Takes a Bow
Auguste Mariette wasn't a composer. He
wasn't even a playwright. He was a historian
and archeologist, the director of Egyptian
antiquities. But he had written a story set in
It was the tale of Aida, a beautiful Ethiopian
slave girl, the Egyptian princess Amneris, and
Radames, the Egyptian captain they both
loved. It became the basis for Verdi's grand
Mariette first came to Egypt in 1827 at the age
of 6. By 12, he was able to read hieroglyphics
and decipher Coptic writings.
In 1851, he discovered the Avenue of the
Sphinxes and the subterranean tomb
complex with the statues of the Apis bulls.
In 1858, he became conservator of Egyptian
In 1869, the Khedive asked him for a story on
which to base an opera, and he sent the story
He also designed the costumes and sets for
the opera, going to great effort to make them
Mariette's own watercolor
drawings of his costume
authentic. Mariette designed them to be
made and shipped to Cairo by Paris Opera
The Giza pyramids (above) formed the
backdrop for one act, the Temple of Karnak,
Mariette made watercolor sketches of the
costumes (left), based on bas-reliefs from
Auguste Mariette (inset) and early visitors to the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.
Avenue of Sphinxes (above),
Apis bull (right).