Conflict in the Warrior Archetype: Giuseppe Verdi’s Aïda

Aida © Salih Güler with CCLicense
© Salih Güler with CCLicense

One of the most interesting aspects of the warrior archetype is the conflict between being a warrior and a soldier. This is at the center of Aïda, Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera about a tragic love triangle between a princess, her slave and a mighty warrior.

This week I returned to rehearsals as a member of the world-class Houston Grand Opera Chorus. We are rehearsing Verdi’s masterpiece Aïda. Very poignant during a week in which I was exploring the idea of the warrior here on Synkroniciti. This wasn’t intentional– I went with this theme because I wanted to post about Jeff de Boer’s wonderful cat and mouse armor and ran across lovely quotes by Adrienne Rich and J.R.R. Tolkien. Events in Syria must have tugged on the edge of my consciousness as well.

Synchronicity is everywhere, and I am happy to share with you another part of my creative life, one which has deeply influenced my love of artistic collaboration. The arts combine in a very special way in opera. Aïda in particular requires such spectacular forces, as you can see in this clip from the Teatro alla Scala in Milan from the second act. This is the beginning of what is known as the Triumphal Scene, in which the victorious Egyptians are welcomed back from battle. What a way to celebrate the warrior spirit!

Video via aidacollection on YouTube.

Radamès was chosen by the Goddess Isis to lead the Egyptian forces into battle against the Ethiopians, but he has fallen in love with Aïda, an Ethiopian slave girl serving the Princess Amneris in the Egyptian court, and she has returned his affection. Amneris is also deeply infatuated with Radamès. The Egyptians are unaware that Aïda is actually the Princess of the Ethiopians. As the plot thickens, it becomes impossible for Radamès to reconcile his soldierly duty to pursue the enemies of his country and protect Egypt at all costs with the noble passions and individuality of the warrior in love who must keep his word. Idealism and reality are, as always, on a collision course.

The opera is marked by strong sense of gender equality, especially considering that it was written in 1870. Verdi and Antonio Ghislanzoni, who wrote the words, or libretto, portray the same warrior struggle within the women. In fact, I would say they portray it with more pathos and depth from the feminine perspective. It is Aïda and Amneris we are most moved by in the opera, while the warrior seems powerless and wooden. The ladies get the better music, anyway.

Aprile Millo as Aïda, Metropolitan Opera. Video via Jose Canyusi on YouTube.

Each of the three main characters is forced to betray a part of him or her self. Male or female, there is no easy answer to the inherent conflict between the soldier and the warrior. The following clip lacks translation, but it isn’t really all that necessary. Amneris has committed her act of betrayal and is feeling remorse. The amazing Dolora Zajick is the Amneris in our production as well.

Dolora Zajick as Amneris, Metropolitan Opera. Video via operaworlds on YouTube.

Want to see it sorted out? Aïda is among the most performed of operas, although it is on a scale so grand that it often takes a very large, well-funded opera house to do it justice. I encourage you to catch a production of it near you, or, even better, come see it in Houston, Texas this fall. It is going to be glorious!

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