majestic in conception, brilliant and melodious in music and serves as a vehicle for unbounded stage display.
Among the principal numbers are the overture ; Rhadames’ song, ” Céleste Aida ” (” Heav’nly Aida “) ; Aida’s lament, ” Ritorna vincitor ” (” May laurels crown thy brow”) ; the hymn of the high priestesses to Phtah ; the quintet, ” Gloria all’ Egitto ” (” Glory to Isis “) ; Aida’s song, ” O ! cieli azzurri ” (” O ! skies of blue “) and, in the third act, two great duets between Amonasro and Aida and Rhadames and Aida.