|Produced in association with the American Composers Forum|
Saturday, December 24 (Christmas Eve)
Verdi passes on the pyramids
On today's date in 1871, the Opera House of Cairo, Egypt, presented the world premiere of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida." The Khedive of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, commissioned the opera for his new theater, which had opened in 1869 with a production of Verdi's "Rigoletto." Back then, the Khedive had asked Verdi to write something brand new for the theater's grand opening. Verdi declined, but the Khedive persisted, and eventually got his wish.
Here's how Verdi himself described it, in his customary laconic fashion, to his publisher: "I was invited to write an opera for a very distant country. I replied no. I was approached again and offered a very large sum. I still said no. A month later I was sent a printed synopsis, and told it was the work of a person in high authority (which I don't believe). Even so, I found it excellent and replied that I would set it to music on such and such terms. Three days later I received a telegram that read: 'accepted.'"
For his efforts, the 58-year old Verdi received four times the fee he was paid for his last opera -- and the honorary title of "Commendatore of the Ottoman Order."
The Cairo premiere was a great success, even though Verdi chose to spend his Christmas Eve at home, arranging for the Italian premiere of his Egyptian opera at Milan's La Scala opera house early the following year.
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