Metropolitan Opera, NYC
Wednesday, November 19, 2014 7:30 pm
Approximate running time 3 hrs. 40 min.
Grand opera at its grandest: the splendors of ancient Egypt return to the stage of the Met. Verdi’s mythic love triangle features Liudmyla Monastyrska, Tamara Wilson, and Oksana Dyka sharing the title role, with Olga Borodina and Violeta Urmana as Amneris and Marcello Giordani and Marco Berti singing Radamès. Marco Armiliato and Plácido Domingo share conducting duties.
Egypt, during the reign of the pharaohs. At the royal palace in Memphis, the high priest Ramfis tells the warrior Radamès that Ethiopia is preparing another attack against Egypt. Radamès hopes to command his army. He is in love with Aida, the Ethiopian slave of Princess Amneris, the king’s daughter, and he believes that victory in the war would enable him to free her and marry her. But Amneris loves Radamès, and when the three meet, she jealously senses his feelings for Aida. A messenger tells the king of Egypt and the assembled priests and soldiers that the Ethiopians are advancing. The king names Radamès to lead the army, and all join in a patriotic anthem. Left alone, Aida is torn between her love for Radamès and loyalty to her native country, where her father, Amonasro, is king. She prays to the gods for mercy.
In the temple of Vulcan, the priests consecrate Radamès to the service of the god. Ramfis orders him to protect the homeland.
Ethiopia has been defeated, and Amneris waits for the triumphant return of Radamès. When Aida approaches, the princess sends away her other attendants so that she can learn her slave’s private feelings. She first pretends that Radamès has fallen in battle, then says he is still alive. Aida’s reactions leave no doubt that she loves Radamès. Amneris, certain she will be victorious over her rival, leaves for the triumphal procession.
At the city gates the king and Amneris observe the celebrations and crown Radamès with a victor’s wreath. Captured Ethiopians are led in. Among them is Amonasro, Aida’s father, who signals his daughter not to reveal his identity as king. Radamès is impressed by Amonasro’s eloquent plea for mercy and asks for the death sentence on the prisoners to be overruled and for them to be freed. The king grants his request but keeps Amonasro in custody. The king declares that as a victor’s reward, Radamès will have Amneris’s hand in marriage.
On the eve of Amneris’s wedding, Ramfis and Amneris enter a temple on the banks of the Nile to pray. Aida, who is waiting for Radamès, is lost in thoughts of her homeland. Amonasro suddenly appears. Invoking Aida’s sense of duty, he makes her agree to find out from Radamès which route the Egyptian army will take to invade Ethiopia. Amonasro hides as Radamès arrives and assures Aida of his love. They dream about their future life together, and Radamès agrees to run away with her. Aida asks him about his army’s route, and just as he reveals the secret, Amonasro emerges from his hiding place. When he realizes that Amonasro is the Ethiopian king, Radamès is horrified by what he has done. While Aida and Amonasro try to calm him, Ramfis and Amneris step out of the temple. Father and daughter are able to escape, but Radamès surrenders to the priests.
Radamès awaits trial as a traitor, believing Aida to be dead. Even after he learns that she has survived, he rejects an offer by Amneris to save him if he renounces Aida. When he is brought before the priests, he refuses to answer their accusations and is condemned to be buried alive. Amneris begs for mercy, but the judges will not change their verdict. She curses the priests.
Aida has hidden in the vault to share Radamès’s fate. They express their love for the last time while Amneris, in the temple above, prays for Radamès’s soul.
