Opera Aida in Egyptian history: Timeline

Ati Metwaly , Wednesday 5 Aug 2015

The opera holds special significance in Egypt's music history due to its thematic content and historical events linked to its performances

Opera Aida
May 2013 production of Opera Aida, performed at the Cairo Opera House (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

Aida is among the most popular operatic works performed in Egypt, and its history features a series of remarkable performances and events commemorating the opera and the composer.

During the opening celebrations for the new expansion to Egypt’s Suez Canal on 6 August 2015, scene II from Aida's second Act -- the famed Triumphal March -- will be performed.

The history of this particular opera in Egypt goes back almost one-and-a-half centuries and is linked to a number of interesting events.

Composed to the libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni and based on a story written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette who, in turn, was commissioned by the Khedive Ismail Pasha, Aida was first performed at the Khedival Opera House in Cairo on 24 December 1871.

In recent Egyptian history, Aida was performed on a yearly basis on the stage of the Khedival Opera House in Cairo until it burned down in 1971.

With the Cairo Opera troupes finding no home for their concerts and performances, some events were moved to Al Gomhoureya Theater.

Opera Aida
Opera Aida (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

Opera Aida's mega production took place in 1987 at the Giza Pyramids.

The performance included 1600 artists performing on a stage measuring 4,300 square metres. A total of 27 thousand spectators attended for eight consecutive nights for a performance featuring Bulgarian soprano Ghena Dimitrova and Italian dramatic tenor Giuseppe Giacomini. The opera was directed by Italian Mauro Bolognini and the orchestra was conducted by Carlo Franci. For many years to come this spectacular production remained in the audience's memories.

Following the mega production, the opera moved to the newly built Cairo Opera House.

It was in 1994 that performances were launched against a backdrop of the Deir Al-Bahari Temple, Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor.

Opera Aida
Opera Aida (Photo: Sherif Sonbol)

Three years later, in October 1997, another performance was organised against the backdrop of the Deir Al-Bahari Temple. However, terrorist attacks on tourists a month later ended opera performances in Luxor, and in 1998 the opera moved to the Pyramids, where it was staged in 1999 and 2000.

One more mega production was planned to take place in October 2001, but this was cancelled in the wake of the 11 September attacks in the US. The show was expected to attract more than 26,000 people over six evenings.

Further performances took place at the Cairo Opera House, where it remains until date except for the year 2010 when Aida was held at the pyramids and performed at the Sound and Light Show location, with the pyramids and Sphinx as the backdrop.

Aida was performed at the opera for many years. It was directed by the late Abdel-Moneim Kamel with the Cairo Opera Company, the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, the Cairo Opera Orchestra, and the Cairo Opera Choir.

In 2013, the opera was a backdrop to an important social and political event. On 28 May 2013, the day that Aida was supposed to be staged, the curtain of the opera's main hall opened to an on stage strike.

On-stage strike

Hundreds of artists protested against the dismissal of chairperson Ines Abdel Dayem from her post, in a series of sackings executed by then culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz. Abdel Dayem returned to her post in July, reinstated by the following minister Mohamed Saber Arab.

Paralleling global celebrations of Verdi's bicentennial birthday anniversary in October 2013, the Cairo Opera held a special exhibition displaying a book titled Viva Villa Verdi by artist Sandro Vannini, including photographs from the composer's mansion.

The exhibition also included over 30 photographs of Verdi's private house in addition to copies of letters that the composer exchanged with several people, some of which referred to Egypt’s opera production.

Works displayed within exhibition "From Verdi's villa to Cairo, a journey never completed" at the Cairo Opera House in October 2013. (Photo: Ati Metwaly)


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