September 2014
Billie Silvey
Aida, the Story
Giuseppe Verdi (inset, above) was a
composer.  When the project of an Egyptian
opera was suggested, he was too busy to be
interested.  Besides, he couldn't write the
music for an opera without a story.  

Auguste Mariette's story of
Aida had a plot he
could use.

Verdi was born in Italy in 1813.  He produced
many successful operas and was known for
his melodies and for his grand theatrical
effects.

He developed his musical talents at a young
age, studying composition before being
rejected for admission to the Milan
Conservatory in 1832 because he was too
young.  He began studying under Vincenzo
Lavigna, a famous Milanese composer.  

In 1836, he married Margherita Barezzi, the
daughter of a friend.  

At age 25, he returned to Milan, where his
first opera,
Oberto, debuted at La Scala.  It
was the first of over
25 operas he composed
throughout his career.  His works have been
performed more than any other composer
worldwide.  

Full length performances of Aida by the
Houston and San Francisco Operas are
available online.

Aida was grand opera, with a huge cast.  It
was also grand opera because of its strong
characters and equally strong emotional
drama.

Verdi decided to accept the commission, but
the khedive required the finished opera by
January 1871, only six months after their
agreement.

When Emperor Napoleon III declared war on
the Prussians, who captured the bulk of the
French army, took the emperor prisoner and
blockaded Paris, it seemed impossible for
Mariette to get his costumes and sets out of
the city.
The city used balloons to carry mail, so
Mariette was able to keep in touch with Cairo,
but how could he get the sets and costumes
there?  

The siege of Paris was lifted in 1871, and the
sets and costumes were shipped.  
Aida
opened to great acclaim in Cairo in February
of 1871.  The
opera opened to resounding
applause.  The next year, it opened at
La
Scala to 32 curtain calls, and by 1878, it had
played at more than 130 opera houses
around the world.
 

My husband Frank saw several
performances at the
Baths of Caracalla in
Rome over the three years he lived there.  

It was the perfect setting, he says, with the
huge ruins behind the stage.  He found it
impressive as spectacle.  

Aida continues to be a staple of the standard
operatic repertoire.  It is number 12 on the
Operabase list of most-performed operas
worldwide between 2008 and 2013 with 272
performances.

The second scene of Act 2, the
triumphal
march, includes the best-known music of the
opera.  It is also the scene where the most
over-the-top productions occur, including the
appearance of live camels--and even
elephants--in some productions.
Aida at the Baths of Caracalla.
Aida at the Metropolitan Opera