That narrative is a juicy one. As with most nineteenth-century operas, it is about forbidden love, but one that is as inevitable as destiny. The duet in Act II between Aïda and Amneris explores how the dynamics of power try to subvert the natural paths of love. Princess Amneris (sung by Marilyn Horne) is determined to find out if her slave Aïda (sung by Leontyne Price) loves the country’s warrior-hero Radamès, and all manner of overwrought cattiness ensues. Amneris lies that Radamès is dead. Aïda despairs and then explodes with relief when she learns the truth. Amneris vows retribution; Aïda begs for mercy. Even if you know nothing of opera, the turns, revelations, and emotions of this scenario call out for some kind of accompaniment: slow, lyric melodies in a modest range for Aïda’s supplication, orchestral explosions for her relief, marching horns and high notes for Amneris’ arrogance, quickened pace and leaping melodies for their agitation. If you didn’t know that Verdi was such a great composer, you would think that the duet had written itself.
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