Synopsis from My Standpoint
Aida, the story of the tragic love between a princess and a captain against the background of military conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt, was completed in November 1780. It’s a four-act work and the premiere was in December the next year, in France. The time of the narrative is not specified, so it’s hard to place it to anything more precise than the Old Kingdom.
Radames, the Captain of the Guard for the King of Egypt, hopes to be in charge of the Egyptian Army in the imminent war with Ethiopia. At the same time, he is in love with an Ethiopian slave living in the palace. That slave is actually Aida, the Ethiopian princess, and her identity is secret to her captors. To make matters more complex, the King’s daughter, Amneris, loves the young warrior, but worries that he might be enchanted by another. It is true, as we know, plus Aida loves Radames in return, but the two haven’t admitted their feelings to each other. Wow, how dramatic already!
The military forces of Ethiopia move close to Egypt, in a campaign to free the princess. The Ethiopian king, Amonasro, declares war and Radames goes to war leading the Egyptian army. Aida is torn between her love of her father and country, and Radames.
Suspecting who Radames’s love interest is, Amneris, the Egyptian princess, tells Aida that the young captain has died on the battle field, which makes her reveal her feelings towards him. That affects Amneris, filling her with bitter spite and revengefulness. I already pity her.
The Egyptians win a victory and take some Ethiopians hostage. Aida’s father is among them. She runs to him, but he wants her to hide his real identity from their captors. Thus, King and Princess remain incognito. In an age when no photo IDs were available, that is no wonder. It is much more surprising when notables are recognised near and far despite obvious difficulties.
The captives beg the Egyptian king for mercy, although the High Priest and the crowd insist that the enemies should be put to death. In honour of the victory, the King promises to Radames anything he wants. Radames, in his turn, begs the King to spare the captives’ lives. That is granted, Radames is declared successor to the throne and to be married to the Egyptian princess. The King and Princess of Ethiopia are to remain hostage for life, lest they plan a revenge in their homeland.
Aida and Radames get together in some mystic move. I didn’t get how it came to this, but operas often play this trick. So, on the night before Radames and Amneris’s wedding, the two lovers converse, while Amonasro, of Ethiopia, listenes behind a rock. He has ordered his daughter to learn the location of his army and their planned attack direction from Radames. Aida asks her lover to flee with her in the dessert, and unknowingly, he tells her where his army is camping and where they are going to attack.
Amneris and the High Priest appear on the scene and, seeing Radames conspiring with the enemy, call the guards who arrest the commander as a traitor. Meanwhile, Amonasro has told the young man who he is, so Radames is astonished by the news of the night: one horrible and one confusing. The horrible one is that he spilled the beans to the enemy, while the confusion comes from him realising whom he loves.
Amneris sincerely wants to save her love, but Radames refuses to deny the accusations. He is sentenced to be buried alive and brought to a lower vault in the Temple of Vulcan. In the last scene, we see Radames there expecting his fate and believing Aida is safe. This wouldn’t be a true tragic opera if that were so. Aida appears in the same chamber and both sing to their destiny, goodbye to life and earth’s suffering. Above ground, Amneris is miserable. This final piece leaves me with several questions.
First of all, why would Radames not reject the accusations? He didn’t inform the enemy knowingly, he was cheated into it. I don’t believe his death would remedy the situation. Another trait here is that he didn’t want to live without Aida. But, why want to die? He believed Aida escaped and was safe. So, lay low for some time, wait for your moment, and go. Life is strange, you never know what the future holds. These sound like all to modern considerations. I know that noble characters in old work don’t think in such opportunistic ways. For the heroes of old, there is all or nothing, now or never. I understand that I’ve grown. Up, old or wiser.
My other nuisance concerns the place. What temple of Vulcan? Who is that god? Wasn’t he one of the Roman pantheon? I’ve never heard of an Egyptian god called Vulcan.
In conclusion, I think this poor girl, Amneris, is the really tragic character. First, she loves someone who doesn’t return her feelings. Not only that, but his heart belong to someone else. Although Amneris is a princess, she loses this fight to a slave. Of course, the winner is also a princess, but who knows that? Then she hopes to get the upper hand in some way or another, but finally, she loses all. Imagine the humiliation Radames causes to her by meeting up with another woman on the night before their wedding! Imagine the disrespect! Spectators forget about the feelings of characters who are not loved by the protagonist. We want to support the loving couple. Anyone else is of no importance, as if another woman has no right to feel they way she does. When has love asked for permission, though? I felt for Amneris the first time I knew she was in love with this outstanding guy, Radames. And you know what more? I don’t like him very much. He has large enough fandom, I reckon.
As for Aida and Radames, they are heroically tragic, and they are the central characters in the opera with pretty good dividents from that. They are protagonists, everyone in the audience is supposed to sympathise with them, and remain in our hearts forever.
Poor Amneris! Poor rich and happy princess in love with the commander-in-chief!