Set in ancient Egypt, without reference to time and place, Aida came to symbolise the story of love, loyalty and betrayal against the backdrop of war. For thousands of years the Pharaohs of Egypt were engaged in the trade of exotic products with the small kingdoms scattered along the east coast of Africa. Ancient Egyptians undoubtedly knew this fine harbour and its lucrative trade in aromatics, ivory and gold. By the time Queen Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty dispatched her famous sea trade ventures, commerce with the Land of Punt was well over a millennium old. However, the opera opens with the capture and enslavement of a woman from an unknown land called Aida. Held as an enemy of the Egyptian Royal Household, no one suspects that Aida is a princess. But an Egyptian military commander who is chosen to lead the Egyptian army into battle against the invaders, Radamès, falls in love with the captured stranger. The drama unfolds when Amneris, Princess of Egypt, reveals her love to Radamès and starts to question him about her feelings towards her. She suspects the General is harbouring intimate feelings for Aida, and becomes furiously jealous. When Radamès returns back to the frontline, Amneris tricks Aida into believing that he was killed in battle. Overwhelmed by grief Aida, hence, breaks down at the news which confirms to Amneris that the captured prisoner is her rival.
Meanwhile, the Egyptians have won the war and a triumphal procession celebrates Radamès’ victory. To honour him, the Pharaoh asks Radamès to name his reward. He was of course expecting the army General to ask for Princess Amneris's hand in marriage. Instead, Radamès pleads for the lives of the captured prisoners, and a guarantee of their safe return back home. The great Pharaoh agrees under one condition; he presents Radamès with the hand of his daughter, and the promise that he will one day rule as Pharaoh. He also accepts to release all prisoners, except for Aida and her father. Radamès is left with no choice but to marry the Egyptian princess. However, on the day of the wedding he arranges one last rendezvous with Aida. When the lovers finally meet Aida asks Radamès to help her flee Egypt with her father King Amonasro, as she was certain they will be executed if they stay. The General agrees to show them which route they should take to avoid the Egyptian troops, but refuses to escape with them and betray his country. Unfortunately, their conversation is overheard by Amneris who was praying in the temple. She calls the guards who capture Radamès and throw him in prison. And during his trail the General refuses to defend himself against the serious charges brought against him. Ultimately, he is accused of treason and locked-up inside a cell. But Radamès is surprised to find Aida waiting for him inside the sealed chamber, where they both face their final fate together.
Aida is a name found engraved on the Rosetta Stone. The granodiorite was found inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The name became the title of a four act opera, and the name of the leading female character, written and composed by the Italian musician Giuseppe Verdi in 1870. It was commissioned by Isma'il Pasha to commemorate the opening of the Khedivial Opera House the following year.
[Paintings' Credit (1, 2, 4 & 5): David Roberts, Scottish (1796-1864) | Painting (3): The Procession Of The Bull Apis, by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, American (1847-1928)]