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 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 March 29, 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.