About this Recording
8.111042-44 - VERDI: Aida (Milanov, Bjorling, Perlea) (1955)

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni after a story by Mariette Bey

Aida - Zinka Milanov (soprano)
Radamès - Jussi Björling (tenor)
Amneris - Fedora Barbieri (mezzo-soprano)
Amonasro - Leonard Warren (baritone)
Ramfis - Boris Christoff (bass)
The King of Egypt - Plinio Clabassi (bass)
A Messenger - Mario Carlin (tenor)
Priestess - Bruna Rizzoli (soprano)

Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
Giuseppe Conca, Chorus master
Jonel Perlea, conductor

Recorded 2 - 18 July 1955 in the Opera House, Rome
First issued as RCA Victor LM-6122

Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn



It was during the summer of 1869 that Verdi was approached about writing a hymn for the forthcoming celebrations to mark the opening of the Suez Canal in November that year. The new Opera House is Cairo was also inaugurated with a performance of Verdi's Rigoletto. He declined and advised the authorities of dissatisfaction with the quoted fee. He eventually began, however, to have a change of heart, so that by February 1870 he was suggesting the possibility of accepting, now that his interest in composition was slowly returning. The idea of a work encompassing an Egyptian historical subject certainly interested him. The Khedive of Egypt, aided by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, was determined to commission an opera specially composed for the new house. Mariette sent it to Camille du Locle, who had been one of the librettists of Don Carlos, a scenario he had devised. If it was somewhat conventional in plot, it contained enough local character and scenic possibilities. When shown to Verdi he was immediately attracted, seeking advice on Egyptian history and cultural backgrounds to music, religion and geography. Du Locle constructed a French prose libretto under Verdi's close supervision that was later converted into Italian by Antonio Ghislanzoni. The composer worked on his four-act opera during the months from July to November 1870. The première was scheduled for January 1871 but was delayed because Paris, where the scenery that was being built, became engulfed in the Franco-Prussian War of that year. Incidentally, Verdi contributed part of his fee for Aida for the benefit of the French wounded in the war. The eventual first night occurred on 24 September 1871 at the Opera House in Cairo under Giovanni Bottesini, best remembered today as a double-bass virtuoso and composer.

While Verdi wrote a number of spectacular passages in his opera, most notably the magnificent Triumphal Scene and Ballet Music in Act 2 after the Egyptians have defeated the Ethiopians in battle, the opera is really centred around the four principals. On the one hand we have the doomed lovers Aida and Radamès, on the other the Egyptian Princess Amneris (who also loves Radamès) and the Ethiopian King Amonasro (Aida's father). It is the power of father over daughter that eventually brings about the downfall and eventual death of Radamès for treachery. Musically the opera reveals many sides of Verdi's genius and has rightly remained one of the composer's most popular works. The composer later extended the Ballet Music in Act 2 by some ninety bars for the opera's Paris première (in French) in 1880. Additionally, his publisher Ricordi suggested that the composer write a full-length Overture for the Milan première in February 1872 but this was discarded even before the Italian first performance. The music remained unperformed until the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, who had made his conducting début with this opera in Buenos Aires in 1887, performed the Overture in New York in 1940.

The American RCA Company had begun recording complete operas in Rome in 1954, having found the cost of such undertakings in the United States prohibitive by that time. Not only did they have a suitable venue but also the resources of an opera chorus and orchestra to hand. Another benefit was that the smaller rôles could be cast with local Italian-based singers, as can be witnessed in this recording. The main problem was the heat of a Roman summer in the days before air conditioning meant the recording sessions either took place before midday or in the early evening. The logistics were considerable in that all the recording equipment had to be shipped by sea from the United States together with the production and engineering staff. The recording of Aida was recorded in ten days over a period of two weeks.

The title-rôle was assigned to the Croatian-born but American naturalised soprano Zinka Milanov (1906-1989) who possessed one of the most beautiful voices of her time. She studied singing in her native Zagreb with Milka Ternina and then Fernando Carpi before making her début in 1927 at Ljubljana as Leonora in Il trovatore. A member of the Zagreb Opera between 1928 and 1935, she also appeared as a guest with the Deutsches Theater in Prague and Dresden before being selected by Toscanini as the soprano soloist in Verdi's Requiem at the 1937 Salzburg Festival. Later that year Milanov joined the Metropolitan Opera, singing 424 performances during her career in that house prior to her retirement in 1966. She sang at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires between 1940 and 1942 in addition to appearances in San Francisco and Chicago. She returned to sing in Europe when engaged by the Teatro alla Scala in 1950 and Covent Garden in 1956 as Tosca. Her other rôles included Norma, Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), and Maddalena (Andrea Chénier). Her complete recordings include Il trovatore (Naxos 8.110240-41), Cavalleria rusticana (Naxos 8.110261), Tosca, La Gioconda and La forza del destino. Milanov possessed a voice of translucent tonal beauty and considerable vocal power and her exquisite pianissimo singing was greatly admired in Bellini, Puccini and Verdi.

The Swedish tenor Jussi Björling (1911-1960) was born in Borlänge in the district of Dalarna, and as a boy toured with the family quartet in Sweden, in addition to the United States where the three Björling brothers also recorded. His adult teachers were the baritone John Forsell and the Scottish tenor Joseph Hislop. He joined the Royal Opera in Stockholm in 1930. An international career began in earnest with appearances in Vienna (1936), Germany (1937) and New York (1937). The war years were largely spent in Sweden but he soon returned to New York where he sang until 1959. Björling was highly regarded in both the French and Italian repertoire, being respected for his artistic qualities, even if his acting was conventional and somewhat stiff. He recorded extensively from 1929 until 1960. He suffered, however, from poor health in later life, caused by heart problems. His complete operatic recordings include Il trovatore (Naxos 8.110240-41), Cavalleria rusticana (Naxos 8.110261), Pagliacci (Naxos 8.110258) and Manon Lescaut (Naxos 8.111030-31).

When the recording of Aida was released in Britain, the November 1956 edition of The Gramophone thought the end result was 'the best complete Aida to date'. The reviewer thought that 'at her best Milanov sings superbly', Barbieri 'was the best of current interpreters of the rôle', Björling 'the most musicianly Radamès since Martinelli', Warren 'solid and sturdy' and Christoff 'an immensely dramatic Ramfis'.

Fedora Barbieri (1919-2003) was born in Trieste, where she studied with Federico Bugatti and later Luigi Toffolo before moving to the school of the Teatro Comunale in Florence to work with Giulia Tess. Her début was as Fidalma in Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto in Florence in November 1941, soon followed by Azucena. She then appeared in Rome (1941-2) and at La Scala in 1943 as Meg Page in Verdi's Falstaff. Later that same year she sang in Belgium, Germany and Holland. Having married Luigi Bartoletti, then artistic director of the Florence May Festival she retired temporarily but returned in 1945. She visited Buenos Aires to sing at the Teatro Colón in 1947 in addition to singing Brangäne to Maria Callas's Isolde. For her New York début at the Metropolitan Opera she sang Eboli in Don Carlos at the start of Rudolf Bing's reign as General Manager of the house in November 1950. When the La Scala Company visited London in 1950 she sang Mistress Quickly in Falstaff as well as a Verdi Requiem under Victor de Sabata. She was later engaged by the San Francisco Opera in 1952 and continued to appear in New York between 1951-4, 1956-7 and 1967 when her rôles included Adalgisa, Carmen, Amneris, Azucena amd Laura. She sang Eboli in the famous Visconti production of Don Carlos to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. By the late 1960s Barbieri changed to singing character parts and continued to do so until her retirement in 2000. She had a repertoire of over a hundred rôles and was in the classic line of Italian mezzo-sopranos.

