BEFORE THE OPERA BEGINS: THE ACTION TAKES PLACE IN ANCIENT EGYPT AT THE TIME OF THE PHARAOHS. DURING A LONG WAR WITH NEIGHBOURING ETHIOPIA, THE ETHIOPIAN PRINCESS AIDA HAS BEEN CAPTURED AND TAKEN TO MEMPHIS TO ACT AS SLAVE TO AMNERIS, DAUGHTER OF THE PHARAOH, WHILST HER FATHER AMONASRO HAS MOUNTED A COUNTER-INVASION TO TRY TO RESCUE HER.
Scene 1: In a hall in the royal palace, Radames longs to be asked to lead the Egyptian forces, also revealing that his desire for glory has been inspired by his love for the slave girl, Aida. But the king’s daughter, Amneris, also shows her love for Radames, whilst suspecting his affections lie towards Aida. The Egyptians’ king enters and, learning of recent Ethiopian advances, appoints Radames as commander-in-chief and launches into patriotic song; whilst Aida is left to muse over the conflicting demands of her allegiance to Radames and her homeland.
Scene 2: In the Temple of Vulcan at Memphis, the High Priest Ramfis ordains Radames on his newly received mission.
Scene 1: In Amneris’s apartments, the Egyptian princess is determined to test her suspicions and falsely announces to her slave that Radames is dead. Aida’s response reveals the truth and, although Aida begs Amneris to show her mercy, her mistress is still bent on revenge.
Scene 2: At the gateway to Thebes, the Egyptians celebrate Radames’ recent military victories. He triumphantly enters; Amneris presents him with a wreath and the king offers him any prize he chooses. Ethiopian prisoners are led in and Aida recognizes her father Amonasro amongst them. Amonasro pleads with the Egyptian king for mercy to his people but the Priests and Amneris call for their death. Radames asks for the prisoners to be freed; the King concurs and awards his lieutenant his daughter’s hand in marriage, and the scene ends with a reinstatement of its triumphal opening anthems.
On the banks of the Nile, Ramfis takes Amneris, on the eve of her wedding, to a sacred temple. Aida arrives for a secret meeting with Radames and expresses her abiding fears. Surprisingly, Amonasro appears and soon forces his daughter to make her amour disclose Egypt’s next military plans. Having reassured Aida of his love for her, Radames reveals the Egyptian army’s intentions, which the emerging Amonasro now says he will thwart. Amneris and Ramfis come out of the temple. Amonasro attempts to murder Amneris but is prevented by Radames, who in turn surrenders to the Priests as Aida and her father make their escape.
Scene 1: Several weeks have passed and Radames is about to undergo trial. Amneris sends for him, determined to save him, telling him that Amonasro was killed during the escape and that Aida has vanished. Distraught, Radames proclaims his enduring love for the Ethiopian princess. The trial begins: the silent Radames is pronounced a traitor and sentenced to be buried alive.
Scene 2: Radames is being immured in his tomb under the sacred temple of Vulcan. Once the sarcophagus is sealed Aida emerges, for she has hidden in the vault so that Radames shall not perish alone. The opera ends with the priests chanting a secret rite; Amneris pleading for Radames’ soul; and with him and Aida about to die in each other’s arms.