Synopsis[ edit ] Medieval Scotland. Ginevra, daughter of the King, is in love with and betrothed to Prince Ariodante. Anna Maria Strada, who created the role of Ginevra, by John Verelst circa 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. 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.
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As the opera begins, she is confiding her feelings to Dalinda when Polinesso, Duke of Albany, who covets the throne, bursts into her room and makes advances to her, which she forcefully rejects. Meanwhile, in the royal gardens, Ariodante and Ginevra, exchanging vows, are given the blessing of the King, who intends to make Ariodante his successor. Polinesso persuades Dalinda to dress up as Ginevra and admit him to her room that night: he promises to respect her honour and make her his wife.
Left alone, Lurcanio reflects on his love for Dalinda. She in turn reflects on her love for Polinesso. The act ends with the betrothed royal couple expressing their happiness and calling upon the nymphs and shepherds to celebrate their joy in dance and song.
When Ariodante furiously reaches for his sword at these outrageous words, Polinesso promises to substantiate his charge: he tells him to hide and observe with his own eyes. Lurcanio, who has been surprised to see his brother talking with the disliked Polinesso, had also concealed himself and is watching events. Polinesso knocks on the secret door to the royal apartments, and in answer to his signal Dalinda, disguised as Ginevra, lets him in and closes the door.
Ariodante, horrified at this apparent betrayal, is about to kill himself by falling on his sword when Lurcanio, who has also been duped, rushes forward and prevents him throwing away his life for a worthless woman. Ariodante goes off in utter despair; Polinesso, swearing devotion to Dalinda, gloats over the success of his ruse. The following morning the King is in council, about to declare Ariodante his heir, when Odoardo brings a report that the Prince has thrown himself into the sea in a sudden frenzy and has drowned.
The King hurries to break the news to Ginevra, who collapses in shock. His own grief is heightened when Lurcanio, accusing Ginevra of unchaste behaviour that drove his brother to his death, demands justice in the lists: he will fight anyone who offers to champion her cause. The King disdainfully declares that a wanton is no longer his daughter.
Ginevra, bewildered at the charge and at his rejection of her, goes out of her mind. They set about her in a forest, but Ariodante, who has been wandering about aimlessly and dejectedly, chances to be there and beats them off. She is amazed to see him alive, and he is equally astonished to learn from her of the trickery of which he was the victim, and which she now sees involved her own death.
He sets out immediately for the palace with her. The King has refused even to see his daughter until a champion for her can be found. Polinesso, with an eye to succession to the throne if he is successful, offers himself. Though Ginevra refuses his aid, her father insists on his acceptance. Polinesso meets Lurcanio in public combat and is felled by a mighty blow. Lurcanio tells him to prepare for combat, but the knight raises his visor and, to general astonishment, reveals himself as Ariodante.
He offers to explain all if the King will pardon Dalinda for her unwitting part in the deception; Odoardo brings news that Polinesso, as he lay dying, has confessed his treachery. Ginevra, in the apartment to which she has been confined, is giving way to despair when the King joyfully arrives to tell her she is vindicated: he frees her, embraces her, and reunites her with Ariodante.
She is astonished and raptured to find him alive after all, and the opera ends with general rejoicing in the great hall of the palace. The plot was taken, like Orlando, from Ariosto and is the only opera by Handel set in the United Kingdom, based as it is in Edinburgh. The plot is unsually straightforward, with no subplots, and the music consistently melodic and written with equal importance for all four voice groups — soprano, mezzo, tenor and bass. It ran for eleven performances, and was supported by the Royal Family who attended the first performance.
They say his opera is so pathetic and lagubrious that everyone who has returned from it has this opinion and has been saddened by it.
Farinelli took the lead in his only recorded performance in a Handel opera. For a month he concentrated on these English oratorios, performing organ concertos between the acts as an additional draw to his audience. He revived Ariodante only once, for two performances in May as a filler before the premiere of Atalanta which was not yet ready.
He had engaged a new star castrato, the 22 year old Gioacchino Conti, who arrived just before the performance of Ariodante, though without time to learn the arias. A word book published for these two performances has the Italian text of the interpolated arias, but not an English translation as there was not time to prepare and publish one.
A copy of this unique word book is in the collection of the Handel House Museum.
Ariodante, HWV 33 (Handel, George Frideric)