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Marches Madness: Walk Like An Egyptian

Elephants, Egyptian palaces, politics and love triangles — now we're talking grand opera!

In an art form notorious for its excesses, Verdi's Aida can take the bigger-is-better approach to nearly laughable extremes. At a Shanghai production in 2000, the cast list bulged to 2,200. And at its 1871 debut in Cairo, a dozen elephants and 15 camels strode across the stage.

The creatures were essentially window dressing for what would become one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music — the great "Triumphal March" from Act 2.

But for all of Aida's splendor and spectacle, the music of the "Triumphal March" is surprisingly simple. Employing just a half-dozen notes in various combinations, Verdi created a memorable — and supremely hummable — tune fit for a stage filled with throngs of opera stars, extras and animals.

In this video from New York's Metropolitan Opera, you won't find any elephants, but the horses sure look pretty.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.