Ariodante (HWV 33) is an opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel. The anonymous Italian libretto was based on a work by Antonio Salvi, which in turn was adapted from Canti 4, 5 and 6 of Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. Each act contains opportunities for dance, originally composed for dancer Marie Sallé and her company.
The opera was first performed in the Covent Garden Theatre, London, on 8 January 1735. Ariodante opened Handel's first season at Covent Garden and successfully competed against the rival Opera of the Nobility, supported by the Prince of Wales. Handel had the tacit and financial support of the King and Queen and, more vocally, of the Princess Royal. The opera received 11 performances during its premiere season at Covent Garden.
Like Handel's other works in the opera seria genre, Ariodante, despite its initial success, fell into oblivion for nearly two hundred years. An edition of the score was published in the early 1960s, from the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe. In the 1970s, the work began to be revived, and has come to be considered one of Handel's finest operas. On 29 March 1971, the Handel Society of New York performed the American premiere of the work in a concert version with mezzo-soprano Sophia Steffan in the title role and Judith Raskin as Ginevra.
Charles Cudworth has discussed the influence of French dance music in the opera. Winton Dean has noted that Act 2 of the opera, in its original version, is the only act in a Handel opera which ends with accompanied recitative.
The German-born Handel had brought Italian opera to London stages for the first time in 1711 with his opera Rinaldo. An enormous success, Rinaldo created a craze in London for Italian opera seria, a form focused overwhelmingly on solo arias for the star virtuoso singers. Handel had presented new operas in London for years with great success. One of the major attractions in Handel's operas was the star castrato Senesino whose relationship with the composer was often stormy and who eventually left Handel's company to appear with the rival Opera of the Nobility, set up in 1733. Handel moved to another theatre, Covent Garden, and engaged different singers. The new theatre at Covent Garden, run by impresario John Rich, added the attraction of a troupe of dancers led by the celebrated Marie Sallé, so Handel's two new operas for 1735, "Ariodante" and "Alcina" both include dance sequences, for the first time in Handel opera for London. The singers for whom Handel wrote "Ariodante" included a young soprano, Cecilia Young, whom he had not worked with before, considered by contemporary musicologist Charles Burney to be the finest English soprano of the day, and the virtuoso castrato Carestini, whose astonishing technique and huge vocal range Handel made full use of, especially in the scena "E vivo ancora? E senza il ferro? oh Dei! ... Scherza infida in grembo al drudo" and in the jubilant and bravura "Dopo notte, atra e funesta".
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 8 January 1735|
|Ariodante, a vassal prince||mezzo-soprano castrato||Giovanni Carestini|
|Ginevra, daughter of the King of Scotland,
betrothed to Ariodante
|soprano||Anna Maria Strada del Pò|
|Dalinda, attendant on Ginevra,
secretly in love with Polinesso
|Polinesso, Duke of Albany||contralto||Maria Caterina Negri|
|Lurcanio, Ariodante's brother||tenor||John Beard|
|Rè di Scozia (King of Scotland)||bass||Gustavus Waltz|
|Odoardo, favorite of the king||tenor||Michael Stoppelaer|
Medieval Scotland. Ginevra, daughter of the King, is in love with and betrothed to Prince Ariodante. She rejects the amorous advances of the Duke of Albany, Polinesso, who then cruelly tricks Ariodante and Ginevra's father into believing that Ginevra has been unfaithful. Ariodante attempts suicide and Ginevra is condemned, but after a challenge to a duel by Lurcanio, Ariodante's brother, the dying Polinesso admits his plot and the lovers are reunited.
The royal cabinet, in the palace
Princess Ginevra, in front of her mirror, is adorning herself to make herself beautiful for her beloved. (Aria:Vezze, lusinghe). Polinesso, Duke of Albany, bursts into the room and, thinking that having the king's daughter as his sweetheart would advance his prospects, declares his love for her. Ginevra indignantly rejects him (Aria:Orrida a gl'occhi miei) and leaves. Dalinda, who is secretly in love with Polinesso, advises him that his rival is Prince Ariodante but also advises him that all he has to do is open his eyes to see someone else who loves him (Aria:Apri le luci). Left alone, Polinesso can see that Dalinda is in love with him and plans to use her to thwart his rival and win Ginevra for himself (Aria: Coperta la frode).
