The grandest of grand operas, a brilliant balance of spectacular pageantry and emotional intimacy, returns to San Francisco Opera for the first time in nearly a decade. A bitter love triangle plays itself out against a backdrop of war and cultural oppression in this compelling tale of conflicting loyalties and forbidden passion.

Music Director Nicola Luisotti, the Company’s "ideal new maestro" (The New York Times), leads the first of two extraordinary casts in an "eye-popping production" (Houston Chronicle) created by legendary British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.

The September cast features soprano Micaela Carosi, "a noble, full-hearted diva of considerable power" (The Times of London) in the title role, along with Marcello Giordani, "arguably the greatest leading tenor of his generation" (Opera News) and mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick, who is "unequaled in major Verdi roles" (Washington Post). Baritone Marco Vratogna, whose “striking infusion of vocal power and theatrical electricity” as Iago (San Francisco Chronicle) thrilled San Francisco audiences in 2009’s Otello, sings Amonasro. Bass Hao Jiang Tian sings Ramfis, returning to San Francisco Opera after his triumphant debut as Chang the Coffin Maker in The Bonesetter’s Daughter (2008).

The November cast is led by Michele Capalbo, "a world-class Aida, passionate, subtle and vocally satisfying" (Opera News); tenor Carlo Ventre, a riveting performer who projects "unalloyed passion" (Washington Post); baritone Quinn Kelsey, who "boasts a rare and welcome gift, an enormous vocal sound that he deploys with the lightness of an acrobat" (San Francisco Chronicle); and bass Eric Owens who sang to sold-out crowds as Porgy in Porgy and Bess (2009).

Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Approximate running time: 3 hours including two intermissions

Co-production with Houston Grand Opera, English National Opera and Norwegian National Opera

Production photos: Cory Weaver and Terrence McCarthy 

OperaVision for performances on September 16, 19 and 24 is in simulcast aspect ratio (widescreen format) 

Audio credit: Audio excerpts are from the June 21, 2001 performance of Aida with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Patrick Summers


Aida Micaela Carosi * Sep/Oct
Amneris Dolora Zajick Sep/Oct
Radames Marcello Giordani Sep/Oct
Amonasro Marco Vratogna SEP/OCT
Ramfis Hao Jiang Tian SEP/OCT
The King of Egypt Christian Van Horn * SEP/OCT
Priestess Leah Crocetto SEP/OCT
Messenger David Lomelí SEP/OCT
Aida Michele Capalbo * Nov/Dec
Amneris Guang Yang * Nov/Dec
Radames Carlo Ventre Nov/Dec
Amonasro Quinn Kelsey Nov/Dec
Ramfis Eric Owens Nov/Dec
The King of Egypt Christian Van Horn * Nov/Dec
Priestess Leah Crocetto Nov/Dec
Messenger Brian Jagde Nov/Dec

Production Credits

Conductor Nicola Luisotti Sep/Oct
Conductor Giuseppe Finzi Nov/Dec
Director Jo Davies .
Production Designer Zandra Rhodes .
Revival Choreographer Lawrence Pech .

* San Francisco Opera Debut


Radames, a captain of the guard, is in love with Aida, a slave girl. Aida’s mistress, the King of Egypt’s daughter, Amneris, is also in love with the captain. Not known by anyone in Egypt, Aida is a princess of Ethiopia and the daughter of Egypt’s worst enemy, King Amonasro.


Ramfis, the High Priest, is on his way to inform the Egyptian King of the name of the general whom to goddess Isis has chosen to lead the Egyptians against the Ethiopians. Radames hopes to be chosen and, envisioning a glorious victory, expresses his affection for Aida. Amneris joins him. As she is questioning him, Aida enters. Noting that Radames is strongly affected by the appearance of Aida, Amneris suspects the reason for his embarrassment and is overcome with jealousy. Accompanied by his ministers, the King enters. A messenger is brought forward and reports confirmation of the Ethiopian invasion. Radames is announced as the chosen commander to lead the Egyptians against the enemy. Everyone pays homage to the young warrior and wishes for his victorious return. Aida, too, is caught up in the battle cry, and after the court leaves, berates herself for having betrayed her own people. Divided between loyalty to her father and country and her love for Radames, she asks the gods for strength.

