Major Operas | Ariodante by George Frideric Handel | Late Baroque

Ariodante also derives from Ariosto, but it is a serious opera. Thanks to a fine text, adapted from an old Italian libretto by Antonio Salvi, Handel was able to explore potent tragic situations, such as the King of Scotland being forced to contemplate executing his much-loved daughter Ginvera.

The opera is best known for ‘Scherza infida’, an aria composed for Carestini that explores the anguish of a broken heart. Ariodante also featured a full chorus and several fine dances for Marie Sallé’s ballet company.

Composed: 1735
Premiered: 1735, London
Libretto unknown, after Antonio Salvi and Lodovico Ariosto

Act I

Ginevra, daughter of the Scottish king, is in her chamber preparing to meet her betrothed. She reveals to her confidante Dalinda that her father approves of her engagement. Duke Polinesso enters, declaring his love for Ginevra. She rejects him harshly. Dalinda, herself in love with Polinesso, explains to him that Ginevra is betrothed to Ariodante, a knight. Polinesso then devises a plot by which he can use Dalinda’s love for him to win Ginevra’s heart. In the garden, Ginevra and Ariodante sing of their love for each other. The king gives them his blessing and orders Odoardo to begin the wedding preparations. Meanwhile, Polinesso appeals to Dalinda to help him by dressing up as Ginevra and inviting him into Ginevra’s room. He offers her his love in return. Flattered, Dalinda agrees. When Polinesso has left, Ariodante’s brother, Lurcanio, enters and declares his love for Dalinda; she rejects him. Alone, she sings that she will always love Polinesso. There is a dance, in which Ginevra and Ariodante mingle with shepherds and shepherdesses.

Act II

Polinesso encounters Ariodante and feigns surprise at the news he is to be married to Ginevra, explaining that he and Ginevra are in love. Ariodante demands proof, upon which Dalinda, dressed as Ginevra, welcomes Polinesso into Ginevra’s chamber. Ariodante is shocked and tries to kill himself, but is stopped by Lurcanio. Polinesso continues to pretend that he loves Dalinda. The king is informed that Ariodante has leapt into the sea and is drowned. Ginevra faints at the news. Lurcanio explains Ginevra’s apparent treachery to her father, who disowns her. There is a dance in which we see Ginevra’s feverish dreams.


Contrary to the rumours, Ariodante is alive, and alone in the woods. He hears the frightened cries of Dalinda; she is running from Polinesso, who wants to kill her to ensure her silence. Ariodante saves Dalinda, who then confesses the deception. Back at the palace, the king asks for a knight to defend Ginevra’s honour in a jousting match against Lurcanio. Polinesso, hoping to win favour with the king, accepts. The jousting begins and Polinesso is mortally wounded. Lurcanio offers to fight anyone else who will defend Ginevra; an unknown knight responds. It is revealed to be Ariodante, who offers to tell all if Dalinda receives a Royal pardon. Odoardo enters with the news that Polinesso has confessed to his crimes. Dalinda agrees to marry...

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