VERDI: Aida (Highlights) (Barbara Dever/ Francesco Ellero d' Artegna/ Ireland National Symphony Orchestra/ Kristjan Johannson/ Maria Dragoni/ Mark Rucker/ Riccardo Ferrari/ Rico Saccani) (Naxos: 8.554706)
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Giuseppe Verdi(1813-1901): Aida (Highlights)
In the course of along life Giuseppe Verdi came to dominate Italian opera, after his firstsignificant success with Nabucco in 1842. His Egyptian opera Aida waswritten for performance at the new Cairo opera house, which had opened with aperformance of his opera Rigoletto. The story of the enslaved Ethiopianprincess Aida and her love for the Egyptian hero Radam?¿s, in rivalry with hermistress, the Egyptian princess Amneris, and the death of the first two, hassome basis in the Hellenistic Aethiopica of Heliodorus, but was claimedas the original work of Auguste Mariette, known as Mariette Bey. It has beensuggested that Temistocle Solera was responsible for the scenario, but if thiswas so, the fact was unknown to Verdi, who had quarrelled with Solera in 1846over the libretto of his opera Attila. The text of Aida was byAntonio Ghislanzoni. The opera was staged in Cairo on Christmas Eve 1871 and atLa Scala, Milan, in February 1872, in both places to very considerable acclaim.
 The opening Preludesuggests, in its themes, the conflict that will develop between Aida andthe Egyptian priests.
Act I: Scene 1
In a hall in thepalace of the Egyptian King at Memphis the young captain Radam?¿s is in conversationwith the High Priest, Ramfis, who hints broadly that the goddess Isis haschosen Radam?¿s to lead the Egyptian armies against the Ethiopians.
 Left alone,Radam?¿s wonders if it can be true that he is the chosen man, fulfilling hisambition. Then he might return in triumph to his beloved Aida, whose heavenlybeauty he praises.
The Egyptian princessAmneris suspects that Radam?¿s, whom she loves, is secretly in love with Aida.
The King enters with his guards, ministers and priests and declares that thetime has come for war against the Ethiopians and their King, Amonasro, Aida'sfather. He appoints Radam?¿s to lead the Egyptian armies.  They leave for theTemple or Vulcan and Aida is left with divided feelings. She cannot wishRadam?¿s victorious against her own father and her brothers, and yet she loveshim. She cannot mention the names or her father and her lover and trembles inconfusion, for only death can end her dilemma.
 In the Temple orVulcan the rites are performed and priestesses carry out a sacred dance, asRadam?¿s is appointed leader or the armies, to be given his sacred sword andarmour.
Act II: Scene 1
 In a room in thequarters of Amneris slaves dance before her, singing of coming victory. Shedismisses them and is joined by Aida, whose confidence she tries to gain,tricking her into confessing her love for Radam?¿s. Amneris threatens her, inangry jealousy.  She orders her to accompany her at the triumphalcelebration of victory, leaving Aida to call on the gods for pity.
 Before the greatTemple of Ammon the people crowd around, awaiting the triumphant return of thevictors.  The army marches in, preceded by fanfares, passing before theKing, seated on his throne, with Amneris standing by him.  Dancing-girlscarry in the spoils or victory.  The people sing the praises of theconquerors, their voices joining with those of Ramfis and the priests, givingthanks to the gods.
The King greetsRadam?¿s as the saviour of his country and promises him whatever he wants. Amongthe prisoners who are brought in is Amonasro, who conceals his identity.
Radam?¿s seeks the release of the prisoners, against the objections or Ramfis,but only Amonasro is detained, as a hostage. The King grants Radam?¿s the hand ofhis daughter Amneris in marriage, to the dismay of Aida and her lover, whileAmonasro secretly assures Aida that revenge is at hand.
It is a starry nightby the banks of the Nile. The Temple of Isis can be seen and from within areheard the voices of priests and priestesses. A boat draws near and Amnerisdisembarks, with Ramfis and some of the court women, and her guards. She entersthe temple to seek divine favour on the eve of her marriage.  Aida enterscautiously, apparently summoned by Radam?¿s for what she believes must be theirlast farewell. She remembers the blue skies, sweet breezes, green hills andflowing rivers of her own country.  She is startled to see her father,Amonasro, approaching. He tells her that he knows of her difficulties withAmneris and the situation in which she finds herself. With her help, she can berestored to her rightful position in her own country, if she can discover fromRadam?¿s the route the Egyptian armies will take. She is horrified at the verysuggestion that she should betray her lover.
Aida is joined byRadam?¿s, while Amonasro withdraws and hides among the palm-trees. Her owndilemma is reflected in that of her lover, who is reluctant to desert his owncountry, but eventually agrees to do so. As they are about to hurry awaytogether, Aida asks him about the route to be taken by the Egyptian army, sothat they may avoid the soldiers. Radam?¿s, overheard by Amonasro, reveals thearmy plans, aghast when Amonasro steps forward and reveals himself as Aida'sfather and King of Ethiopia. He invites Radam?¿s to join together with theEthiopians, but they are overheard by Amneris, emerging from the temple. Sheaccuses Radam?¿s of treachery and is threatened with death by Amonasro, butsaved by the young captain's intervention. Ramfis calls the guards and Radam?¿stells Aida and her father to make their escape, while he stays behind.
Act IV: Scene 1
 In a hall in theroyal palace, outside the door of the prison where Radam?¿s is incarcerated,Amneris regrets the escape of her rival, Aida. Radam?¿s will be condemned as atraitor, although she would save him, if she could. She foresees, however, hiscondemnation by the priests.  Brought in by the guards, he vows to say nothing inhis defence, but Amneris tells him that if he does not defend himself he mustdie. Nevertheless he is ready to face death.  She urges him to live andpromises to sacrifice everything for him. He had believed Aida dead, butAmneris tells him that Amonasro was killed but that Aida still lives. She willsave him, if he gives up Aida, but he prefers death.  In fury Amneristhreatens revenge, if he continues to reject her.  Radam?¿s, however, will accept death as a great good andhas no fear of the threatened revenge of Amneris.
Radam?¿s is taken away by theguards and Amneris is left in despair, blaming herself for his capture. Shesees the priests, led by Ramfis, seeking divine guidance, while she prays forhis release. Finally Radam?¿s is condemned todeath, immured, living, in the tomb. Amneris pleads for him, but in vain, andends by cursing the priests, as they go out.
The scene is on two levels, the upper representing the interior of the temple, splendid in itsgold and light. Below is an underground chamber, with long arcades disappearinginto the distance. Radam?¿s is there, as two priests seal the entrance with astone.  He is prepared to die, losing the light of day and his belovedAida. At this moment Aida reveals herself. She explains how she has hidden in thetomb, anticipating his death. He is overcome with emotion at her sacrifice and,almost in a trance, she tells him how she sees the angel of death drawing near;Heaven now awaits them. The voices of the priests are