Aida was composed in 1870 and premiered on December 24th 1871 in Cairo, Egypt. Verdi’s grandest opera and one of the most popular ever written, it was intended to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal and the Cairo Grand Opera House in 1869. However, the premiere was delayed for over a year as it proved impossible to ship all the costumes and sets to Cairo due to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Aida is remarkable for its sophisticated and active use of the orchestra, which has a more significant role than in Verdi’s earlier works. This is evident in the splendid, ceremonial Triumphal March and Ballet Music at the end of Act 2. The Triumphal March so inspired the Egyptian authorities that it was adopted as a national hymn for the country. The accompanying Ballet Music, depicting a dance by the captured Ethiopians, was used as part of the procession before the Egyptian King.
The plot was based on a story by the French Egyptologist, Auguste Mariette Bey, who was eager to see whether it could be adapted for the stage. Aida is set during the reign of the Pharaohs. Aida is an Ethiopian princess who has been captured and enslaved by the Egyptians. She falls in love with Radames (the military leader), but Pharaoh’s daughter is also in love with him. Radames chooses Aida and thereby commits treason. He is placed in an underground tomb which is sealed, but Aida hides herself in the tomb with him so they can die together.
The Triumphal March announces the celebration of the return of Radames, following his victory with the Egyptian army over the Ethiopians. When he was studying traditional Egyptian music, Verdi found reference to a fanfare trumpet, which was apparently reminiscent of a donkey’s bray. So, Verdi commissioned an “Aida Trumpet” to be built by the instrument maker Adolphe Sax, thereby providing a vivid and brilliant sound for the March.
Programme notes for BHSO performance, Nov 2013
Written by Lynne Haslam
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