In the Temple, a solemn ceremony is held to prepare Radames for battle. He is presented with the sacred sword of Egypt.


The Egyptian troops led by Radames have won the war. Amneris, still tormented by doubt and jealousy, resolves to question Aida and confirm her suspicions. Amneris manages to shake Aida’s composure and forces her to reveal her love for Radames. Amneris is furious and shaken by the truth.

The people celebrate the return of the victorious troops and their leader Radames, who asks that the Ethiopian prisoners be brought forth. Among them, Aida recognizes her father. Hiding his true identity, Amonasro pleads for the lives of his people. The Egyptian King accedes to Radames’s wish that the prisoners be set free. Ramfis, warning of the consequences, succeeds in having Aida and her father retained as hostages. In token of Egypt’s gratitude, the King awards Radames the hand of Amneris.


To prepare for her wedding to Radames, Amneris retires to the Temple of Isis to worship with Ramfis. Outside the Temple, Aida waits for Radames. Having given up on her own happiness, she recalls her childhood in the valleys of Ethiopia. Amonasro joins her and raises her hopes for a happy life at the side of her beloved. The Ethiopian captives who were freed are banded together and once again ready themselves to attack Egypt. Hoping to exploit Aida’s love for Radames, Amonasro proposes that she ask Radames the route the Egyptian armies will take. At first Aida refuses, but Amonasro soon crushes her resistance. Amonasro hides as Radames appears, still affirming his love for Aida and hoping another victory will allow him to win her once and for all. Aida does not share his enthusiasm and instead persuades him to flee the country with her. As they start to leave, Aida asks which route the Egyptian troops will take. As Radames answers her, Amonasro reveals himself and Radames realizes he has been tricked into revealing an important military secret. As Amneris and Ramfis emerge from the Temple, Amonasro and Aida flee and Radames surrenders to the High Priest, ready to accept the consequences of his betrayal.

Amneris, torn between love and hatred for Radames, at last resolves to save him. She urges him to defend himself, but he refuses. The priests assemble and three times allow Radames a chance to present his defense. Three times he refuses and is sentenced to die. Amneris pleads with the priests to revoke the sentence.

In the darkness of a tomb, Radames is joined by Aida who had hidden there earlier. While the priests chant their hymns, the two lovers, at last united, spend their final moments dreaming of a happier life. Above the tomb, Amneris asks forgiveness for her rancor and prays to Isis for redemption.

Verdi and the Creation of Aida

Evan Baker

For Giuseppe Verdi, Aida represented a significant break with his past compositional and staging practices. The new opera was in complete contrast with his last two works, Don Carlos (Paris, 1867) and the revision of La Forza del Destino (Milan, 1869). Both present large, grandiose, and sometimes sprawling visual and musical images in projecting the dramatic action. Aida, on the other hand, is clearly delineated and precisely constructed. In contrast to Don Carlos, the dramatic situations focus more on the emotional and psychological conflicts between the characters instead of a grand vision that includes political and societal viewpoints as well. Verdi learned that adherence to the ambitious French grand opéra style only led to a muddled confusion. As Verdi noted years later in a letter to Ferdinand Hiller (January 7, 1884), “in Don Carlos there is perhaps a passage here or a piece there that surpasses anything in Aida, but in Aida there’s more bite and (if you’ll forgive the word) more theatricality.

For Giuseppe Verdi, Aida represented a significant break with his past compositional and staging practices. The new opera was in complete contrast with his last two works, Don Carlos (Paris, 1867) and the revision of La Forza del Destino  (Milan, 1869). Both present large, grandiose, and sometimes sprawling visual and musical images in projecting the dramatic action. Aida, on the other hand, is clearly delineated and precisely constructed. In contrast to Don Carlos, the dramatic situations focus more on the emotional and psychological conflicts between the characters instead of a grand vision that includes political and societal viewpoints as well. Verdi learned that adherence to the ambitious French grand opéra style only led to a muddled confusion. As Verdi noted years later in a letter to Ferdinand Hiller (January 7, 1884), “in Don Carlos there is perhaps a passage here or a piece there that surpasses anything in Aida, but in Aida there’s more bite and (if you’ll forgive the word) more theatricality. Don’t take theatricality in the vulgar sense....”

