Amneris: Zlata Bulycheva
Aida: Viktoria Yastrebova
Radames: Avgust Amonov
Ramfis: Alexander Morozov
Amonasro: Nikolai Putilin
The Pharaoh: Ilya Bannik
World premiere: 24 December 1871, Khedivial Opera House, Cairo
Premiere at the Bolshoi (Kamenny) Theatre: 19 November 1875, Imperial Italian Opera Company
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 1 April 1877, Imperial Russian Opera Company (performed in Russian, translated by Grigory Lishin)
Premiere of this production: 11 June 2011
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes
The performance has one interval
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Daniele Finzi Pasca
Production Concept: Daniele Finzi Pasca and Julie Hamelin
Set Designer: Jean Rabasse
Lighting Designer: Daniele Finzi Pasca and Alexis Bowles
Video Designer: Roberto Vitalini
Costume Designer: Giovanna Buzzi
Props Designer: Hugo Gargiulo
Make-Up Designer: Chiqui Barbé
Musical Preparation: Irina Soboleva
Principal Chorus Master: Konstantin Rylov
The Royal Palace at Memphis; Egypt and Ethiopia are at war. Radames and Ramfis enter. They discuss the rumour that the Ethiopians are planning a new attack and Ramfis discloses that the priesthood has consulted the goddess Isis as to who should lead Egypt’s forces. He looks meaningfully at Radames, but names no-one. Alone, Radames muses on forthcoming glory and the chance that it may enable him to marry Aida, a beautiful Ethiopian slave girl. Amneris enters and asks about his evident happiness. She hints at a loved one in Memphis and he looks away. She is consumed by jealousy because she loves Radames herself. Aida enters and Amneris feigns kindness to her, while noticing that Aida and Radames cannot look at one another.
The Pharaoh enters with the court. A messenger brings news of the Ethiopians’ coming attack, led by King Amonasro who, unknown to everyone, is Aida’s father. There is a call for war. Radames is named general and given the standard by Amneris. The battle hymn concludes and the court departs. Aida is left alone in confusion, unable to pray for Radames’ victory, yet, in her love for him, wishing his safe return.
At the Temple of Vulcan a ritual is in progress. Radames is led in by Ramfis and consecrated with his weapons at the high altar. Both invoke the blessing of the god Ptah for the campaign.
In her apartments, Amneris awaiting the return of Radames, the man she loves and who has been victorious, and is entertained by dancers. Aida comes in with Amneris’ crown. Feigning kindness once again, Amneris hints that she knows Aida is in love with an Egyptian. She then casually mentions that Radames has been killed and Aida’s outburst reveals to her the truth. Admitting that she lied, Amneris cruelly threatens Aida who – after a moment’s defiance – vainly begs for forgiveness. Outside, the sound of the returning warriors is heard.
In Thebes, the Pharaoh, Amneris, priests and courtiers await the arrival of Radames and his victorious army. At the end of a long procession Radames enters and is crowned victor by Amneris while the Pharaoh proclaims him the country’s saviour. Asked to name a favour, Radames requests the Ethiopian slaves be brought in. Aida recognises her father, but Amonasro whispers to her not to betray his true identity. To the Pharaoh he describes how he and his comrades fought valiantly but how their King was killed in battle. He pleads for mercy and Radames asks that the captured Ethiopians be set free. Ramfis opposes him, but eventually consents so long as the “spokesman” is kept under custody. The Pharaoh agrees, and then promises Radames the hand of his daughter in marriage. Radames will reign after him. Only Radames and Aida privately voice sorrow at the royal decree.
At night on the banks of the Nile the sounds of chanting can be heard coming from the Temple of Isis. Amneris arrives with Ramfis to spend time before her wedding in prayer and they go into the Temple. Aida enters to meet Radames in secret. As she cannot be his, she thinks of drowning herself in the Nile. But Amonasro appears having eluded his guard, and tells Aida that she must help her country in a new uprising. She must find out from Radames the route the Egyptian army plans to take against them. At first she refuses but, eventually worn down by her father, she agrees. Amonasro hides as Radames enters, believing that if he is successful in battle a second time the Pharaoh will not oppose their marriage. Aida tells him that their only fortune together is in flight to her homeland. Eventually he yields to her, and she casually asks which route the army will take to Ethiopia. As he tells her, Amonasro steps out of the shadows, and Radames is horrified to see what he has done. Both Amonasro and Aida try to persuade him to come with them, but Amneris comes out of the Temple followed by Ramfis. Amonasro tries to stab Amneris but Radames protects her. As Aida and Amonasro escape Radames surrenders to the guards Ramfis has called.
In a hall in the Palace, above the underground Chamber of Justice, Amneris waits alone, torn between her love and a desire for vengeance. She sends for Radames and offers to secure a royal pardon if he will give up Aida, who has made good her escape. Radames refuses and Amneris sends him to his trial. Alone again she hears the charges against him read out and then the sentence of death. As Radames is led up she curses the priests’ cruelty.
In the Temple tomb in which Radames has been sentenced to a live burial he awaits death. The last stone has been put in place when he hears a noise beside him. It is Aida who has stolen into the tomb to die with him. They bid each other farewell while above, in the Temple, priestesses chant and Amneris prays to Isis that Radames’ soul may rest in peace.
Verdi was commissioned to write the opera Aida by Isma'il Pasha, Khedive of Egypt. It had been planned for it to inaugurate the Cairo opera house, and the opening of the opera house in turn heralded the conclusion of construction of the Suez Canal. In its concept, this new trade route from the Arabian Sea to the Mediterranean was to usher in a new age of prosperity for Egypt, while the first Egyptian national opera, composed by a great Italian, was to make the country part of European culture. Verdi did not succeed in completing his opus for the opening – Aida's premiere took place one year later, and the opera was successfully performed at the Cairo theatre until its collapse. Ever since the premiere, it has never left the world's great stages.
Against a backdrop of the glorious conquests of an ancient empire, there unfolds the story of the love between the Egyptian military leader Radamès and Aida, the daughter of the King of Ethiopia, which is at war with Egypt; she has been brought to the Egyptian Court as a slave. This love proves stronger than the promise of glory and power, stronger than loyalty to one's homeland and, in a certain sense, stronger even than death. What is unusual for one of Verdi's operas is that implacable Fate, in the spirit of the ancient world leading the characters to their deaths, is ultimately neither gloomy nor tragic. Death in love and in the name of love appears as some kind of happy oblivion following all of life's storms.
Daniele Finzi Pasca has greater experience in dramatic theatre and the circus than in opera, and precisely this experience was to prove very useful when working with the unusual space of the Concert Hall. There, the audience seats are located around the stage on all four sides, while the amazing acoustics give the performers freedom to move about; this allowed the abandonment of always facing in one direction, as is normally the case in opera house productions. Moreover, the classical production of Aida already in existence at the historic Mariinsky Theatre had to be balanced with something totally different in terms of spirit and style. There is practically no room for any sets at the Concert Hall; instead, the stage space is created by the costumes, the lighting and a minimally adorned stage, and instead of triumphant processions across it there is an acrobat who spins inside a heavy iron ring (this is borrowed from a production by Pasca for Canada's Cirque Éloize). In these conditions, Aida acquires not new meaning but a new sound, a new atmosphere which underscores the mystical and mythical elements. The hall's sensitive acoustics allows to highlight those subtleties that are often lost in the shadows of the splendour of the mighty orchestra in other productions. Denis Velikzhanin
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