Aida: 100% Egyptian Cotton

Aida: 100% Egyptian Cotton

Update: 2023-04-27


“Opera has always been not just adjacent to colonial conquest, but perhaps … quite a large part of it.” Pranathi Diwakar, Every Voice with Terrance McKnight researcher. 

When the US and British cotton industry was disrupted by the American Civil War in the 1860s,  Egypt, led by Khedive Ismail Pasha, moved to capitalize on Britain's demand for the valuable raw material. Egypt’s new, booming industry led to a polarizing reality for the region, the use of enslaved East Africans as a labor force, and a new class of rich, European leviathans to entertain in Cairo. Thus, the birth of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” for premier at Cairo’s newly constructed opera house.

For “Aida’s” original audience, the opera represented familiar and convenient tropes for those investing in imperialism: Autocratic rule, lavish lifestyles, and a society based on racial superiority. But this week, on Every Voice with Terrance McKnight, and with the help of opera greats, Limmie Pullman, Angela Brown, and Sir Williard White, we give “Aida” a chance to be reborn. 

This episode is hosted by Terrance McKnight. The  Executive Producer is Tony Phillips. The Executive Producer for WQXR Podcasts is Elizabeth Nonemaker. Our research team includes Ariel Elizabeth Davis, Pranathi Diwakar, Ian George, and Jasmine Ogiste. Sound design and engineering by Alan Goffinski. Original music composed by Jeromy Thomas and Ashley Jackson. Special thanks to The Met archives.

This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit










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Aida: 100% Egyptian Cotton

Aida: 100% Egyptian Cotton

Sir Willard White, Angela Brown, Peter Sellers, Kevin Maynor, Limmie Pullman, Terrance McKnight