The royal gardens
Ariodante sings of how all nature speaks to him of love (Aria:Quì d'amor). Ginevra joins him and they pledge their love (Duet: Prendi, prendi da questa mano). The King joins the lovers, gives them his blessing, and orders his courtier Odoardo to make the preparations for the wedding (Aria: Voli colla sua tromba). Alone, Ariodante swears to be faithful to Ginevra (Aria:Con l'ali di costanza). Polinesso hatches his plot – he tells Dalinda that if she will dress as Ginevra that evening and invite him into her apartments, he will be hers (Aria:Spero per voi). Lurcanio, Ariodante's brother, then appears to Dalinda and declares his love for her (Aria:Del mio sol vezzosi rai) but she has totally lost her heart to Polinesso (Aria:Il primo ardor).
A delightful valley
Ariodante and Ginevra enjoy the beauties of nature and each other's company (Duet: Se rinasce nel mio cor). They are joined by shepherds and shepherdesses (Duet with chorus:Si godete al vostro amor) who dance to entertain them (Ballet).
By ancient ruins, within sight of Ginevra's apartments; moonlight
Polinesso and Ariodante meet; Polinesso feigns astonishment when Ariodante tells him he is betrothed to Ginevra, insisting that Ginevra loves him. Ariodante refuses to believe it. This is all being observed by Lurcanio, who is hidden. Polinesso tells Ariodante to watch as "Ginevra", really Dalinda wearing Ginevra's clothes, admits Polinesso into her bedroom for the night. Ariodante is in despair and wants to die (Aria:Tu preparati a morire) but Lurcanio comes from the shadows and advises Ariodante to live, and seek revenge (Aria:Tu vivi). Ariodante sadly bewails his beloved's (supposed) infidelity (Aria:Scherza infida). As day breaks, Polinesso and Dalinda emerge from the palace. Polinesso promises he will reward her, to her delight (Aria:Se tanto piace al cor) and, alone, Polinesso exults in how well his plot is proceeding (Aria:Se l'inganno).
A gallery in the palace
As the King is making the final arrangements for his daughter's wedding, the courtier Odoardo brings him bad news – Ariodante has been seen committing suicide by leaping into the sea. The King is heartbroken (Aria:Invida sorte avara). Ginevra appears, having a premonition of some approaching calamity (Aria:Mi palpita il core). When her father gives her the terrible news, she swoons and is carried away. Lurcanio now appears before the King, who attempts to comfort him on the loss of his brother. The furious Lurcanio, however, hands the King a letter telling him he saw Ginevra admit Polinesso into her bedroom for the night, which caused his brother to kill himself, and Lurcanio now is bent on revenge (Aria:Il tuo sangue). The King disowns his daughter and condemns her as a harlot. When Ginevra hears this, she collapses into delirium (Aria:Il mio crudel martoro) and all Dalinda's attempts to console her fail. Ginevra falls into a fitful, disturbed sleep (Ballet of Good and Bad Dreams). She awakes in distress (Recitativo accompagnato:Che vidi? oh Dei! misera me!)
A wood near the sea
Ariodante survived, and he now bitterly rebukes the gods for condemning him to live (Arioso:Numi! lasciarmi vivere). Hearing cries, Ariodante finds Dalinda, who is being held by thugs hired by Polinesso, with orders to kill her, as she is the only witness to his plot to discredit Ginevra. Ariodante drives Polinesso's henchmen away, and Dalinda reveals the truth to him – it was she, disguised as Ginevra, who let Polinesso into her bedroom. Ariodante rails against the treachery that caused him to doubt his beloved (Aria:Cieca notte). Alone, Dalinda expresses her remorse (Aria:Neghittosi or voi che fate?).
