In the Egyptian Wing of a major museum, we find a group of contemporary museum-goers admiring artifacts of a time long ago. The crowd is gathered around the most mysterious of the objects; an ancient burial chamber. Soon, two of visitors, a very beautiful man and woman, begin to move toward the burial chamber as if they know of its secrets or as if they have seen it somewhere before. The man is Radames; the woman Aida. Their eyes meet as the powerful voice of Amneris explains that ("Every Story is a Love Story") leaving the stage empty, with the exception of the two lovers, allowing their tale to unfold.
Sails fly in as handsome Egyptian soldiers are discovered loading the riches and spoils of war onto the deck of their ship. They celebrate their courage, along with their captain, Radames, as they recognize that ("Fortune Favors the Brave"). Their celebration is interrupted by the entrance of the enchanting Princess Aida, and her handmaidens, as they are forced onto the ship. They have been captured as slaves. As Aida is put into shackles, she snatches a soldier's sword to challenge Radames. Radames, not knowing that she is a princess, recognizes something special in Aida. He begins to give into his feelings for her and under the guise of seeing her as potentially dangerous, Radames escorts Aida to his personal berth in the ship's lower quarters.
Radames removes the manacles from Aida and boastfully gives her instructions in her new role as his slave. Aida, once again demonstrating herself as a free-thinker, rejects Radames' perspective of war, reminding him that the Egyptians invaded her Nubian homeland robbing her people of their culture. Aida reveals a longing for her life of freedom as she contemplates her past, and the past of her people ("The Past is Another Land"). Soon, much to her dismay, Aida finds herself in Egypt as the ship docks and the slaves are unloaded.
Radames is greeted and congratulated on his bountiful return to Egypt by Mereb, his young servant, and Zoser, his father (who also happens to be the Chief Minister). Zoser, upon seeing the slave women, including Aida, suggests that they be sent to the deadly copper mines. Radames, recalling his feelings for Aida, has another idea. The women's deaths will be spared by using them in the harvest with a special assignment for Aida; she will be a gift for the Princess of Egypt, Amneris. As Mereb takes Aida to the Princess, Zoser is left to enlist Radames' help in his dark and evil plan. In ("Another Pyramid"), Zoser explains that the Pharaoh's serious illness will force Radames to marry Princess Amneris sooner than he had planned, making Radames the King of Egypt. Zoser leaves Radames, and conducts a meeting with the ministers of Egypt where he confesses his plan to poison the Pharaoh. In a dance sequence, at a climactic moment in the meeting, a traitor is suspected among the ministers. Zoser orders the traitor's death and finalizes his plan for the rise of Radames.
The beautiful Aida appears in the costume of a Palace Slave, as Mereb prepares her to meet the Princess. He admits to Aida that he recognizes her as the Nubian Princess. In ("How I Know You"), Mereb and Aida form a bond as she asks him to keep her secret. They both concede that if the Egyptians were to discover her real identity, she would be put to death. Mereb also informs Aida that the Princess Amneris is the betrothed of Radames.
We meet self-consumed Princess Amneris as she finishes her daily swim and beauty treatment, while complaining that her future husband has yet to visit her. To soften her mood, Mereb presents Aida to Amneris as a gift from Radames. At first, Amneris dismisses Aida as just another handmaiden, but Aida's quick thinking and regal manner, allows Amneris to reconsider. Aida cinches the deal when she offers to make new clothing for the Amneris, feeding her ego and placing her in close contact with the Princess. As Mereb leads Aida to the sewing room, Amneris confesses that clothing in her life is ("My Strongest Suit").
The Pharaoh's private banquet room is ablaze with activity. Radames, beginning to show his feelings for Aida, questions Mereb about the Nubian princess, just as Princess Amneris enters to greet him. To her horror, Aida, while serving the banquet, discovers that all of the Nubian slaves have heard of her arrival into Egypt. The Pharaoh, enters the banquet to announce that Ramades will never leave the soil of Egypt again, because in seven days, he will be wed to Princess Amneris. At the end of his announcement, the Pharaoh begins to cough up blood (Zoser's poison is beginning to take effect), which causes the banquet to quickly disband. Zoser, giddy with the progress of his plan, questions Radames about his apparent unhappiness with the announcement of the Pharaoh. Radames explains that what he loves most is journeying to new places ("Fortune Favors the Brave - Reprise") and that his marriage to Amneris will end his journeying forever. After his father leaves, Radames, in a tender moment of unspoken love, calls Aida from the shadows and they discuss the joy they both find in making new discoveries ("Enchantment Passing Through").
As Aida tends to Amneris in her dressing room, the two women discuss the demands of being a princess ("My Strongest Suit - Reprise"). Amneris is surprised to find how much her new slave understands of her plight as princess. They are interrupted by Radames who suggests that Amneris meet him in her bedchambers. After Amneris leaves to prepare for a night with her fiance, Radames reveals that he wanted Amneris out of the way so that he could question Aida about her past, in private. Just before Radames can confess his love to Aida, a furious Amneris (who has been waiting on her bed) enters and orders him to have a map made of her body so that he will "be more inclined to explore."
Mereb tries to convince Aida to claim her role as Princess and go to the Nubian slaves to give them hope. In ("The Dance of the Robe") Aida accepts her place, even through her own self-doubt, as the leader of her people.