Leonard Warren (1911-1960) was born in New York of Russian immigrant parents and began his career in the chorus of Radio City Music Hall. After winning the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air in 1938, he then studied briefly in Italy, before his formal début as Paolo in Simon Boccanegra in January 1939. During 22 seasons at the Met, Warren sang in over six hundred performances with the company, with whom he became the principal in the Italian repertoire. His overseas appearances included Rio de Janeiro (between 1942 and 1946), Mexico City (1948-49), Milan (1953- 54) and a concert tour of the Soviet Union in addition to three operatic appearances. He collapsed on stage during a performance of La forza del destino in March 1960 and died in the wings almost immediately. His huge, resonant voice with easy ringing upper register was ideally suited to the music of Verdi, a number of whose operas he recorded, including Rigoletto (Naxos 8.110148-49) and Il trovatore (Naxos 8.110240-41).

Boris Christoff (1914-1993) was born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and first obtained a law degree while singing as an amateur in the Gulsa Choir in Sofia. King Boris then made financial arrangements for the young bass to study in Rome with the baritone Riccardo Stracciari. Moving to Salzburg in 1943, Christoff was later interned in a labour camp by the Germans. After a period of further study he made his concert début singing Wotan's Farewell from Die Walküre in Rome where he would make his first stage appearance as Colline in La bohème. He later sang Pimen in Rome, a rôle which he repeated at La Scala in 1947. His London début was in the title-rôle of Boris Godunov at Covent Garden. He was then engaged to sing King Philip at the Metropolitan in New York in November 1950 but was refused a visa. His first American engagement was delayed until 1956 when he repeated Boris in San Francisco. Christoff sang regularly at the Chicago Lyric Opera between 1957 and 1963. He returned to Covent Garden to repeat his Boris, adding King Philip and Fiesco in Simon Boccanegra during the years 1958-74. His justly acclaimed interpretation of Philip was seen at the 1960 and 1961 Salzburg Festival. His long career continued until 1980. Christoff was a charismatic stage performer with fine vocal control and a powerful feeling for words. He excelled in the Russian repertory but also in the bass rôles of Verdi. He was the brother-in-law of the baritone Tito Gobbi (1913-1984).

The Romanian conductor Jonel Perlea (1900-1970) was born in Ograda of a German mother and Romanian father. After studying in Munich and Leipzig he made his début as a conductor of one of his own compositions in Bucharest in 1923. The following year Perlea served as an assistant conductor in Rostock. Then followed a period of obligatory military service in his native country before joining the staff of the Royal Opera in Bucharest. Four years later he became music director of the opera, with appointments at the Royal Academy of Music and Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra. During his ten years in Bucharest he conducted the local premières of Der Rosenkavalier, Falstaff and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In 1944 the Nazis interned him, after he had made an abortive attempt to escape to France. The following years were spent in Italy including engagements at La Scala in Milan conducting Samson et Dalila, Così fan tutte, Orfeo ed Euridice, Boris Godunov, Salome, Werther and Fidelio between 1947 and 1950. He was then engaged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York during the 1950-51 season, conducting Tristan, La traviata, Rigoletto and Carmen. In 1952 Perlea returned to Romania as a guest. He taught conducting at the Manhattan School of Music between 1955 and 1970, also serving as conductor of the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra in 1955. In 1957 he suffered a heart attack and the following year a stroke which forced him to conduct with his left hand. Perlea recorded a considerable amount of purely orchestral music for the Vox label: in addition he also directed Manon Lescaut (Naxos 8.111030-31).

As a valuable appendix to Aida, highlights from a contemporaneous recording of Un ballo in maschera are offered. This was made following the belated début as Ulrica at the Metropolitan Opera of the famous American Afro-Caribbean contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993) on 7 January 1955 to become the first coloured singer to appear in that house. This historic event made possible the breakthrough for similar artists in the future.

