This is a continuation of my journey into musicals (previous musicals).
In this exploratory journey of musicals we’ll briefly venture into the adjacent world of opera, as I’ll discuss both Aida the opera and Aida the musical, both based on the same story.
Let’s start with the opera. Aida was composed by Giuseppe Verdi and premiered in Cairo in 1871. It was commissioned by the ruler of Egypt to celebrate the opening of the Khedivial (Royal) Opera House in Cairo. The original Aida came with a five-minute prelude. A prelude is short piece of orchestral music that sets the mood for the music to come. Preludes are usually played before an act of the opera – not at the beginning of the opera. Overtures are usually longer pieces that are played before the opera, as their job to expose the most important motives of what you are about to hear. Before a performance in Milan in 1872, Verdi composed an 11-minute overture for Aida, which he then decided not to use. To this day most performances include the prelude, not the overture. You can listen to Aida’s overture, which is terrific, here.
Today, 150 years later Verdi’s Aida is still one of the most-performed operas.
Aida’s story takes place in Egypt, which is at war with Ethiopia. Aida is an Ethiopian princess captured by the Egyptians and serves as a slave to the Egyptian princess Amneris. Amneris is in love with the young Egyptian general Radames, who is leading the war against Ethiopia. What complicates this picture is that Radames is in love with Amneris’s servant Aida, and Aida is in love with him. To quote from Aida the musical, “Every story is a love story.” The story here is not your typical love triangle, it is a more like a love square where love for country is thrown into the mix: Radames has to make a choice between Aida, Amneris, and Egypt. You’ll have to watch the opera or the musical to find out how this dramatic story unfolds. (You can watch a summary of the opera here).
“O Patria Mia” aria
“Fu la sorte aria”
Now let’s move on to Aida the musical.
Aida was a continuation of the relationship between Disney and Sir Elton John (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) after their previous successful collaborative effort on the Lion King musical. The Aida musical had a rough start. Its first production, in Atlanta, suffered a malfunction of a complicated $10 million pyramid contraption. I read a story somewhere that the malfunction was the best thing that happened to the production. As it broke, all the performers came out on stage and started to sing their roles as if it were not a staged musical but a concert. The audience did not care; they loved it. Aida’s producers knew they had a successful musical – a great combination of terrific music and a powerful love story – and that it didn’t need overcomplicated contraptions and super-fancy sets.
I love Heather Headley’s singing of Aida, and here is my favorite recording of her singing Aida’s main song, “Written in the Stars”:
“Written in the Stars” sung by Sir. Elton John and LeAnn Rimes
“I Know the Truth,”
Sung by Sir Elton John,
Which also sounds wonderful in Korean: