Go inside this production of Ariodante with engaging articles, notes from the director, a complete plot synopsis, artist bios, and more.
Ginevra tells Dalinda that she is in love with Ariodante and that they have the blessing of her father, the King. Polinesso expresses his love for Ginevra, who rejects him. Dalinda tells Polinesso that Ariodante is his rival, but she also hints at her own feelings for Polinesso, who decides to use Dalinda to destroy Ariodante. Ariodante and Ginevra are overjoyed when the King gives the order for their wedding to be celebrated the next day. Polinesso leads Dalinda to believe he loves her. Lurcanio, Ariodante’s brother, confesses to Dalinda that he loves her, but he is rejected. Ariodante and Ginevra celebrate their wedding eve.
Later that night, Polinesso tells Ariodante that he is already Ginevra’s lover and is surprised that Ariodante is marrying her. Ariodante conceals himself and Dalinda, disguised as Ginevra, invites Polinesso into her room. Ariodante is grief-stricken. Lurcanio, who has seen all of this, prevents Ariodante from killing himself, convincing him instead to seek revenge. News is brought to the King that Ariodante has plunged from a cliff into the sea and is presumed drowned. Ginevra collapses in grief. Lurcanio claims that Ariodante has killed himself because of Ginevra’s infidelity and he is willing to defend his story to anyone who will challenge him.
Ariodante has survived but is in torment. He meets Dalinda, who now understands Polinesso's trickery and explains all to Ariodante. Polinesso challenges Lurcanio’s story. ey will duel, with Polinesso as Ginevra’s champion. She resists this but the King insists, despite Ginevra’s protests. During the duel, Lurcanio fatally injures Polinesso. A new challenger appears who reveals himself to be Ariodante. He promises to explain everything, as long as Dalinda is forgiven her innocent part in Polinesso’s deception. Polinesso dies, having confessed everything, and Dalinda is forgiven. The King and community proclaim the triumph of love and innocence; however, in this production, Ginevra cannot forgive her father for denouncing her, nor recover from Ariodante's mistrust. She leaves to begin a new life on her own.
Lyric’s record of achievement in the operas of George Frideric Handel is one of the more unlikely success stories in any American opera company. These operas were written for theaters probably a third the size of the Lyric Opera House, and yet we’ve repeatedly demonstrated that Handel can make a terrifi c impact on our stage. Prior to this season, we’d produced eight Handel works, to which we can now add one of the greatest of them all.
Ariodante is unquestionably a masterpiece, in which Handel was able to distill his extraordinary genius for both melodic invention and psychological precision. It’s an astonishingly powerful story, in which virtue and villainy confront each other in a riveting way. Noble Ariodante, lovesick Ginevra, dastardly Polinesso, and all the other characters are enormously engaging and intriguing figures, involved in predicaments and relationships that we can connect with as an audience.
The music calls for not only truly exceptional technique, but also the stylistic freedom to ornament the arias appropriately. At the same time, the expressive demands are immense, particularly for the title role. We’re lucky to have with us a favorite of Lyric audiences, English mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, one of today’s most celebrated interpreters of the Handel heroes in general and Ariodante in particular. In this role, Alice has an extraordinary ability to break our hearts in the magnifi cently moving monologue “Scherza infi da,” but also to exhilarate us in the virtuosity of two of Handel’s most thrilling bravura arias, “Con l’ali di costanza” and “Dopo notte.”
Opposite Alice is American soprano Brenda Rae, who has rapidly risen to international prominence. Having been based in Europe for much of her career, she has lately also been earning great praise at home. Her Lyric debut will exhibit her gifts as a true singing actress, and I’ve no doubt that she’ll have a wonderful success as Ariodante’s beloved Ginevra.
Returning to Lyric are the dazzling English countertenor Iestyn Davies (recently acclaimed on Broadway in Farinelli and the King) as Polinesso; the vocally commanding, marvelously versatile bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen as the King; and the delightful Heidi Stober, whose scintillating voice will charm everyone as Dalinda.
It's always a joy when Harry Bicket conducts here, especially in Baroque repertoire, which has brought him huge acclaim worldwide. It’s exciting to witness the transformation that Harry is able to achieve when working with players of modern instruments. Invariably the sound he brings forth is as close to the bracing freshness and incisiveness of an original-instrument orchestra as even the most exacting Handelian could desire.
This production of Ariodante, which opened at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and then was remounted by the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam and the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, was created by Richard Jones, whose production of La bohème opened the current Lyric season so memorably. Richard gets under the skin of every piece he directs, working at a level of precision and perception that is very rare. With remarkable imagination he has transplanted the story of the opera – originally set in the Scotland of medieval times – to Scotland in the mid-20th century. The result is an exceedingly powerful, highly emotional drama that brings Ariodante thrillingly to life for a contemporary audience.
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Ariodante stands out as one of Handel’s more melancholy works. It’s full of psychologically rich and interesting characters, with innocent lovers Ariodante and Ginevra at the center of it all. Inspired by the original Edinburgh setting of the opera, we set this production on a remote Scottish island in the late 1960s or early ’70s. It’s a close-knit, male-dominated community with a strong moral center rooted in Calvinism. Their industry is based on fishing and wool, which is reflected in the costume designs that have islanders dress in Aran-style sweaters and kilts. It’s a physical, working community, so while the production is set in the twentieth century, there is a sense of timelessness in the costumes and the dress is similar for men and women. Only Ginevra stands apart, with her more feminine clothes.
The islanders are essentially good people. Though they may have weaknesses, they have a strong moral compass. ere is only one character who is really, actively bad amongst them: Polinesso. In our production, he takes the form of an outsider: a charlatan preacher from a city on the mainland. He’s charismatic and interested in young women who haven “ecstatic” qualities, such as Ginevra. But he has a very cruel, misogynistic streak, reminiscent of certain passages in the Old Testament. The king of the island is in a psychological slump after the death of his wife and takes comfort in Polinesso’s teachings, blind to the evil infiltrating his community.
While the opera is titled Ariodante, Ginevra is the other character at its heart. She’s a young woman singled out and punished by a male-dominated community for her sense of imagination and fantasy. In our production, she makes a very important decision, in the light of everything that happens to her, that radically reinterprets the opera’s traditional ending and paradigm of redemption. Her betrothed from a neighboring island, Ariodante, is sensitive, sincere and noble-hearted, both in happiness and defeat. Lurcanio (Ariodante’s brother), driven by his anger and sense of justice, encourages the king to act violently. Dalinda (the other main female character in the opera) is tortured by her own blinkered desire and Polinesso’s machinations. In the midst of this, Ginevra is always moving forward, while the others are immobilized by their anger, their masochism, or their depression.
While we’ve taken inspiration from the nineteenth-century theater of Ibsen and Strindberg for the overall style of the production, we’ve added a choreographed dimension to our sense of realism that responds to the formality of eighteenth-century musical forms, punctuating our psychological exploration of Ariodante. A significant feature of the production is that we stage the “Dances” composed at the end of each act as puppet sequences performed by the island community as expressions of their hopes and fears, in response to unfolding events.
Reprinted courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company