The Met’s monumental staging is a dazzling backdrop for the star-crossed love story set amid the clash of ancient empires. Three commanding sopranos—Liudmyla Monastyrska, Latonia Moore, and Krassimira Stoyanova—appear in the title role, the slave girl Aida,who is secretly a princess. Ekaterina Gubanova and Violeta Urmana are the formidable Amneris, daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh, and Marco Berti is the hero Radamès, caught between them. Marco Armiliato and Daniele Rustioni conduct.
World premiere: Cairo Opera House, 1871. This grandest of grand operas features an epic backdrop for what is in essence an intimate love story. Set in ancient Egypt, Aida never loses sight of its three protagonists: Amneris, the proud daughter of the pharaoh; her slave, Aida, who is the princess of the rival kingdom of Ethiopia; and Radamès, the Egyptian warrior they both love. Few operas have matched Aida in its exploration of the conflict of private emotion and public duty.
In a remarkable career spanning six decades in the theater, Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) composed 28 operas, at least half of which are at the core of today’s repertoire. Antonio Ghislanzoni (1824–1893), was a novelist and poet as well as the creator of some 85 librettos, most of which are forgotten today. He had previously worked with Verdi on the revision of La Forza del Destino (1869). The story of Aida was the creation of Auguste Mariette (1821–1881), a French archaeologist and the founder of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo.
The libretto indicates that the opera takes place in “ancient Egypt, in the time of the pharaohs.” This may sound vague, but it was a clear direction to approach the drama as myth rather than anthropology or history. Europe’s fascination with the ancient Nile civilization had been piqued with stories from Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition at the end of the 18th century, and continued into the mid-19th century with the numerous archaeological discoveries being taken from the sands of Egypt and shipped to museums in the European capitals