Aida receives its company premiere in this new production, conceived by Francesca Zambello for the Glimmerglass Opera. As war rages between Egypt and Ethiopia, Aida tells the story of a Pharaoh's daughter competing with her own Ethiopian slave for the love of an Egyptian general. This intimate take on Verdi's masterpiece eschews the pyramids and elephants and focuses on the personal tragedies that face these characters and the national conflict that dwarfs and dooms two lovers from different worlds. Set to Verdi's most impressive score, and with the stunning Michelle Johnson in the title role, this moving tale of love amid war will never have been more powerful.
ACT I. Radamès, an officer in the Egyptian army, learns from the high priest, Ramfis, that rival forces are advancing on his city. If he can lead the troops in a conclusive victory for Egypt, he speculates that the king will allow him the prize he seeks: Aida. Currently enslaved to the Egyptian princess Amneris, Aida is the daughter of Amonasro, the rival king who leads the attack on Egypt. For her own safety, Aida conceals both her true identity and her feelings for Radamès. Amneris, who herself loves Radamès, jealously senses his feelings for Aida when the three meet. Led by the King of Egypt, a procession arrives to confirm that the attack has begun. He appoints the Radamès as Egyptian commander, at which shouts of victory fill the air. Left alone, Aida is torn between her love for Radamès and for her native land; she prays for mercy. Priestesses chant praises to their god as priests consecrate Radamès' sword in a sacred ritual.
ACT II. Ethiopia has been defeated. Amneris, entertained by slaves, prepares for Radamès' triumphant return. When Aida approaches, the princess dismisses her other attendants and tries to learn Aida's private thoughts, first pretending Radamès is dead, then saying he is still alive. Certain from Aida's reactions - horror, followed by joy - that her slave loves Radamès, Amneris leaves for the festivities. Aida reiterates her prayers. Radamès and his troops return with prisoners of war, including Amonasro, Aida's father. She rushes to greet him; he cautions her not to reveal their royal identity. Amonasro then eloquently pleads with the Egyptians for clemency. Radamès is in favor of granting Amonasro's request, but Ramfis, the Egyptian high priest, disagrees. After hearing both sides, the Egyptian king revokes Amonasro's death sentence but keeps him in custody. The king declares that the victorious Radamès will be granted the hand of his daughter, Amneris, in marriage - an offer he cannot safely refuse.
ACT III. Ramfis leads Amneris in a wedding vigil. Nearby, Aida waits for Radamès; she is overcome with nostalgia for her homeland. She is surprised by her father, who asks her to obtain strategic information from her lover. Initially she refuses, but Amonasro appeals to her loyalty and patriotism and then hides. When Radamès appears, Aida manipulates him into revealing the Egyptian army's plans. Amonasro triumphantly emerges from his hiding-place as Ramfis and Amneris come forth from their vigil. Radamès is distraught over his unwitting treachery; he surrenders himself to Ramfis as a traitor.
ACT IV. Awaiting trial, Radamès is unmoved by Amneris' offer to save him if he will renounce Aida and marry her. When he is led away, Amneris' pride dissolves; her love for Radamès is revealed by her agony in hearing him condemned to death. Enraged, the princess curses the judges. Condemned to death, Radamès prepares to spend his last moments in solitude. But Aida finds her way to him - if she cannot share her life with Radamès, she will die with him so they can be together for eternity.