It is with this particular point that Verdi hits the nail on the head. So tightly constructed is the opera that the dramatic points involved—love, jealousy, and equally significant, patriotism and public duty—all combine with the text and music into great moments of theatrical effectiveness and emotional satisfaction. The original scenario submitted to Verdi offered a wealth of richly visual images—coleur locale—that would be an integral part of an atmosphere created partly by an indication of exotic sounds in the score, particularly the Nile scene of Act III, but also a wondrous and yet cohesive spectacle that had, up until now, eluded the composer. A touch of ancient Egypt, a mysterious, long-dead world, gave the composer a chance to produce a grand opera that was the standard of the time. The opportunity to produce spectacle on both an intimate and grand scale, all the while carefully molding it as an integral part of the opera, proved irresistible. No longer would a spectacular production seem to be the highlight of the work, thus rendering as almost superfluous the music and drama of the opera.

With Aida, Verdi accomplished a rare and great achievement by superbly balancing the music, the text, and every aspect of theatrical production—a near perfect opera. Popularity came about chiefly from several things: a well-constructed libretto, solid dramaturgy with an eye for the coleur locale, an ear for theatrical effect, and a first-rate grasp of scenic and costume possibilities. Part of this accomplishment belongs to Verdi’s insistence on the correct application of the “theatrical effect,” a key part of the composer’s own operatic and theatrical aesthetic.

Exhausted after the extraordinarily difficult and drawn out rehearsals of Don Carlos and frustrated by its lukewarm success at the Paris Opera on March 11, 1867, Verdi retreated to Italy with no firm future project in hand. In response to the blandishments of Camille Du Locle—later director of the Opéra-Comique—to return to Paris, Verdi wrote that he “wanted art in any of its manifestations, not the arrangement, not the artifice and its system” that seemed to be the preferred form of operatic production. In a letter to Giulio Ricordi, his publisher in Milan, the composer expressed his frustration: “It is the difficulty of finding a subject to my liking, a poet to my liking, and a performance to my liking…,” a motif that had preoccupied Verdi throughout his career.

Through the machinations of Ricordi, the Teatro alla Scala achieved a rapprochement with the composer. After an absence of more than twenty years from the theater, Verdi revised and staged under his own direction a production of La Forza del Destino that triumphantly returned there on February 27, 1869. Shortly thereafter, an offer of a new commission came from Cairo, prompting a false story that Aida was a commission for the opening of the Suez Canal. Instead, the offer was for a hymn to commemorate the opening of both the new opera house in Cairo and the Suez Canal. Verdi declined, as he did not believe in writing “pieces of circumstance.” Instead, a new production of Rigoletto conducted by Emanuele Muzio (Verdi’s erstwhile pupil and old friend), celebrated those events on November 17, 1869.

In the spring of 1870, Du Locle was acting as a representative for the Cairo Opera. Auguste Mariette, a distinguished French archeologist and director of Egypt’s museum of antiquities, had sent him a scenario based on the Egyptian viceroy’s wish to have a work based on a “purely ancient and Egyptian opera” complete with an elaborate production that would use the coleur locale. Du Locle forwarded the scenario accompanied by Mariette’s letter dated April 27, 1870, in which he proposed what would become the title of the opera. “Don’t be alarmed by the title. Aida is an Egyptian name. Normally it would be Aïta. But that name would be too harsh, and the singers would irresistibly soften it to Aida.” Verdi responded two weeks later with interest. He noted “it was well done” and, given his acuity for the visual side of opera, it was equally important that the possibilities for the mise-en-scène were “splendid” and the “two or three situations, while not new, were certainly very beautiful.”

After some preliminary negotiations with Du Locle, Verdi announced on June 2, 1870 to his astonished publisher that he had “a fully developed outline of an opera with chorus, mise-en-scène, act divisions, etc.” In that same letter, he asked Ricordi if Antonio Ghislanzoni, who previously assisted with the revision of the libretto for La Forza del Destino, was available for another collaboration. ricordi cheerfully offered that Ghislanzoni would arrive with a Nubian slave to protect the librettist from the ferocious watchdogs guarding Verdi’s home in Sant’Agata. At the beginning of July, Ghislanzoni arrived at Sant’Agata for the first series of discussions on the libretto and immediately set to work drafting the first act.

