GIZA PLATEAU, EGYPT -- Technicians are erecting one of the largest stages ever built for an extravagant production of "Aida" at the base of the Giza Pyramids.
It will be Egypt's second production this year of the Giuseppe Verdi opera, a story of doomed love between a Pharaoh's son and an Ethiopian slave girl.
Organizers say they expect 25,000 opera buffs, mainly foreigners, to fill the 5,000-seat theater erected by Egyptian army engineers for the eight performances Sept. 21-29 by Teatro Petruzzelli of Bari, Italy.
In May, Fawzi Mitwali, an Egyptian-born entrepreneur based in Vienna, staged a $10 million production of "Aida" at 3,500-year-old Luxor Temple in southern Egypt. It starred another Italian company, Arena di Verona.
Mitwali said he lost $1 million on the project, which attracted Queen Sophia of Spain and Princess Caroline of Monaco but few other jet-set celebrities he thought would be there.
Organizers hope several heads of state and public figures will attend the Giza production, but for security reasons they would not name any.
Unlike the Luxor production, which used its ancient Egyptian surroundings for the opera's climactic Grand March, the Giza "Aida" will be performed entirely on the stage, with a surface area of almost an acre.
Abdel-Hamid Hassan, Giza's governor, said the stage will be 396 feet long, 99 feet wide and three stories high.
The main section of the three-part, triangular-shaped stage is going up in front of the 4,600-year-old Sphinx, the famed pyramids forming the backdrop atop the plateau to the rear.
"The first priority, of course, is being given to the pharaonic relics in the area," Hassan said. "The construction of the theater will not in any way affect them."
Across the Nile River west of Cairo, last-minute preparations are frantically under way to repave major roads leading to the site and to whitewash the houses of Nazlett el-Sammen, a nearby village through which tourists will pass.
Tourist shops, the village's lifeblood, will be closed during the performances, but concessions to sell souvenirs have been sold to stands within the theater complex.
Preparations also include a campaign to keep stray dogs out of the area and to have intensive spraying of insecticides to spare opera goers from mosquitoes and flies.
The $4 million production is the brainchild of three Egyptian travel agencies and has been in preparation for two years.
Tourism officials have said they hope the trend of staging cultural events using Egypt's antiquities will continue. The aim is to attract increasing numbers of tourists, already the economically strapped country's fourth largest source of foreign currency.
Hassan Kamy, a former opera singer and owner of one of the sponsoring agencies, said he expects 25,000 tickets to be sold at prices ranging from $175 to $400. He had no figure on how many already have been sold.
"Our production is a mixture of Italian and Egyptian expertise," Kamy said.
Unlike Luxor, where Italian, British and Austrian experts did most of the technical work, Egyptian army and civilian engineers have designed and are executing almost all the Giza facilities.
Italian singers are cast in most main roles of the opera, which Khedive Ismail commissioned for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Because Verdi did not finish "Aida" on time, the opera premiered in Cairo two years later.
Singers at the Giza performance include Katia Ricciarelli as the slave girl Aida, Giuseppe Giacomini as Radames the prince and Grace Bumbry as Amneris, his betrothed.
"Aida" will be directed by Mauro Bolognini. Carlo Franci will conduct, his 200th "Aida."
Egypt's state-owned Middle East News Agency quoted Kamy as saying the theater and the Teatro Petruzzelli's equipment were being insured for $2.6 million and each member of the audience for $22,000.