Marian Anderson had by this time become an American legend even icon but her career had suffered greatly from racial prejudice hitherto. Born in Philadelphia she studied first with Giuseppe Boghetti and later Frank LaForge in New York. She made her first recordings in Camden, New Jersey in 1924, before winning first competition in 1925, which enabled her to sing with the New York Philharmonic at the Lewisohn Stadium on 27 August. In 1928 she went to Europe and made her first recordings in London before making her Carnegie Hall début the following year. During the 1930s she sang in Austria, England, France, Germany and Scandinavia, culminating in a recital engagement at the Salzburg Festival in 1935, the year Anderson sang at the Town Hall in New York. In 1939 she was refused permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington DC. On 4 April she sang in an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial in the American capital to an audience of 75,000 people. In 1957 she was appointed a delegate to the United Nations by the American Government. Anderson retired from singing in 1965, two years after she had been awarded the United States Medal of Freedom. Her long career was spent in the concert hall in the fields of oratorio, song and Lieder. Her large, well-produced contralto voice possessed a velvet-like quality.

Jacob Pincus Perelmuth, known professionally as Jan Peerce (1904-84), was New York-born. Originally he sang in synagogues, played the violin in dance bands and appeared as a popular singer in cabaret before studying singing with Giuseppe Boghetti. Between 1933 and 1938 he sang at the Radio City Music Hall before he made his stage début as the Duke in Rigoletto in Philadelphia during 1938. This was followed by a solo appearance in New York City the following year and in 1941 he joined the Metropolitan Opera where he sang Alfredo in La traviata. He would sing 205 performances over 26 seasons of eleven rôles that would include Edgardo, Cavaradossi, Riccardo, Rodolfo, Ottavio, Faust and Turiddu. In 1956 he became the first American singer to appear at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow since the end of the Second World War. He also visited Austria, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden. Leaving a fulltime association at the Met in 1966, he made his farewell appearance in the house two years later. He subsequently appeared as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway before failing eyesight and physical problems forced his retirement. Although small of stature he possessed a strong vocal technique and metallic ringing top register despite a somewhat dry tone. He is best remembered for the complete recordings of La bohème, La traviata, Fidelio and Un ballo in maschera that were conducted by Toscanini.

Athens-born Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) studied in his native city and then with Busoni in Berlin between 1921-24, where he became a répétiteur under Erich Kleiber. Returning to Greece in 1924 he worked with the orchestra of the Athens Conservatory. He worked with the Paris Symphony Orchestra in the years 1932-36. After he was engaged by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1936 he settled in the United States, later becoming a naturalised citizen. He worked with the Minneapolis orchestra (1937-49), followed by the New York Philharmonic between 1949 and 1958. He returned to Europe in 1950 to conduct Elektra at the Florence May Festival where he would also appear in 1954 and 1957. His Metropolitan début was conducting Salome in December 1954 and he later conducted there Boris Godunov, Tosca, Die Walküre, Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci as well as the première of Samuel Barber's Vanessa. He appeared regularly during the 1950s at the Salzburg Festival. Mitropoulos had a particular empathy for contemporary operatic scores. He conducted without a baton in a somewhat agitated and nervous manner but invariably achieved highly expressive interpretation. He also appeared as a pianist and was a composer who wrote symphonic and operatic works. A conducting competition was later named after him.

Malcolm Walker





[CD 1 / Track 1] The Prelude presents material characteristic of Aida, contrasted with the opposing chant of the priests.

Act I

Scene 1
The scene is set in a hall in the palace of the King at Memphis. On the left and right there is a colonnade with statues and flowering shrubs. At the back is a great gate, through which are seen temples, the palaces of Memphis and the pyramids.

[1/2] Radamès, Captain of the Guards, and the Chief Priest Ramfis are in conversation. Ramfis tells of the rumour that the Ethiopians are again on the warpath, threatening Thebes and the Nile Valley. Radamès asks Ramfis if he has consulted Isis and Ramfis tells him that the goddess has decided the name of the supreme Egyptian commander. He looks fixedly at Radamès and adds that the man chosen is brave and young: now he must tell the King of the decision of Isis.