At the beginning of the compositional process, Verdi moved cautiously. He realized that Mariette’s scenario presented him with a unique opportunity for a first-rate opera. At the same time, however, Verdi was aware of the dangers of losing the theatrical effect of opera by expending too much effort upon either the music or the text and never finding a balance. Ghislanzoni, in creating a new libretto, apparently was losing sight of the fact that opera was first and foremost a theatrical event. Verdi cautioned that one must never forget that the words must have a theatrical impact, the parola scenica. He emphasized that “‘parola scenica’ [theatrical words] [are] those that carve out a situation or a character, words that always have a most powerful impact on the audience.” After reviewing a draft of the libretto, Verdi patiently explained, “When the action warms up, it seems to me that the theatrical word is missing. I don’t know if I make myself clear when I say ‘theatrical word,’ but I mean the word that clarifies and presents the situation neatly and plainly.” (“Parola scenica” cannot be precisely translated. In this context, “theatrical word” is interchangeable with “dramatic situation” or “dramatic event.”) After pointing out that a part of the text had a weak theatrical effect, he then goes on: “And the verse, the rhyme, the strophe? I don’t know what to say. But when the action demands it, I would quickly abandon rhythm, rhyme, strophe; I would write unrhymed verse to say clearly and distinctly whatever the action requires. Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary in the theater for poets and composers to have the talent not to write poetry or music.”

Over the next four months, Verdi and Ghislanzoni worked quickly and efficiently to complete the text and the first draft of the music in time for the original deadline of the end of 1870, the time for the projected first performances in Cairo. Ricordi set into motion the planning for an eventual production at La Scala. In August, word of the new work began to spread. Ricordi announced in the Gazzetta Musicale di Milano on August 21 that Verdi was composing a new opera for Cairo and that a production would be forthcoming “in a European theater,” which, of course, would be at La Scala. Il Trovatore, a theatrical newspaper in Turin, published a synopsis of the opera on September 8, whetting the appetite of the public impatient for a new opera from Verdi.

In surprising contrast to preparations of past operas, the composition process moved swiftly. Amidst constant changes, sharpening of the texts, and dramaturgical clarifications, by the end of September the libretto for the first two acts of the opera was complete. Act III followed one month later and the fourth and final act at the end of November; the basic composition of the opera itself was completed in December. Throughout the shaping of the libretto, Verdi consistently sought for the theatrical effect, one that would clarify the stage action, bring out the characters in stark contrast to one another, and provide the dramatic and emotional intensity for each scene.

Throughout the creative process, the composer repeatedly emphasized to Ghislanzoni the necessity for verses that would bring forth a clear dramatic situation leading to an effective theatrical event. He was not always interested in beautiful lyrics, but preferred musical and dramatic clarity. In a letter of August 14, 1870, Verdi noted that the consecration scene in Act I “did not have the importance that I expected. The characters don’t always say what they should, and the priests are not priestly enough. It also seems to me that the dramatic situation is missing, or if it is there, it is buried under the rhyme or under the verse and so doesn’t jump out as neatly and plainly as it should.”

The patriotic element is not as blunt as in Verdi’s earlier works of the 1840s, but woven into the drama and conflict between the characters in a much more psychological fashion. Duty and patriotism were extremely important, but Verdi used these elements in a subtle fashion, specifically as dramatic devices to reveal the emotional states of the characters. The great dramatic conflict centers on the love of Radames and Aida, both caught between their love for each other and their respective countries. While not essential to the final tragedy, the element of Amneris’s jealousy adds to the overall dramatic— in short, theatrical—intensity of the entire opera. Such an example occurs after the entire ensemble, including Aida, calls out “Ritorna vincitor!” and Radames marches off bearing the banner of the pharaohs presented to him by Amneris. Yet Aida catches herself and remembers her heritage in the same situation in Act III. Another effective instance of the theatrical word occurs during the confrontation between Amonasro and Aida as he hammers on duty to one’s homeland amidst his accusations that she has forgotten her people and has become a mere slave of the pharaohs.