CONDUCTOR (Genoa, Italy)
COMPANY DEBUT Il Trovatore, 1998
HOUSE DEBUT La Bohème, 1998
REPERTORY Aida, La Traviata
SOPRANO (Kiev, Ukraine)
DEBUT Aida, Aida, 2012
REPERTORY Aida, Aida
MEZZO-SOPRANO (St. Petersburg, Russia)
COMPANY DEBUT Concert, 1997
HOUSE DEBUT Marina, Boris Godunov, 1997
REPERTORY Amneris, Aida
Hometown Augusta, Italy
Company debut Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore (1993)
House debut Rodolfo in La Bohème (1995)
Performance history More than 200 appearances in 26 roles, including Paolo in Francesca da Rimini, Dick Johnson in La Fanciulla del West, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Faust in La Damnation de Faust, Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, des Grieux in Manon and Manon Lescaut, Calàf in Turandot, Don José in Carmen, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Adorno in Simon Boccanegra, Alfredo in La Traviata, and the title roles of Benvenuto Cellini and Ernani
Hometown Zrenjanin, Serbia
Met debut Barnaba in La Gioconda (2006)
Performance history Title roles of Rigoletto, Macbeth, and Nabucco, Germont in La Traviata, Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, and Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor
BASS (Pavlograd, Ukraine)
DEBUT Zaccaria, Nabucco, 2011
REPERTORY Ramfis, Aida; Old Convict, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; de Silva, Ernani
BASS (Washington, D.C.)
REPERTORY The King, Aida
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
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 and packed with magnificent choruses, complex ensembles, and elaborate ballets, 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, and perhaps no other has remained to the present day so unanimously appreciated by audiences and critics alike.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) is the composer of 28 operas that premiered over a period of 54 years. His works continue to form the core of the international opera repertory, cherished equally for their unforgettable music and their humanity. The story of Aida was the creation of Auguste Mariette (1821–1881), an extraordinary French archaeologist who was the founder of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo (and whose reputation for great archaeological successes was somewhat tainted when he accidentally blew up an intact tomb). Camille du Locle (1832–1903), who collaborated on the scenario with Mariette and suggested the story to Verdi, had worked with the composer on the libretto of Don Carlos. An opera impresario in Paris, he commissioned Carmen from Georges Bizet for the Opéra Comique in 1875. Aida’s librettist, 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 libretto indicates merely 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.
The score of Aida is a sophisticated example of Italian Romanticism, imbued with a convincingly mysterious and exotic hue. Making no claims to authenticity (nobody knows what music in ancient Egypt sounded like), Verdi created a unique musical palette for this opera. The grandeur of the subject is aptly conveyed with huge patriotic choruses (Acts I and II) and the unforgettable Triumphal March in Act II. These public moments often serve as frames for the solos of the leading tenor and soprano: his grueling “Celeste Aida” right at the beginning of Act I, her demanding “Ritorna vincitor!” that follows, and her great internal journey, “O patria mia,” in Act III. Perhaps most impressive in this drama of public versus private needs are the instances of solo voice pitted directly against complex ensembles and vast choruses: the tenor in the temple scene in Act I, the mezzo-soprano in the judgment scene in Act IV, and especially the soprano in the great triumphal scene in Act II.
Aida at the Met
The opera came to the Met during the “German Seasons” of the 1880s and was performed in German until 1891. (The Met’s 1883–84 season was a financial disaster, so for a few seasons the company hired less expensive German singers and had them sing in their native language.) Aida has been among the most popular operas in the Met’s repertory since those early days. Conductor Arturo Toscanini inaugurated his Met career with a spectacular new production of Aida (even though the previous production was only a year old) for opening night of the 1909–10 season. That performance featured the Met debut of Czech sensation Emmy Destinn (who would sing the title role 52 times at the Met through 1920), American mezzo Louise Homer (who sang Amneris 97 times between 1900 and 1927), Enrico Caruso (91 performances as Radamès at the Met between 1903 and 1919), and the great baritone Pasquale Amato (79 appearances between 1903 and 1919). Other unforgettable and frequent Aidas at the Met include Zinka Milanov (75 performances, 1938–1958), Elisabeth Rethberg (67 performances, 1922–1942), and the legendary Leontyne Price (42 performances from 1961 until her farewell appearance at the Met in 1985). The current production by Sonja Frisell, with sets by the acclaimed film production designer Gianni Quaranta (A Room With a View), premiered in 1988 with James Levine conducting a cast headed by Leona Mitchell, Fiorenza Cossotto, Plácido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, and Paul Plishka.