[1/3] Left alone, Radamès wonders if he is the chosen man. This, after all, is his ambition, to lead soldiers to victory to the acclaim of all Memphis. Then he might return, garlanded with laurels, to his beloved Aida. He sings in praise of his heavenly Aida, the queen of his thoughts. Victorious, he will set her free to breathe again the air of her own land.

[1/4] He is joined by the Egyptian princess, Amneris, who notices the unusual joy that now appears in his regard. She feels jealousy of the woman who has been able to bring him such happiness. Radamès tells her that his heart has been filled with a dream of fame: the goddess has chosen the leader of the Egyptian army, and he might be the one. Amneris seeks to know whether he has not had another more tender dream. Radamès wonders if she has guessed his secret, while she expresses her own strong suspicion. He catches sight of Aida. Amneris sees his look, but then turns to her slave, greeting her not as a slave but as a sister. Aida fears the approaching war, anxious for her unhappy country, but Amneris asks if this is really the reason for her anxiety. Aside, she bids her slave tremble, and Radamès notices her anger, fearing her suspicious jealousy, while Aida expresses her own misgivings.

[1/5] The King enters, preceded by his guards and followed by Ramfis, ministers, priests and captains. He addresses his nobles. A messenger steps forward and tells how the sacred soil of Egypt has been invaded by barbarous Ethiopians, destroying fields and crops, soon ready to attack Thebes itself. The Ethiopian army is led by a fierce warrior, Amonasro, their king, Aida's father, as she exclaims in an aside. Now, the King declares, is the time for war and Isis has declared the name of the Egyptian leader, Radamès. He is delighted at this answer to his prayers, while Aida is troubled. The ministers and captains shout the name of Radamès in acclamation. The King bids him to the temple of Vulcan, there to receive his weapons.

[1/6] Egyptian heroes, the King goes on, will arise to wreak death on the foreign aggressors. Ramfis proclaims glory to the gods, who rule everything and hold the fate of the warrior in their hands. Aida, in her mind, is divided whether to pray for her lover or for her own country, while Radamès has no doubts about the glory that awaits him. Amneris gives him the glorious banner, to guide and protect him on the path of glory. The assembled ministers and captains shout their defiance of the enemy, for Radamès will return as victor.

[1/7] Aida is left alone, haunted by these last words. She cannot wish Radamès victorious over her own father, who fights to set her free and restore her to her rightful place: Radamès would be victor over her brothers, stained with their blood, her father brought in chains behind the conqueror's chariot: she begs the gods not to hear her mad words but to let the enemies of her people perish, but then what of her love? How can she wish the death of Radamès? She dare not utter the names of father and lover and trembles in confusion: only death can end her dilemma.

Scene 2
The interior of the temple of Vulcan at Memphis is lit by a mysterious light from above. There are long rows of columns and statues of various gods. In the middle, above a platform covered with carpet, is an altar, surmounted by sacred emblems. The smoke of incense rises from golden tripods. Priests and priestesses stand with Ramfis at the foot of the altar.

[1/8] A priestess within the temple prays to the powerful god Phthà, her voice soon joined by those of her priestesses, while Ramfis and his priests, before the altar, invoke the god, father and son, source of light, life of the universe. Radamès enters, unarmed. While he approaches the altar, the priestesses carry out a sacred dance. A silver veil is placed over his head.

[1/9] Ramfis addresses Radamès, entrusting him with the destiny of Egypt. He gives him the sacred sword, tempered by the god, to be a terror to their enemies. Ramfis turns again to the altar, seeking the protection of the gods over the soil of Egypt, a prayer echoed by Radamès. While he is invested in his sacred armour, the priests and priestesses chant their prayer and perform their mystic dance.