Radames discovers Aida at the Nile's Edge washing linen. He offers to make her life easier by elevating her position at the palace. Staying true to her people, Aida refuses his offer, stating that she"can not continue to live in the comfort of the palace while my countrymen are dying." Aida's words have truly moved Radames; in fact, her love of her people has changed his values forever. Radames confesses his love for Aida to Mereb, while a confused Amneris sees this change in Radames as his deepening affection for her ("Not Me").
Amneris, overwhelmed by the change in Radames, asks Aida to speak to Radames for her. Aida is to apologize for Amneris' bad behavior in her bedchamber on the previous night. Aida tries to carry out the wishes of Amneris, denying her own feelings for Radames, but he interrupts Aida and confesses his love for her in ("Elaborate Lives"). War drums interrupt their embrace and a soldier enters to tell Radames that the Nubian King has been captured. His excitement about this development in the war against her country horrifies Aida, who cannot tell Radames that the King is her father. As the news of the King's capture spreads through the Nubian slave camp, Aida leads her people from despair by reminding them that ("The Gods Love Nubia").
In ("A Step Too Far"), sung in soliloquy, Amneris wonders why Radames will not show her the attention she deserves; Radames confesses that his love for Aida could end his life as he now knows it; and Aida contemplates her love for Radames verses her love for her people.
Mereb bribes a prison guard so that Aida can spend some time with her recently captured father, King Amonasro. As the three create a plan to allow King Amonasro to escape from jail, they realize that the docks are heavily guarded by Radames' soldiers. Aida tells Mereb and King Amonasro that the soldiers will let them pass without a fight if she shows them the amulet that Radames gave her. When she reveals the amulet to Mereb and King Amonasro, she also reveals her true feelings for Radames. The outraged King commands Aida to "cut this man from your heart." She explains that changing her feelings for Radames is as ("Easy as Life").
Zoser, knowing how unhappy Amneris is with the way she has been treated by Radames, shows Amneris a giant map of the Nile, explaining the many conquests of the Egyptian army, and material gains, that have caused Radames to neglect her. Radames enters and asks Amneris to leave him alone with his father, which she regretfully does seeing this moment as yet another rejection. Zoser challenges Radames by telling him that he knows of his feelings for Aida, but that he must wait until after his wedding to have his little diversions. Radames admits that he cares nothing for the throne because he is not like the power-hungry Zoser. The argument between Zoser and Radames comes to a climax during ("Like Father, Like Son"). Radames rejects all ideas of the throne and of marrying Amneris causing Zoser and his ministers to plan Aida's death to rid him of any distraction.
Aida receives ("Radames' Letter"), in which he apologizes for his behavior and confesses his love. Mereb and the Nubians come to wish Aida well on her escape, planned for the following day, as guards storm the encampment searching for Aida. Before Aida can speak, Nehebka tells the guards that she is Aida and they drag her away in Aida's place. Aida is horrified, and realizes that she must go to Radames and tell him who she really is. Mereb fails to convince her to stay and lead her people to freedom ("How I Know You - Reprise").
Aida finds Radames as he walks the Nile. He tells her that he plans to call off the wedding, but Aida, realizing that his plan will jeopardize her father's escape, begs him to reconsider. Aida explains that she and Radames can never have a life together because it has been ("Written in the Stars"). Radames finally accepts that he and Aida can never be together. He tells her that, during his wedding, he will arrange for her safe passage to Nubia. As the lovers depart, Amneris emerges from the shadows. She has seen everything. As she is dressed by her four handmaidens for her wedding, she admits that she is not the true love of Radames in ("I Know the Truth").
The Royal Wedding is interrupted by the announcement that the Nubian King has escaped. Radames commands that "No one must reach the dock before I arrive there." And chaos ensues.
A small boat floats at the water's edge, tied to the dock by a heavy rope. Mereb, helps King Amonasro into the boat knowing that the Egyptians have sounded the alarm. Radames enters and accuses Aida of pretending to love him to arrange this escape with her father the King. Aida explains that she truly loves Radames, just as Zoser enters to stop the escape. A fight erupts in which Mereb is killed by Zoser and Radames, in a move to save Nubia, cuts the rope, allowing King Amonasro to be swept to away to his kingdom with the fast current of the Nile. Aida is left with Mereb's dead body in her arms as Radames comforts her.
Radames and Aida appear in chains before Amneris. Amneris begs Radames to reject Aida to save himself, but he confesses that Aida's "courage and her love for her people have put me to shame." The Pharaoh enters, announces that Zoser has been apprehended, and sentences Radames and Aida to death. Amneris convinces the Pharaoh to allow her to sentence Radames and Aida to "be buried beneath the sands of Egypt, on one tomb...together." Amneris runs off, unable to watch as Aida and Radames are led to their death. Aida and Radames contemplate their lives and how they are to leave this life ("Elaborate Lives - Reprise"). Once in the tomb, Aida and Radames promise to find each other if they have to "search for a hundred life times." ("Enchantment Passing Through - Reprise")
We return to our own time and the museum. Once again, the contemporary crowd gathers around various exhibits. The man and the woman circle the model of the tomb. They look up. Their eyes meet. The man and woman move towards each other as Amneris confirms that ("Every Story is a Love Story - Reprise").