Contrasts in dynamics are an effective dramatic device as well. At the conclusion of the conversation between Radames and Ramfis, the recitative is delivered in a joyous and exultant manner, whereas the romanza, “Celeste Aida,” is a lyrical and soft contrast. Only once does the music call for a forte, for the greater part of the aria is sung in a piano and concludes with a pianissimo B-flat, a feat for any tenor. Verdi repeats this dramatic exploration of Aida’s inner conflicts between love, duty, and patriotism in her third act romanza, “O patria mia.”

The creation of the atmosphere, coleur locale occurs not only with rich visual images but in the music as well. A singularly effective use occurs in the beginning of the third act. The scene is set at the banks of the Nile, displaying granite rocks overgrown with palm trees. A moon shines on the temple of Isis during a starlit night. The music begins softly with a rich mixture of muted violins and violas playing arpeggios, tremolos, and staccatos joined by unmuted cellos playing in harmonics and a solo flute to suggest an occasional arabesque. The entire passage, a seemingly short thirty four bars, effectively creates an atmosphere at the beginning of a scene, matched only by Wagner’s opening bars in Das Rheingold.

Aida signals the completion of a musical break that began with Don Carlos—the abandonment of the operatic convention of distinctly separate musical numbers connected by clear recitatives. Verdi composed lengthy and uninterrupted scenes, deliberately allowing only several instances of breaks in the musical flow to permit audience reactions. One is at the conclusion of “Celeste Aida”; the other occurs at the spectacular conclusion of the grand march amidst the fanfare of trumpets, praise of the populace, and thanksgiving by the priests in the second scene of Act II. The third act aria “O patria mia” is another fine example. Yet these interruptions fit into the whole of the structure of the opera and without any subsequent breaks in the established dramatic tension.

In Sant’Agata and Milan, Verdi and Ricordi followed the preparations closely for the settings and costumes for Cairo were the basis for the production at La Scala. Verdi, through his publisher, exercised absolute artistic control and demanded satisfaction with every aspect of the production or he would withdraw the score. The composer himself directed the musical rehearsals with the soloists and personally supervised the production. Franco Faccio— who later would conduct the revised version of Simon Boccanegra as well as Otello—prepared and conducted the orchestra. All was finally in order. The premieres in Cairo at the Opera on December 24, 1871 and that at the Teatro alla Scala on February 8, 1872 were complete triumphs. Aida then took off like wildfire. More than 150 separate premieres in nine years occurred throughout Europe, north and South America. Because the theatrical events in the opera were so congenial and easily accessible to the public, Aida was to become, together with La Bohème and Carmen, among the most popular works in the entire repertory.

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Aida Notes

Greg Waxberg

It seems that all Verdi needed to write a new opera was a scenario that would inspire his imagination and creativity. Several times, especially toward the end of his career, he resisted, or was not interested in, composing an opera for a specific purpose, occasion or venue—until someone presented him with an irresistible idea.

 Aida, an opus of pageantry, marches, ballet music, rousing choruses, and memorable arias, and an indispensable masterpiece, was one of those operas (for historical perspective, after Aida, Verdi’s two remaining operas would be Otello and Falstaff, and he also resisted composing each of them). Verdi had been asked more than once, on behalf of the Viceroy of Egypt, to write an opera for the Cairo Opera House, but he simply was not interested. It was only when Camille Du Locle, who had been one of Verdi’s librettists for Don Carlos, passed along to the composer a scenario relating to an Egyptian subject, supposedly adapted by the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette from one of his own stories (La fiancée du Nil), that Verdi became interested.

 He felt that the story was well-constructed by someone who understood theater, calling it “a work of vast dimensions.” Now motivated to compose Aida, Verdi established certain terms: he would pay to have the libretto written; he would pay to send someone to Cairo to rehearse and conduct the opera; and he would send a copy of the score to Cairo—granting rights only in the Kingdom of Egypt and retaining the rights to the libretto and music for everywhere else in the world.

