For those who, like me, are unfamiliar with the plot of Aida, it goes something like this:
An Ethiopian princess (Aida) is a slave of the Pharaoh, in Egypt. The Egyptians don't know she is a princess. She loves, and is loved by, an Egyptian General (Ramades) loves her, but cannot admit this (presumably because she is a slave who doesn't belong to him). She loves him, too.
The Pharaoh's daughter, (Amneris) is also in love with Ramades.
Aida's father, (Amonasro) leads an invasion of Egypt, and as luck and Senor Verdi would have it, Ramades is chosen to lead the Egyptian armies against the invader, leaving Aida with a rather uncomfortable conflict of interest.
While Ramades is away fighting the Ethiopian Army, Amneris, who seems to be of a jealous turn of mind, decides to try to find out whether Aida is in love with Ramades, so tells her that he has been defeated, and is dead. Aida betrays herself, grieving for him, Amneris admits she lied reducing Aida's problems from 'my lover is dead' to 'my father and countrymen have been defeated in battle, and the most powerful woman in the country, who literally owns me, is pissed at me'.
Ramades returns in triumph (you can tell, because there is a Triumphal March, complete with trumpets and *that* tune that even non-opera fans can recognise) bringing with him a number of Ethiopian prisoners, including Aida's father, King Amonasro (who pretends to be an ordinary general). The Pharaoh and High Priest plan to execute them all, because what's the point in crushing your enemies and parading them in chains through the city if you don't get to execute them afterwards?
|Production photo from the ENO website|
The Pharaoh is pleased with Radames, and (perhaps a little rashly) offers him anything he wants as a reward, and also announces that he will give Radames his daughter's hand in marriage and that Radames will get to be Pharaoh after he is gone. Radames, who is clearly the kind of sensitive and thoughtful guy who can see that defeating his prospective father in battle and then assisting at his execution might result in some relationship issues, asks that the Ethiopian prisoners be spared, and released. Not being a complete idiot, Pharaoh agrees, but keeps Aida's father as a hostage for their good behaviour, and gets on with planning Amneris' wedding to Radames.
After the interval, we are back with the wedding planning. While Amneris goes off for a night of pre-wedding prayer, Aida meets with her father, who suggests that if she can get Radames to tell her where the Egyptian army is likely to be, he and she can escape, rejoin the Ethiopian army and successfully fight back. (which, tactically speaking, sounds fairly sensible). Aida resists, not wishing to ask her lover to betray his country, but is persuaded when her father threatens to disown her.
Aida and Radames then have a duet in which she tries to persuade him to come away with her, singing eloquently of the beauties of her country (she doesn't mention anything about the potential social awkwardness of moving to a country after decimating their army, but perhaps she overlooked that), while he sings about his concerns about whether leaving would leave him dishonoured, and how much he loves Aida, but is silent about whether he is planning to jilt Amneris and marry Aida (probably not a career-enhancing move) or to marry Amneris and have an affair with Aida (probably not a relationship enhancing plan...)
Aida convinces him to come with her, so he discloses to her and her father where the Egyptian Army is due to be, so they can avoid it to reach Ethiopia. At which point, Amonasro reveals his identity and that he plans to use the information Radames has just provided to ambush the Egyptian army. I can' help but feel that this may be why Amonasro and his army were defeated in the first place. It doesn't seem to me that, from a tactical perspective, telling the enemy general your plan (even if he does want to marry your daughter) is a very good idea. Although perhaps the dramatic force of the opera would be reduced f anyone were to act sensibly!
Things go rapidly downhill for our protagonists. Radames is overcome with remorse and with being arrested and thrown into gaol. He is then swiftly tried by the high priest and all the lesser priest, and is tunefully condemned to death. By being entombed alive.
Radames decides (arguably a little belatedly) to be Very Noble and refuses to explain himself, or to let Amneris intervene on his behalf, and as such is duly buried alive (in a large and well-lit tomb). As he muses on fate, Aida shows up,having hidden herself in the tomb to be buried alive with him, rather than (say) escaping with her father. It's all very sad.
And in hindsight, bearing in mind that Amonasro invaded Egypt specifically to rescue his daughter, suggests that his entire war was a colossal waste of time and energy.
I did enjoy it,especially the big choruses, I have to say. I'm a fan of big choruses! But I suspect that I shall continue to spend more time in theares than opera houses in the future!