With a grand opening at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo, Egypt in 1871, composer Guiseppe Verdi’s highly-praised opera AIDA had a future that would span lifetimes. This tale of forbidden love has been a standard piece of operatic repertoire since its creation and has since been transformed into a pop-rock musical spectacle by present-day theatre giants Elton John and Tim Rice. Despite the obvious differences in musical styles and visual displays, these two productions share a story that is both powerful and compelling.
Seattle Opera presents Michael Yeargan and Peter J. Hall’s production of Verdi’s Aida at McCaw Hall in August, 2009. Photo © 2007 Ken Howard, courtesy San Diego Opera
Arguably one of the most popular operas to date, Verdi’s AIDA was created in the famous era of Grand Opera in Europe, which took place between the 1820s to roughly the early 1870s. This 19th century genre of opera was characterized in its initial productions by large-scale casts and orchestras, lush and spectacular designs and stage-effects, with plots usually based around dramatic historic events taking place within four to five acts. Verdi’s AIDA lends itself to this era of opera as it certainly deals with a dramatic culture clash in a historical, Egyptian setting. It also incorporates several ballets, in addition to its well-known Grand March. The opera was such a success that the composers who followed in its footsteps worked to create productions of even grander proportion in a valiant effort to out-do those who came before. Little did they know, however, that Verdi’s AIDA would survive decades of revivals and eventually reinterpretation as we have seen in Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA.
Village Theatre’s production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA. Photo by Jay Koh.
Winner of four 2000 Tony® Awards, Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA is a contemporary musical based on the original libretto which once belonged solely to Verdi’s opera. From the pop-rock music to the performances of the characters, this 1998 musical bursts with energy from start to finish. Originally titled Elaborate Lives: The Legend of AIDA, the show had its world premiere at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia in November 1998. Roughly a year later it was revamped and opened in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace. In 2000, the musical ran on Broadway, in its final form, at the Palace Theatre for 1,852 performances under the all new title, Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA.