In the 1860s, the Khedive of Egypt was spending his country's treasury like a drunken pharaoh. Heavily influenced by the West, he wanted to bring medieval Egypt up to speed, so he began an extensive — and expensive — public works overhaul, especially in Cairo. Swamps were drained, grand boulevards excavated, slums razed, schools built, the legal code modernized and the Suez Canal, with financing from France, was digging its way toward the Red Sea. Cairo was becoming Paris, with a brand-new opera house, the Italian Theatre, that would rival any in Europe. To commemorate the canal's grand opening and to christen his new theater, the Khedive needed a new opera, a world premiere. He wisely chose Giu­seppe Verdi, who promptly refused. It was too late by then to negotiate with Wagner or Gounod, who were considered, so the theater opened in... More >>>