Ginevra, the daughter of the Scottish king, and the knight Ariodante are in love with each other. But Polinesso wants to usurp the throne by marrying Ginevra. By means of an intrigue he succeeds in persuading Ariodante that Ginevra is unfaithful to him. However, his despicable deed is discovered and the two lovers are united with the King’s blessings.
Handel’s three operas Orlando, Ariodante and Alcina are based on Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso and have plots which are particularly powerful and dramatic. Under great pressure from the competition that originated from the Opera of the Nobility, Handel concentrated on the fantastic world of courtly epics for his opera performances in Covent Garden. The intrigue had already inspired Shakespeare, who used it as the basis of his comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Handel spent two and a half months writing Ariodante, an unusually long time for him.
The music and the perceptively drawn character portraits are among the most expressive things he ever wrote. Besides this, he fully exploited the artistic potential offered by Covent Garden. While his competitors adhered strictly to the Italian style, Handel introduced ballet sequences of the type more readily associated with French opera in order to present something new that would be attractive to audiences.