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AIDA : The War Between Egypt and Ethiopia that Never Happened

ልእልት አይዳ 

Dawit-Woldegiorgis _ AIDA
The writer, Dawit W Giorgis 

by Dawit W Giorgis 
January 3, 2019

The Egyptian city of Luxor is located along  the Nile River, south of Cairo  on the ruins of “Thebes” which the Egyptians and the ancient Egyptians called “Waset.”Luxor rejoiced the return of Verdi’s Opera Aida, lastOctober, after 22 years of absence, an event greatly awaited by opera lovers from around the world, at the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor,the cradle of Egypt’s civilization.Placido Domingo the most famous living tenor played the lead role 22 years ago in Luxor in 1987 February.Aida is being shown in several places during festive seasons like this New Year. Aida has been performed in other ancient settings:at the Pyramids of Giza (since 1912), at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (since the late 1930s) and, of course, at the Roman Theatre of Orange, since 1936. It has also been staged in stadiums, like in Paris and Shanghai.I wonder why it has not been shown in Ethiopia. After all the story is about an Ethiopian  Princess: Aida . 

“ Egypt Independent,”an online popular Egyptian English news paper, writes on October 26, 2019: “ The return of the Opera Aida to Luxor since its premiere at the same location at the end of 1997,is a message of peace and security from Egypt to all parts of the world,and a step towards making Opera Aida an annual event on the global tourism agenda… The Opera Aida in Luxor is classified as a Mega Event and is attended by 4,000 first class spectators, 60 percent of which are foreigners from abroad from Europe, Asia and Latin America, 25 percent of foreigners residing in Egypt, while 15 percent are Arab royalty and former Egyptians princess.The occupancy in Luxor hotels reached 100 percent for the event.”Aida shows the historical tension that exists between Ethiopia and Egypt and how the Nile has always been a flash point for conflict between the two countries. 

It is told that Ismail Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, commissioned Verdi to write the opera, to celebrate the opening of the Royal Opera House. Aida was first performed at Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House on 24 December 1871. Aida was written by one of the best-loved operatic composers in history – Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901).Born in Italy, Verdi composed 26 different operas during his lifetime, some of the most popular being La Traviata, Rigoletto and Nabucco. Aida is said to have ben the most beloved operas of Verdi.I watched Aida at the Giant Stadium in New Nersey, April 1990, again played by the favorite Placido Domingo.The Los Angels Time of 26 April, 1990, praised the show; “ as the biggest production of any opera ever.”I have watched the video recordings several times.  It was a three-hour show.A white woman painted black played Aida. I wished then, that a black woman played it.But I have seen other versions on documentary clips in which a black woman plays Aida.Such characterizations of whites the role of blacks have created some controversies in the performing art world.

In  Dec 2016, a controversy arose in the  musical-theater society University of Bristol, in England, over the casting of white students for playing black characters The National Review in an article titled Killing  Aida, writes this:

Bristol’s Aida never got off the ground, because of student protests. The protesters figured that white students would be cast in the musical. And that would be an injustice to Egyptians and Ethiopians. It would be “whitewashing.” So, the musical-theater society canceled the show. “We would not want to cause offense in any way,” they said.”One of the protesting students said, “Whitewashing still exists. It’s been done enough in Hollywood.Look at Liz Taylor in Cleopatra it is indeed a clash of art and identity politics. 1

Aida is one of the world’s best-known operas. Aida has been performed over 1000 times.The back ground to the opera is fascinating to those who romanticize the past centuries of mystic love,betrayal, chivalry and patriotism. Verdi composed this fictional story, opera, known as AIDA knowing fully well what the Nile meant for Egypt. It is a tragic story of two lovers  caught between wars of their respective countries. In Act one the king of confirms that Ethiopian troops were advancing and that the troops were led  by the King of Ethiopia himself ,and have already made their way into Thebes.The king appoints Army General Radames as the leader of the army to repel the advance while simultaneously declaring war on Ethiopia.

Radames hopes by being victorious, to win the hand of his lover Aida – an Ethiopian enslaved as handmaiden to Egyptian princess, Amneris. However,Amneris is in love with Radamès herself, and is growing suspicious. Radamès returns from battle triumphant, but Aida is devastated – her own father Amonasro, who is actually the King of Ethiopia, has been taken captive.To make matters worse, the King of Egyptrewards Radamès with an unwelcome gift – his daughter Amneris in marriage.When Amonasro tasks Aida with helping him avenge Ethiopia Radame’s,loyalties collide, with tragic consequences. 

Egypt has always been paranoid about the Nile water cut offs by Ethiopia. That fear is entrenched in the  psyche of every Egyptian since time immemorial.This fear has been reinforced by biblical stories,other legends  but also by historical facts like the famine of 1200 brought about by low floods of the Nile which in turn was caused by low rainfall in Ethiopia.It is told that it killed: 

“One third of Cairo’s population.There was no longer any hope that the Nile would rise; and as a result the cost of provisions had already gone up. The provinces were ravaged by drought.The inhabitants foresaw a state of dearth as inevitable, and fear of famine led to disturbances. Those who lived in villages and in the countryside left for the main provincial towns.A great number emigrated to Syria, the Maghreb, Hejaz and the Yemen…. They went further, and reached the stage of eating little children.It was not unusual to find people [selling] little children, roasted or boiled. The commandant of the city guard ordered that those who committed this crime should be burned alive, as should those who ate such meats.” 

Before and after such incidents,there has always been the talk of war between Ethiopia and Egypt.“ Verdi’s story was partly enacted as a bloody reality when Egyptian troops were annihilated by 60,000 Ethiopian troops after making several disastrous imperialistic forays into Ethiopian territory” writes Steven Solomon in his book;`WATER. 

In the first Scene, Act I the king of Egypt Ramfis says:
“ Yes it is rumored that the Ethiop dares one again our power in the valley of the Nilus, Threaten as well as Thebes.The truth from messenger I soon shall follow;”and so begins one of the most sensational shows on earth,reminding the world of how tense the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt continues to be.  

A romantic grand opera, Aida is regarded as the grandest of all grand operas because it is usually lavishly staged with a very large cast and orchestra.Throughout his life Verdi wrote a total of 28 operas. Aida has been adapted for motion pictures on several occasions, most notably in a 1953 production, which starred Lois Maxwell and Sophia Loren, and a 1987 production.In both cases, the lead actors lip-synched to recordings by actual opera singers.The opera’s story, but not its music, was used as the basis for a 1998 musical written by Elton John and Tim Rice, Elaborate Lives: The Legend of Aida.

So much about Aida.The story underlines the importance of the Nile to Egypt and to what extent Egypt would go to ensure that it keeps on flowing unhindered.

The War Drums Have Been Beating 

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