Act II

Scene 1
The scene is a room in the quarters of Amneris in the palace.

[1/10] Amneris is surrounded by slaves, preparing her for the triumphal feast. The slaves sing of a bold warrior, victorious and to be rewarded with love, while Amneris wishes for her lover, to intoxicate her and make her happy. The slaves continue their song of victory and love and there is a dance of little Moorish slaves to entertain the princess. While the slave-girls sing, Amneris expresses her secret thoughts, but is silent when she sees Aida approach, carrying the victor's garland. Amneris still harbours jealous suspicions in her heart.

[1/11] Feigning kindness, Amneris turns to Aida, promising to be her friend and telling her to be happy, but Aida cannot be happy, far from her own country, with the fate of her father and brothers unknown. Time will heal her sorrows, and a powerful god, love, Amneris assures her. This is more disturbing to Aida, divided in her loyalties between joy and torment, while Amneris looks at her closely in suspicion. She asks her to reveal her secret thoughts and tell her of her love: does she love some hero in the battle? By some quirk of fate the leader of the Egyptians has fallen in battle. Aida, believing what she has been told, is distraught, promising to mourn Radamès for ever, only for Amneris to reveal that the news was false: now, however, she is certain that Aida is her rival. Aida openly admits her love for Radamès, but Amneris threatens her, since this love can only bring death to her: she has power over Aida and has in her heart feelings of hatred and revenge.

[1/12] Amneris commands Aida to be with her at the triumphal celebration, while the voices of the people are heard celebrating victory. For Aida nothing remains, her life is a desert and she can only die. Amneris bids her follow, since she will teach her to struggle with her. The people demand war and death to foreigners. Left alone, Aida calls on the gods to pity her suffering.

Scene 2
In the foreground are palm-trees, to the right the temple of Ammon and to the left a throne with a purple canopy above it. In the background is a triumphal gateway.

[2/1] The people crowd round as the King enters, followed by ministers, priests, captains, fan-bearers, standard-bearers, then Amneris with Aida and her slave-girls. The King takes his seat on the throne and Amneris takes up her position on the left of the King. The people sing glory to Egypt and to Isis and their King. The women promise a laurel wreath for the brow of the victor and Ramfis, with his priests, offers thanks to the gods.

[2/2] The Egyptian troops march in, preceded by fanfares, passing before the King. There follow war chariots, standards, sacred vessels and statues of the gods. Dancing girls follow, bearing the spoils of victory.

[2/3] The people sing the praises of the conquerors. Radamès enters under a canopy held by twelve officers.

[2/4] The King descends from the throne to embrace Radamès, who bows to Amneris, as she offers him the crown of victory. The King promises him whatever he wants, but he asks first for the prisoners to be brought in. These now enter, escorted by guards, with Amonasro at the end, dressed as an officer. Aida recognises her father and embraces him, but he whispers to her not to betray him. The King bids him come forward.

[2/5] Amonasro tells the King that he is Aida's father and has fought for his king and country, but his king was killed in battle: if it is a crime to love their country, then they all must die. He asks the King for mercy, for today they are defeated, but tomorrow it may be the Egyptians who suffer. Aida joins the prayer for mercy, while the prisoners echo Amonasro's words. Ramfis and the priests seek the death of the prisoners, while Amneris watches Aida and Radamès, who finds Aida more beautiful in her distress. The King and the people are inclined to mercy, but the priests remain adamant.

[2/6] Radamès now asks the King to grant his request, which the King promises. He asks for life and freedom for the prisoners, a request that surprises Amneris and is opposed by the priests. Ramfis warns the King not to listen, since these prisoners have vengeance in their hearts. Radamès claims that now Amonasro the warrior king is dead, the defeated have no hope. Ramfis suggests that at least Aida's father, in fact Amonasro, should be kept as a hostage, and the King agrees to this. As a reward the King grants Radamès the hand of his daughter Amneris in marriage, to the latter's triumphant delight.

