• Aida Post-Show Discussion

Rocking the Pyramids:
Comparing the Aidas of Two Different Centuries


Aida PS bluebox

Students will enjoy starting the class with an open discussion of the Met performance. What did they like? What didn’t they? Did anything surprise them? What would they like to see or hear again? What would they have done differently? This discussion will offer students an opportunity to review the notes on their My Highs & Lows sheet, as well as their thoughts about this Met production—in short, to see themselves as Aida experts.

Aida is one of the most widely performed operas in the repertoire. At the Met alone, it has been seen more than 1,100 times over a period of 125 years. Unlike many other great stage works, its story is entirely original and not based on an existing source (if of course inspired by historical and archeological findings about ancient Egypt). That’s why many people were surprised when an entirely new telling of Aida’s story arrived on Broadway in the year 2000.

The show, officially entitled Elton John & Tim Rice’s Aida, features music and lyrics by two of the 20th century’s best-known pop and rock artists. It ran on Broadway for more than four years, toured across the U.S. and in 20 other countries, and has been widely performed in school and amateur productions.

Students can sample the latter-day Aida in videos available on youtube.com and learn about its history on a number of other websites. They may enjoy comparing Elton John’s pop tunes, which feature elements of gospel, reggae, and Motown, among others, to their favorite moments from Verdi’s Aida. In particular, it can be enlightening to contrast the plots of the opera and the musical. As a synopsis reveals, the new work weaves a more elaborate plot around the original:

  • Aida is captured in the war by Radamès.
  • He gives the slave girl to his betrothed, Amneris, but later comes to fall in love with her.
  • Radamès, in line to become king of Egypt himself, finds himself caught up in a conspiracy to kill Amneris’s father, the reigning king.
  • Aida is sensitive to Amneris’s emotional insecurity, evidenced by the princess’s love of fashionable clothes.
  • A newly introduced character, Radamès’s father, tries to have Aida killed to keep her from his son.
  • Aida and Amonasro plan to escape Egypt not during a battle, but during Radamès and Amneris’s wedding party.
  • Both Aida and Radamès are charged with treason.
  • The king, not priests, declares the death sentence.
  • Amneris ends the musical in line to become queen herself.
  • Neither jealous nor vengeful, Amneris arranges for the lovers to be entombed together—a sign of her respect and affection for them both.

Depending on your class’s interests and response to Verdi’s Aida, activities comparing the opera and musical can take one of two different directions.

Students can compare and contrast the plots of the two works, debating their views of the changes made by Elton John, Tim Rice, and their librettists. Which version strikes students as more emotionally authentic? Which feels truer to the setting of ancient Egypt? Why? Students can try their own hands at “adapting” Verdi’s Aida. Would they make choices similar to those of the Broadway or Metropolitan Opera team? What circumstances and motivations can they imagine to

  • elaborate on the backstory
  • rearrange the structure of personal relationships (explored in the Classroom Activity) or
  • change specific plot points in the original opera?

Individually or in groups, students may enjoy presenting their new Aidas as short stories, skits, or music videos.