a 3200-Year-Old Egyptian Love Story
written and photographed by Dr. Klaus G. Muller

Egyptian stamps celebrating the Aida performance in 1994; value: 15 piasters and 80 p (then the postage for a letter abroad – the big stamp measures astonishing 7x8,2 cm). Sometimes a friendly postmaster can find one in his hoard.

Aida (Arabic female name meaning "visitor" or "returning") is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi. It was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on December 24, 1871.

      Ismail Pasha, Khedive i. e. Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, had commissioned Verdi to write the opera for performance in January 1871, but the premiere was delayed because of the Franco-Prussian War. Contrary to popular belief, the opera was not written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, nor that of the Khedivial Opera House (which opened with Verdi's Rigoletto) in the same year. Verdi had been asked to compose an ode for the opening of the Canal, but refused on the grounds that he did not write "occasional pieces."

      Aida stormed the operatic world (La Scala in 1872, Academy of Music in New York and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London in 1876) and remains one of the best-loved and most played operas to the present day. After Aida, Verdi took himself off to self-imposed retirement before being persuaded to return to the stage for his last two operas, Otello and Falstaff 16 years later.

      The opera is based on a story written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, inspired by Pharaonic history at its height. The plot is about a victorious Pharaonic officer, Radamis. He falls in love with his Ethiopian captive, princess Aida who tempts him to reveal to her his secret military plans. To complicate the story further, Radames is loved by the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris, although he does not return her feelings. Pharaoh Ramses knows about their secret and sentences Radamis to prison in a cellar till death. Aida herself hides in the cellar to face death with her lover. The most effective scene is when the stage opens and the dungeon arises from the depths revealing the caged prisoners. This forms the dramatic backdrop when Aida recognizes her imprisoned father, King Amonasro of Ethiopia.

      Aida was performed at Luxor's Westbank close to the Hatschepsut Temple in November 1994. But director Vittorio Rossi didn't make use of the Temple in the background. Rossi insisted in his own vision: "I present in this performance history, not monuments."

      A 600 metre long bridge linked the east and the west banks of the River Nile to transport spectators to and from the performance. A red carpet was laid along the bridge, decorated with gold lotus flowers.
(for more details see and

      Other open-air performances were planned for 2005 in front of the Luxor Temple and in front of the Great Pyramid in Giza but cancelled because considered too dangerous at that time. Let's hope for the future! Aida has one regular home in the new 7-floor Cairo Opera House in Gezira that opened in 1988, replacing the one for which Verdi wrote his opera and which burnt down in 1971.

Klaus G. Muller