Egypt and Ethiopia are at war. Aida, the daughter of the Ethiopian king Amonasro, has been captured and brought to Memphis as a slave for Amneris, Pharoah's daughter. Aida and Radamès, a young Egyptian army captain, have fallen in love.
Act I, Scene 1
Ramfis, the high priest, tells Radamès that the Ethiopians are threatening to invade and the goddess Isis has chosen a new military leader for the Egyptians. When he leaves to inform Pharoah, Radamès dreams of becoming leader and of triumphantly taking Aida back to Ethiopia. Amneris, who also loves him, interrupts his solitude, suspicious that Aida may be her rival. When Aida joins them, Amneris tries to persuade her to reveal the truth and is not convinced when Aida voices her fears for her family in the war. Pharoah receives a report that the Ethiopians are advancing towards the border and publicly announces that Isis has nominated Radamès to lead the Egyptians into battle. Aida is torn between her love for her country and her love for Radamès.
Act I, Scene 2
In the Temple of Ptah at Memphis, as priestesses invoke the deity, Ramfis and the priests entrust Radamès with his mission.
Act II, Scene 1
In her apartments, Amneris' slaves prepare her to greet Radamès' triumphant return. Feigning affection and sympathy for Aida, she pretends that Radamès has died in battle, thus tricking Aida into confessing her love. Amneris exults in her jealous fury.
Act II, Scene 2
At the gates of Karnak, the Egyptians assemble to welcome Radamès. Pharoah offers him anything he desires. Among the Ethiopian prisoners, Aida recognises her father Amonasro, dressed as an ordinary soldier. Amonasro falsely claims that their warrior king has died in the battle and begs for clemency. Radamès' request to Pharoah is for the release of the Ethiopian prisoners since they are no threat without their leader. Despite the disapproval of the priests, Pharoah agrees, but accepts Ramfis' proposal that Aida and her father be retained as hostages. He further rewards Radamès with the hand of Amneris in marriage and the promise that they together shall be his heirs.
Ramfis brings Amneris to the Temple of Isis on the banks of the Nile where she is to spend the night in prayer before her marriage. Aida comes to the river bank for a secret rendezvous with Radamès. To her surprise, Amonasro appears. He tells his daughter he is preparing to invade again, and that this time he will win, especially if Aida persuades Radamès to reveal the Egyptian battle plans. Aida is horrified at this suggestion, but her father replies with a mixture of threats and blackmail; he hides on seeing Radamès arriving. Radamès swears that when he wins the next battle he will tell Pharoah that he cannot live without her, but Aida persuades him that they should elope together immediately, following the route planned for the next day's attack. As Radamès tells her the route - the valley Napata - Amonasro reveals himself. Radamès is appalled that he has unwittingly betrayed his country. Amneris and Ramfis emerge from the temple; Radamès saves Amneris from Amonasro's threatening dagger and, as Amonasro drags Aida away, surrenders to the Egyptian guards.
Act IV, Scene 1
In the royal palace Radamès is awaiting trial as traitor. Amneris resolves to save his life. She asks him to confess but he protests his innocence and willingness to die. Amneris declares her love and offers to plead for him with Pharoah but Radamès is adamant, even when Amneris tells him that Amonasro is dead and Aida has vanished. Finally, she turns on him in fury when he refuses to renounce Aida.
Ramfis and the priests proceed with Radamès trial. He makes no response to the charges and, despite Amneris' hysterical protests, is found guilty and condemned to death. He is sentenced to be buried alive beneath the high alter of Ptah.
Act IV, Scene 2
Enclosed in the tomb, Radamès thinks of Aida; she appears, having secretly decided to share his fate. As Amneris prays for Radamès, Aida consoles him with a vision of paradise as she dies in his arms.
© Amanda Holden