About this work

Ariodante was composed in a turbulent time in Handel's career. Called by subsequent writers the Opera of the Nobility, the Prince of Wales and the nobility had created their own opera company in 1733, formed out of many of the musicians and performers of Handel's company. He was forced to find new singers and to come up with the funds to do productions himself. At the end of his lease of the King's Theatre in Haymarket, Handel was also forced to find a new stage. He applied to John Rich, the manager of the theater at Covent Garden, who produced comedies and pantomimes and agreed to let Handel fill out his season with operas. In addition, Handel was required to use the ballet company of Marie Salle, the famous French dancer. Handel's new opera company included a young, rising castrato named Carestini. Gifted with a large vocal range and incredible technique, the title role of Ariodante was written for him. His arias are not only technically virtuosic, they are dramatically demanding as well. One can not believe when one hears them that moments of such intense drama have been created within such a brilliant bravura vocal context. Some of the highpoints of the opera are his "Con l'ali di costanza" and "Dopo notte," which display thrilling vocal acrobatics. "Scherza infida" is a study is passion and jealousy, rage and confusion. In this opera Handel expands his da capo aria form to ever greater proportions, creating monumental works full of powerful emotion. The female lead, Cecilia Young, was also a youthful star, and a tenor was a recent recruit from the Chapel Royal. Handel put off the premiere of his new work, while he rewrote some of it, and adapted into the drama spectacles which used Marie Salle's dance troupe. At the ends of the first and third acts are sumptuous ballets that add to the dramatic mood of the opera, but the most effective ballet is integrated into the action in the second act when Ginevra goes mad. She begins seeing frightening visions, and the ballet dancers represent these mental horrors. The act concludes powerfully, with a dramatic, accompanied recitative for the distraught Ginevra. The libretto of Ariodante was adapted from a libretto by Antonio Salvi, one of the finest opera seria librettists of the age. The text was shortened, and the drama made more intense, while the arias were expanded into emotional powerhouses. The main theme is infidelity, as Ginevra is falsely accused and goes mad. Because the punishment for a wife's infidelity was death in Scotland, the action takes place there, heightening the dramatic meaning of the libretto.