[2/7] King and people join in proclaiming glory to Egypt, while the slaves and prisoners praise the clemency of the King. Aida wonders what is now left for her, only the tears of disappointed love, and Radamès, appalled by this turn of fate, declares that the land of Egypt is no recompense for the love of Aida. Amneris, meanwhile, is delighted at the apparent fulfilment of her dreams and Ramfis prays that the fates be propitious over Egypt. Amonasro takes the chance to tell Aida to take courage, since revenge is at hand.


By the banks of the Nile granite rocks are seen, from which palm-trees grow. Above the rocks is seen the temple of Isis, half hidden by foliage. It is a starry night and the moon shines brightly.

[2/8] The voices of priests and priestesses are heard from the temple, singing to Isis, immortal mother and wife of Osiris. A boat comes to the shore and Amneris disembarks, with Ramfis, some of the court women, veiled, and guards. Ramfis addresses Amneris, bidding her to the temple on the eve of her marriage, to seek divine favour. She says that she will pray that Radamès give her his whole heart, as she gives hers to him. They enter the temple, as the priests and priestesses continue their hymn.

[2/9] Aida enters cautiously, apparently summoned by Radamès and wondering what he will say to her, since this must be their last farewell. She remembers the blue skies, the sweet breezes, green hills and flowing rivers of her own country, which she will never see again.

[2/10] To Aida's surprise, Amonasro approaches and tells her he knows of her troubles, with the daughter of Pharaoh, ruler of their hated enemies, her rival in love. She laments that she is in their power, but Amonasro assures her that she can again have country, throne and love: their people are ready to attack and Aida herself can discover from Radamès the route of the Egyptian armies. She is horrified at the suggestion that she should betray Radamès. Amonasro calls on the cohorts of Egypt then to destroy his people and country. Aida begs him to pity her, but he continues to tell her of the horrors of war that her country will suffer and from which she can save her people: otherwise she will have the curse of her mother and be disowned by her father, to remain an Egyptian slave. Aida begs again for pity, but he tells her that she must have the courage to help her country. He withdraws and hides among the palm-trees.

[2/11] Radamès now joins Aida. She asks him what he wants, since he is to marry Amneris. He assures her that he loves her alone: she must not doubt his love. She asks how he can defy the King and brave the anger of the priests, but Radamès tells her that danger threatens, for the Ethiopians have again invaded Egypt: he will earn the gratitude of the King and the reward he wants. Aida warns him to beware the vengeful fury of Amneris, which will fall on her, her father and everyone. Radamès promises to defend her, but Aida tells him he cannot: one way is open to him, flight.

[2/12] Aida tells Radamès that they must escape together to a new country, where they can love each other.

[2/13] He exclaims on the idea of seeking refuge in a foreign land, abandoning his own country, the altars of his gods, the land where he won glory. She accuses him of not loving her, if he will not join her in flight: he must go to the altar with Amneris. Radamès gives way: let them fly together from these walls to the desert, where stars will shine upon their love. Aida adds her nostalgic memories of her native land, where they can be happy together. Together they dream of escape. As they are about to hurry away, Aida pauses. She asks him the route to be taken by the Egyptian armies, apparently so that they may avoid them in their flight. He tells her that the approach chosen will remain unguarded that night and she elicits from him the information that the army will attack through the gorges of Napata.

[2/14] Amonasro emerges from hiding, announcing that his men will be there waiting. In reply to the question of Radamès, he reveals his identity as Aida's father, Amonasro, King of Ethiopia. Radamès is aghast and cannot believe what he has heard. When assured by Aida of the truth of the claim, he is horrified at his own treachery. Amonasro declares this the work of fate and invites Radamès to cross the Nile with him and join the Ethiopians, to be rewarded by the hand of Aida. At this point Amneris, Ramfis, priests and guards emerge from the temple. Amneris declares Radamès a traitor, while Aida recognises the power of her rival. Amonasro threatens Amneris with his dagger, but is prevented from killing her by Radamès. Ramfis calls the guards, while Radamès tells Aida and her father to escape, prepared himself to stay.