The royal gardens
The King announces that he will never see his daughter again unless a champion appears to defend her honour. Polinesso steps forward and offers to challenge Lurcanio to a duel (Aria:Dover, giustizia, amor). Ginevra, condemned to death for sexual irregularity, appears before her father begging to be allowed to kiss his hand (Aria:Io ti bacio). Her father clasps her to her bosom, saying that a champion has appeared to defend her – Polinesso. She does not like this idea, but he insists (Aria:Al sen ti stringo e parto). Ginevra prefers death to the loss of her honour (Aria:Sì, morrò). Lurcanio again offers his love to Dalinda, and she indicates that she is now inclined to accept it (Duet: Dite spera, e son contento).
The duelling ground, the King on his throne
Polinesso and Lurcanio fight, Lurcanio mortally wounds Polinesso who is carried away by Odaordo. A new champion appears with his visor down. He reveals himself as Ariodante, to the astonishment of all, and declares Ginevra innocent. Dalinda admits her part in the plot. Odoardo returns with the news that Polinesso, as he died, also admitted his guilt. The King pardons Dalinda and goes to find his daughter. Ariodante jubilantly hails a new bright day dawning after nights of darkness (Aria:Dopo notte).
The room where Ginevra is imprisoned
Ginevra looks death in the face (Arioso:Manca, oh Dei!). But her father and the others appear and declare her vindicated. She is reunited with her beloved Ariodante (Duet:Bramo aver mille vite).
The great hall of the palace. A large staircase supported by columns; on the upper part of the stairs musicians playing wind instruments. The King, Lords and Ladies descend the staircase. He begins the chorus, as the Lords and Ladies dance.
The music for the leading soprano, Ginevra, is "outstanding", according to Paul Henry Lang, moving from joy to despair and back again to happiness. Also of note is the "exquisite" duet for her with Ariodante, "Prendi, prendi da questa mano" and the beautiful pastoral music that concludes the first act. Among a series of remarkable arias for the title role, sung in the first performance by the castrato Carestini, are the mournful aria with bassoon obbligato "Scherza infida", "one of Handel's greatest arias" and the joyful "Dopo notte" with astonishing vocal acrobatics and huge range. For Charles Burney, who witnessed the original performances of Ariodante, the opera "abounds with beauties and the strokes of a great master."
Reception and performance history
Ariodante was given eleven performances in its original run, a mark of success for the time, and was revived by Handel for his 1736 season. It then went unperformed until a revival in Stuttgart in 1926. Two performances in Birmingham, England, in May 1964, with Janet Baker in the title role and Anthony Lewis conducting, brought the opera into the modern repertory, since when it has been performed on many of the world's stages.
Among other performances, a four-way co-production between the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, the Canadian Opera Company, Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, and Lyric Opera of Chicago premiered at Aix in 2014. This updated the setting to the 1960s and altered the ending so that Ginevra departs the celebration, heartbroken.
The English Concert gave semi-staged performances in 2017 in the U.S. and Europe, including at Carnegie Hall, where the event was filmed, and at the Barbican Centre. The Salzburg Whitsun Festival presented a new production by Christof Loy on 2 June 2017 featuring Cecilia Bartoli as Ariodante and Nathan Berg as the King.
|1996, filmed at
English National Opera
English National Opera
|David Alden||Arthaus Musik|
DVD cat. 100065
|2007, filmed in the
Teatro Caio Melisso, Spoleto
Marta Vandoni Iorio,
Il Complesso Barocco
DVD cat. 33559
|1978, studio recording made
in Brent Town Hall
English Chamber Orchestra
|1995, live in Göttingen||Lorraine Hunt,
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
|1997, live in Poissy||Anne Sofie von Otter,
Les Musiciens du Louvre
|2000, live in Munich||Ann Murray,
Cat:B 108 030
|2010, studio recording made
at Villa San Ferma, Lonigo
Il Complesso Barocco
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- "Salzburg Festival". Salzburg Festival. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
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- Dean, Winton (2006). Handel's Operas, 1726–1741. Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1-84383-268-3. The second of the two-volume definitive reference on the operas of Handel.
- Score of Ariodante (ed. Friedrich Chrysander, Leipzig 1881)
- Ariodante: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- Italian libretto online
- on YouTube, San Diego Opera Spotlight, University of California Television presentation
- Scherza Infida describes that aria in more detail, including the libretto.