 Even though Verdi said he would pay to have the libretto written, that part of the project became, for all intents and purposes, a thankless task for Antonio Ghislanzoni because of the composer’s demands. At first, Verdi and Du Locle used Mariette’s scenario to create a libretto with dialogue in prose, but Verdi needed someone to create verses from the prose, so he hired Ghislanzoni with the understanding that the librettist would not be creating an original work.

 As Ghislanzoni submitted verses to Verdi, the composer became increasingly difficult to satisfy. The problem was that many of the verses, in his opinion, were great poetry, but not sufficiently theatrical for the stage—the recitative could be accomplished in fewer words and fewer lines. Verdi wrote to Ghislanzoni that he wanted the libretto to include “theatrical words,” words that clearly bring the stage action to life and sculpt a situation or character. Anticipating Ghislanzoni’s objections to discarding rhythm, rhyme, and stanzas, Verdi said it would be necessary to abandon those qualities of the text if the action dictated it. Essentially, free verse would allow the characters to say exactly what they needed to say at a particular moment.

 Ghislanzoni’s efforts proved to be futile for the final duet between Radames and Aida. For their farewell to life, Verdi insisted on a short, sweet, otherworldly-sounding duet, devoid of the agonies associated with death that opera characters usually mention in their final moments. Then, at the end of this duet, Aida should fall calmly into Radames’s arms. Verdi penned some suggested text, which he asked Ghislanzoni to improve, but the librettist took too long and did not accomplish what Verdi wanted, so the composer used his own text.

 The world premiere of Aida took place at the Cairo Opera House on December 24, 1871. Giovanni Bottesini conducted a cast that included Antonietta Anastasi- Pozzoni as Aida, Eleonora Grossi as Amneris, Pietro Mongini as Radames, and Francesco Steller as Amonasro.

 About six weeks later, on February 8, 1872, Aida received its European premiere at Milan’s La Scala in a production staged by Verdi and conducted by Franco Faccio. In that cast, Teresa Stolz was Aida, Maria Waldmann was Amneris, Giuseppe Fancelli was Radames, and Francesco Pandolfini was Amonasro. It was especially difficult for Verdi to cast the role of Amneris because, just as he felt the libretto needed more than great poetry, he felt that this role required more than a great voice. “The role of Amneris,” he wrote, “requires an artist of great dramatic feeling who can really hold the stage. Voice alone, however beautiful, is not enough for this role.”

 It is certainly true that Aida is recognized as “grand opera,” especially because of the Triumphal Scene in Act II. However, this is also an intimate opera, which becomes apparent during the Act I Prelude that begins and ends quietly. The simplest orchestral sounds—strings, high in their registers—play Aida’s theme (it will return with different instrumentation at various points during the opera). The orchestra expands this motif while alternating it with the darker theme of Egypt’s domineering priests.

 A few moments later, the first aria, Radames’s “Celeste Aida,” combines with his exchange with Amneris, as well as Amneris’s exchange with Aida, to set up the opera’s fundamental conflicts and rivalries: the Egyptian princess Amneris loves the young captain of the guard, Radames, but he and Amneris’ Ethiopian slave Aida love each other. Verdi accentuates the characters’ anxiety with agitated orchestration, especially in the strings. This theme is first played when Amneris suspects that Radames might love someone else, and it is played again when Amneris doubts what Aida claims to be her true fears about the pending war.

 The second scene demonstrates Verdi’s splendid and memorable orchestrations when the subject turns to war between Egypt and Ethiopia. Epitomizing this grandeur is the famous Grand March, which Verdi utilizes in two forms—powerfully for the priests and intimately for Radames and Aida—before unleashing the full orchestra to accompany all of the characters.

 Following this patriotic display, Aida sings the first of her two arias, both of which convey her introspection and suffering at different points in the story and for different reasons. In “Ritorna vincitor!” (when she is filled with disbelief and disgust that she has just spoken those words along with the Egyptians), her dilemma makes clear that the opera’s principal conflict cannot be resolved: the man she loves will be leading the fight against her country and her father, Amonasro, the King of Ethiopia.

 That conflict is also the driving force behind the first scene of Act II, when Amneris confronts Aida about Radames. Once again, Aida’s theme is heard, this time in the lower strings because the darker sound symbolizes that she is a threat to Amneris. When Aida expresses her conflicting emotions, her theme is played faster in a more agitated state, serving as further evidence that her struggle will not end well. Knowing about the tug-of-war being played out on stage and in her mind begs the questions: How will this end, and who will have to pay the ultimate sacrifice? Again, as she did after “Ritorna vincitor!” Aida prays for pity on her suffering.

Verdi reprises the Grand March as a chorus for the transition to the spectacular Triumphal Scene, when Radames is hailed for leading the Egyptian army to victory over the Ethiopians. This scene contains some of Verdi’s grandest and most famous music—in this opera or any of his other operas—especially the Triumphal March. Ironically, this rousing music accompanies a bitter, heartbreaking twist in the plot: to show his country’s gratitude for Radames’ victory, the King gives him Amneris as his bride, leaving Aida hopeless and Radames tormented. Yet, foreshadowing another tragic event in the next act, Aida’s father whispers to her that the Ethiopians will soon take vengeance.

Like the first two acts, Act III begins quietly, and Aida soon sings her second aria, “O patria mia,” lamenting that she will never again see her homeland. Two crucial, consecutive scenes dominate this act and, by extension, dictate the remainder of the opera’s action. First, Amonasro confronts Aida and urges her to help him and her country by tricking Radames into revealing his army’s secret location, thereby betraying his country and his King. When she resists, Amonasro disowns her, summons the spirit of her mother cursing her, and calls her a slave of the Pharaohs, leaving Aida no choice but to obey—another tug-of-war in addition to the conflicts she was already facing. Aida obtains the information only by convincing Radames to flee with her, and a severe drum roll announces that Amonasro has overheard him. The harsh, threatening music associated with Radames’s surrender adds to the opera’s inexorable feeling of doom.

Having already been repeated a few times since the first act, the agitated music from Amneris’s first confrontations with Radames and Aida returns at the beginning of Act IV when Radames is facing a trial and Amneris is confounded about what to do, a problem made more obvious by the repeat of the music from her first entrance in Act I that conveyed her love for him. Now, she confronts him again, saying she will save him if he renounces Aida. But, he will not, so she refuses to save him, and the instant he is out of her sight, she curses her jealousy that brought her to this point—her grief and her certainty that he is going to die.

At this point, the low strings play the theme representing the priests, this motif swells to sound more threatening, and it becomes an angry outburst after the priests sentence Radames to be buried alive as a traitor. Then, in one of Amneris’ greatest moments in the opera, she curses the priests as the orchestra explodes with anger, which serves as a perfect contrast to the solemnity that follows in the final scene— Radames in his tomb, where he discovers that Aida has secretly made her way inside to share his fate.

Although the opera’s conflict could not have produced a happy resolution for Aida, it is fitting that her and Radames’s love for each other should bring them together to share eternity. The beautiful and poignant duet “O terra, addio,” with its shimmering strings and Amneris’s prayer for Radames’s soul, is Verdi’s glorious finale. After an opera filled with the treacheries of war, and in which politics prevented the two main characters from uniting, death finds them where they wanted to be all along: in each other’s arms, at peace.

Greg Waxberg is a writer and magazine editor for The Pingry School, a freelance writer covering the arts, and a program annotator for opera companies.

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  • Fri 09/10/10 8:00pm

  • Thu 09/16/10 7:30pm *

  • Sun 09/19/10 2:00pm *

  • Fri 09/24/10 8:00pm *

  • Wed 09/29/10 7:30pm *

  • Sat 10/2/10 8:00pm *

  • Wed 10/6/10 7:30pm *

  • Tue 11/23/10 8:00pm

  • Fri 11/26/10 8:00pm

  • Mon 11/29/10 8:00pm

  • Thu 12/2/10 7:30pm

  • Sun 12/5/10 2:00pm

*OperaVision, HD video projection screens featured in the Balcony level for this performance, is made possible by the Koret/Taube Media Suite.


This production is made possible, in part, by Opening Weekend Grand Sponsor Diane B. Wilsey and by United Airlines.

Cast, program, prices and schedule are subject to change.