Act IV

Scene 1
The scene is a hall in the palace of the King. To the left a great door leads to a subterranean court of justice, while a passage on the right leads to the prison of Radamès.

[2/15] Amneris crouches by the door, regretting the escape of her rival: Radamès will be condemned as a traitor, although he is not, but yet he wanted to escape with Aida: she would save him, if she could.

[2/16] Radamès is brought in by the guards, and Amneris foresees his condemnation by the priests: yet he can still save himself and she will intercede with her father for him. Radamès vows he will say nothing in his defence. Amneris tells him that if he does not defend himself, he must die, but he would welcome death. She urges him to choose life, through her love: she will sacrifice country, throne and life for him. He, however, sacrificed his country and his honour for Aida, who is now dead. Amneris assures him that Aida is still alive: her father was killed, but she survived. She asks him to abjure his love for Aida, if she is to save him, but that he cannot do, preferring to die. Angry, she threatens revenge, if he rejects her love, but he declares death a great good: he has no fear of human anger. Amneris, however, still threatens revenge.

[2/17] Radamès is taken away, escorted by the guards. Amneris, now alone, sits, in despair, wishing to save Radamès and blaming herself for his capture. She turns and sees the priests crossing to enter the subterranean court, exclaiming on these inexorable ministers of death. She covers her face with her hands, blaming herself for the arrest of Radamès. Ramfis and the priests seek divine guidance, while Amneris prays for the release of Radamès, who is now taken down to the court, to her increased dismay.

[2/18] Accused by the priests, Radamès makes no answer. The accusers renew their demands and Amneris her prayers for mercy, while Radamès remains silent and is condemned to be immured, living, in the tomb. Amneris pleads for him, but in vain, and she ends by cursing them, as they go out.

Scene 2
The scene is divided into two levels, the upper representing the interior of the temple of Vulcan, splendid in its gold and light. The lower reveals an underground chamber, with long arcades disappearing into the darkness. There are great statues of Isis and Osiris with crossed hands, supporting the pillars of the court above. Radamès is there, on the steps leading to the chamber. Two priests above are sealing the entrance with a stone.

[3/1] Radamès prepares for death in the tomb, never to see the light again or his beloved Aida. At this moment Aida reveals herself.

[3/2] Aida explains how she has hidden herself there, anticipating his death, and here she too will die, in his arms. Radamès is overcome with emotion, that she, so pure and beautiful, will die for love of him and perish in the flower of her youth. Almost in a trance, she tells him to see the angel of death drawing near: Heaven now awaits them. The voices of the priests are heard from the temple above, praying to great Phthà, a sad song, Aida says, the triumph of the priests, their hymn of death. Radamès tries to move the stone that seals the chamber, but in vain.

[3/3] Together they bid the earth farewell, while the priests continue their chant, and Amneris, dressed in mourning, appears in the temple, throwing herself upon the stone that seals the underground vault. In the crypt below Aida dies in the arms of her lover, while Amneris prays to Isis for them and the priests still call on the great god Phthà.

Keith Anderson



Producer's Note

The Aida recording was transferred from the best portions of three American LP pressings, while the Ballo highlights came from an Italian LP. In both recordings, some electronic clicks and distortion (principally during some of Milanov's louder notes) are inherent in the original tapes. I have chosen not to filter the tape hiss too much, in an effort to preserve the highs in the original recording.

The Ballo highlights album seemed an apt filler for this set, featuring as it does two of the principals of the Aida cast in another recording of a middle-period Verdi opera made in the same year for the same label. It is also noteworthy as a memento of Marian Anderson's long-delayed Met début, as well as the only operatic rôle the contralto essayed on stage.

Mark Obert-Thorn

Close the window