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Blackness in Opera$
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Naomi Andre, Karen M. Bryan, and Eric Saylor

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780252036781

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252036781.001.0001

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Nationalism, Racial Difference, and “Egyptian” Meaning in Verdi’s Aida

Nationalism, Racial Difference, and “Egyptian” Meaning in Verdi’s Aida

(p.55) 3 Nationalism, Racial Difference, and “Egyptian” Meaning in Verdi’s Aida
Blackness in Opera

Christopher R. Gauthier

Jennifer Mcfarlane-Harris

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the dynamics of race and race relations in Giuseppe Verdi's Aida in the context of nationalism in nineteenth-century Egypt. The world premiere of Aida took place at the Cairo Opera House on December 24, 1871. However, there seems to be little information available on the opera's Cairo production, particularly with regards to Egyptian reaction to this first performance. Focusing on its Cairo premiere, this chapter analyzes Aida's libretto and music in order to elucidate the workings of racial difference as it lies on the surface of the opera. It suggests that, for Egyptians, Aida may have spoken to a sense of emergent Egyptian identity. It also reveals Aida's racial dynamics by linking it to discourses of light-skinned Egyptian superiority and dark-skinned African inferiority. Furthermore, the relationships between characters in the opera highlight the specificities of Egypt's relations with its racial-national Others, implying a larger project of Egyptian identity formation through “racial fabrication.”

Keywords:   race, race relations, Giuseppe Verdi, Aida, nationalism, Egypt, racial difference, Egyptian identity, African inferiority, racial fabrication

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