Cairo, Egypt

Scene of Bottesini's Aida triumph in 1871.

When Verdi prepared for the world premier of his masterwork, he knew only one conductor had the stature to present it: his friend and mentor, Giovanni Bottesini.

Called from an extended stay in Paris, Bottesini threw himself whole-heartedly into the project, and in fact personally financed a menagerie of animals for the Triumphal March in Act II, including:

  • 12 elephants
  • 15 camels
  • 12 zebras
  • 2 giraffes
  • 3 lions
  • 6 ostriches
  • Numerous jackals, baboons, and rodents

Unfortunately, only the elephants and camels were sufficiently trained to appear on stage. The rest of the animals died of neglect after Bottesini apparently forgot he owned them.

The premier of Aida was a stunning success, both for Verdi and Bottesini. Thousands of Egyptophiles from across Europe and the Ottoman Empire flocked to the performances. Bottesini continued his custom of performing Bass solos between acts, and his fame reached a fever pitch. He was even made a member of the Imperial Order of the Medjidieh by the Turkish Sultan in Istanbul.

Bottesini kept the post of Opera Conductor in Cairo until 1877, reaching the height of his fame and weath, then proceeding triumphantly to London. It is nothing less than astounding that at his death only 12 years later he was penniless and almost alone -- a bleak testimony to the power and cruelty of Umberto.

"We all must learn where to place our fingers."
© 1997, Jeff Brooks (