A story of the Egyptian opera “Aida”: captivating and controversial

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A story of the Egyptian opera “Aida”: captivating and controversial

Met the opera of ‘Aida’ | Photo credit: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

In harmony with Egyptian theatrical tales, “Aida” by Guiseppe Verdi: an opera saturated with tragedy and desire, a vision of Aida on her knees crying for a lover, of Radamès’ unwavering attachment to his own passions.

‘Aida’ explores the majesty of the ancients and combines it with the brilliance of an orchestra. From Verdi’s bellowing score to the complexities of love and envy, ‘Aida’ has rest matured in the public consciousness for over a century, cementing its position as a monument to Egypt’s cultural past.

Although the fame of the score is not limited to Egypt; Considered “one of the most regularly performed operas around the world”, “Aida” has recreated Egypt time and time again on stages around the world, remaining as “beloved by directors like ‘Carmen’s Spain’ or ‘Madama Butterfly’s’ Japan.

“Aida” is a timeless tale of desperation against the backdrop of war, and has been a point of reference for countless theatrical explorations since its debut in 1887. Based on a story writing by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, it was composed by Verdi as a celebratory hymn inaugurating the Khedival Opera in Cairo; unfortunately, ‘Aida’ would not be ready in time. As the Franco-Prussian War enveloped Paris, production and shipment of costumes were halted. On the contrary, the House officially open on the score of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’, much to Verdi’s chagrin.

‘Aida’ would be later first in Egypt on December 24, 1871.

Khedivial Opera - Wikipedia
Khedivial Opera | Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Accompanied by a powerful and lung-wracking score, “Aida” tells the ancient story of two star-crossed lovers plagued by their affair: Aida, an enslaved Ethiopian princess held captive in Egypt, and Radames, an Egyptian general chosen to wage war against Ethiopia. Opera is a calculation of conflict – internal and external, exploring the concepts of nationality, personal loyalty and romantic suicide.

Set in ancient Egypt, “Aida” attempts to rethink an unseen era.

File:Giuseppe Verdi, vocal score cover of Aida.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Giuseppe Verdi, cover of the vocal score ‘Aida’ | Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yet it did not escape the critical eye of Edward Said, a Palestinian scholar who devoted much of his knowledge to deconstructing Orientalism – a premise he invented and conceptualized – in the Middle East and beyond. From ‘Aida’, he wrote: “[it has] an anesthetic and informative effect on the European public; to him, “Aida” was little more than the Eurocentric ideas of men unfamiliar with Egypt as a whole.

This assertion, though abrasive, is only supported by Verdi’s own feelings; The Guardian documents him having little feelings of admiration for Egypt. When he was working on ‘Aida’, he was checked in as having confessed “if someone had told me two years ago: ‘you will write for Cairo’, I would have considered him a fool.” Khedive Ismail swayed him with promises of grand and fabulous staging – and so Verdi agreed.

Edward Said Biography- Childhood, Life Achievements and Timeline
Edward said | Photo credit: Famous People

For Egyptians, however, there is no confusion between “Aida” and its creator: the opera remains highly regarded and is regularly performed at festivities across Egypt. Impresario Neveen Allouba describe “Aida” as a representation of Egypt’s past, “is our history”.

Alternatively, Magdy Saber, president of the current Cairo Opera House, believes there is modern significance to ‘Aida’. “It’s very important for the history of the Egyptian army,” he said. Explain to The Guardian, “because Radames [Verdi’s tenor hero] is the head of the Egyptian army and when he commits a crime, he admits it – so it is the honor of the country’s history and at the same time the honor of the Egyptian army.

Whether in the past or in the present, it is undeniable that Aida has remained a central node of Egyptian arts since its beginnings, although this does not negate the critical assessments made by modern and postmodern scholars. To consume media is to understand both its vitality and its validity, and as ‘Aida’ proves, the two can be worlds apart.

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