St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre


opera by Giuseppe Verdi staged by Alexei Stepanyuk

Performed in Italian (the performance will have synchronised Russian and English supertitles)
Marking 115 years since the birth of Sofja Preobrazhenskaya



Christian Knapp

Amneris: Olga Savova
Aida: Anna Markarova
Radames: Mikhail Vekua
Ramfis: Sergei Aleksashkin
Amonasro: Edem Umerov
The Pharaoh: Gennady Bezzubenkov

Running time: 3 hours 5 minutes
The performance has one interval


Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni

Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Alexei Stepanyuk
Set Designer: Pyotr Schildknekht
Set Revival Director and Costume Designer: Vyacheslav Okunev
Lighting Designer: Vladimir Lukasevich
Lighting Adaptation for the Mariinsky II by Anton Nikolaev
Musical Preparation: Irina Soboleva
Choreographers: Igor Belsky, Georgy Aleksidze


Act I
Scene 1. At the Pharaoh’s palace at Memphis news arrives of an impending invasion by the Ethiopians. The High Priest Ramfis prays to Isis, the protectress of Egypt, to reveal the name of a military commander who can win the battle. Radames, head of the palace guard, dreams of being chosen by Isis and that if he heads the army he will be victorious and as a reward demand the freedom of his beloved – Aida, one of the Pharaoh’s slaves.
Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter, is secretly in love with Radames. Seeing the young man looking deeply troubled, Amneris begins to guess at his love for the slave girl. Aida’s confusion serves to increase her suspicions.

Scene 2. A hall in the Pharaoh’s palace. A messenger arrives with troubling news: the Ethiopians, headed by Amonasro their King, have entered Egypt. The will of the gods is revealed to the Pharaoh: the Egyptian forces will be led by Radames. He receives a blessing for victory.

Scene 3. Aida is in despair. Her soul is consumed by a torturous battle between her love for Radames and fear of her father, King Amonasro.

Scene 4. A temple in Memphis. A grand ceremony for Radames’ dedication is underway. The High Priest Ramfis presents him with a sacred sword and asks the gods to grant the Egyptian army victory.

Act II
Scene 5. Amneris’ chambers. She awaits the return of Radames who has been victorious over the Ethiopians. Whatever the cost, Amneris wants to know the truth about Aida’s feelings. She tells the slave girl that Radames has been killed. Aida is unable to hide her grief. He is, however, alive, and Aida loves him – now Amneris knows it and demands that the slave girl renounce her love.

Scene 6. On a square in Thebes everything is ready to greet the victors. Captive Ethiopians, among them Amonasro, are paraded before the Pharaoh. His daughter rushes to him, but he warns her not to reveal his name and title. To remove all suspicion he claims he is a military commander and says the King of Ethiopia has died in battle.
As a reward for gaining victory, Radames asks the captives be granted their freedom. On the advice of the High Priest, the Pharaoh keeps Aida and her father as hostages but grants the others their liberty, and Radames will be given his daughter’s hand in marriage as a reward.

Scene 7. On the banks of the Nile in the Temple of Isis, Amneris is preparing for her marriage to Radames. Here Aida is also waiting for her beloved to bid him farewell forever. Amonasro appears. Discovering his daughter’s love for Radames, he demands that Aida discover which way Radames will take his warriors against the Ethiopians. He reminds Aida that she is a royal princess and not a humble slave girl. Stricken by mental agony, Aida agrees to carry out her father’s demands.
Radames arrives. Aida suggests fleeing together with her beloved to Ethiopia – only there can they be happy. Aida attempts to discover the route the army will take. Amonasro listens to Aida and Radames’ conversation. He is triumphant: now victory is assured. Radames understands that he has committed treachery and surrenders to the priests. Aida and Amonasro hide.

Act IV
Scene 8. In an underground court Radames’ fate is to be decided. Amneris begs her beloved to repent and promises him freedom, riches, the throne – everything if only he will forget Aida. But Radames is unbending. For love he has sacrificed his honour and betrayed his own land and he is ready to be punished for it.
The High Priest Ramfis pronounces the sentence – for his treachery Radames will be entombed alive. In despair, Amneris curses the priests’ inhumanity.

Scene 9. Aida has stolen into the vault beneath the temple in order to share her beloved’s fate. The priests can be heard singing inside the temple. In deep sorrow, Amneris bends down over the stone concealing the entrance to the underground vault, begging the gods for spiritual peace.


It is well known that Aida was commissioned from Giuseppe Verdi by the Khedive of Egypt to mark the opening of the Suez Canal. For ten years the composer had written nothing for Italian theatres. His new operas were awaited with baited breath everywhere from London to St Petersburg and he received more for them than in his native Italy. And so it happened that one of the maestro’s greatest masterpieces was premiered in Cairo, far from any of the world’s operatic capitals. Although it had been stated that if Verdi didn’t write an opera they would turn to Wagner or to Gounod (what an amazing choice theatres had in 1870!), in Egypt they waited patiently until having turned them down twice the maestro eventually agreed to read the scenario – and he found it was a magnificent one. Then they waited some more until the immense score was ready and still more until they could get the costumes and sets from France that had been delayed at the workshops in Paris because of the Franco-Prussian War. The Cairo premiere took place on 24 December 1871. The composer did not travel to Egypt, preferring to stay in Milan for rehearsals of a production there.

In Aida Verdi succeeded in doing everything. Every image, even the episodic Messenger, is depicted sharply, the vocal roles are magnificent and almost every number of the score proved a hit. In terms of the stunning visual impact, Aida with its choruses, processions and dances is a million miles ahead of one of its direct predecessors in French grand opera – Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine. The first Cairo production was particularly luxurious, and for the famous march Verdi himself ordered six long “Egyptian” trumpets from the Milanese instrument maker Giuseppe Pelitti.

In his twenty-third opera Verdi showed himself to be conservative, wisely preferring traditional forms to innovations in composition. If one reads his letters to the librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni, it may appear that he really wanted to reject drama altogether in favour of the music. For example, in the finale Verdi only wanted singing “pure and simple”. Of course, that is not what happened. Aida is remarkable for the magnificent dramatic scenes of the protagonists – Aida, Amneris, Radames and Amonasro – and the abundance of unexpected twists in the plot. But in these two the singing is the most important and the lofty verse that accompanies it is magnificent in terms of style. Working on the scene of Amneris and the priests, Verdi told his co-creator: “Never doubt that here you are writing beautiful poetry, consistent, noble and lofty.” This is the spirit of Aida – a work that is, essentially, classical and which in terms of its tome comes close to a Greek tragedy.

The most surprising thing in Aida is its finale. Verdi said, “I would like something tender and lofty, an extremely brief duet, a farewell to life. Aida would quietly melt into Radames’ embrace. At the same time, Amneris, on her knees on the stone covering the entrance to the dungeon, would sing a kind of ‘Requiescant in pace’.” And that’s how it turned out, and the lovers walled up in the dungeon, bidding farewell to the world and worldly suffering, as if rise upwards towards the heavens. Anna Bulycheva

World premiere: 24 December 1871, Khedivial Opera House, Cairo
Premiere at the Bolshoi (Kamenny) Theatre: 19 November 1875, Imperial Italian Opera Company
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 1 April 1877, Imperial Russian Opera Company (performed in Russian, translated by Grigory Lishin)
Premiere of this production: 30 December 1998

Running time: 3 hours 5 minutes
The performance has one interval

Age category 12+

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