CHICAGO – With plot twists worthy of Shakespeare, the love between Princess Ginevra and the noble Ariodante is threatened by the machinations of Polinesso, who lusts after the princess and will stop at nothing to sabotage the royal wedding.
A Lyric premiere and a new coproduction — it’s always exciting to experience an opera that has never been done before at the Lyric Opera House.
“New-to-you” music by the very well-known Messiah creator George Frideric Handel. All the beauty and illumination of this brilliant Baroque composer’s virtuosity will be on full display in Ariodante.
Handel’s greatest opera? That’s what a lot of music experts say about Ariodante – now Chicago audiences can decide for themselves! Since the mid-1980s Lyric has presented eight Handel operas: Samson, Orlando, Xerxes, Alcina, Partenope, Julius Caesar, Hercules, and Rinaldo.
Here’s what Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director, president and CEO, has to say: “This is Handel at his most melodically inspired, his most psychologically insightful, his most moving, and his most exhilarating. He wrote to flatter voices, and you’ll find music [here] that, for both beauty and virtuosity, is unsurpassed in all of Baroque opera. Ariodante is unquestionably a masterpiece. It’s an astonishingly powerful story, in which virtue and villainy confront each other in a riveting way…All the characters are enormously engaging and intriguing, involved in predicaments and relationships that we connect with.”
So, what’s the story? Polinesso covets Ginevra, who loves and is loved by Ariodante. Her father the king approves and they’re set to wed, but dastardly Polinesso wreaks havoc with lies and manipulations, using Ginevra’s friend Dalinda (who has feelings for Polinesso) to destroy Ariodante. Meanwhile, Ariodante’s brother Lurciano loves Dalinda but is rejected. Complications ensue and dramatic sparks fly, along with vocal fireworks, in a score that demands dazzling virtuosity. Thanks to Handel’s incomparable genius, Ariodante also offers deeply soulful arias to melt any listener’s heart. It’s one of the greatest glories of Baroque opera, period. And it’s got a happy ending. True love triumphs and the villain is vanquished.
Delivering the virtuosic goods is the A-list cast headed by the brilliant English mezzo-soprano Alice Coote/Ariodante, who recently wowed Lyric audiences as Prince Charming in Cinderella; American soprano Brenda Rae, making her Lyric debut as lovely Ginevra; and English countertenor Iestyn Davies (greatly acclaimed on Broadway for Farinelli and the King) as wicked Polinesso. Three excellent American artists round out the cast: soprano Heidi Stober/Dalinda, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen/King of Scotland, and tenor Jonathan Johnson/Lurciano.
See it if you like: Powerfully evocative music, twisted plots, riveting acting and singing performances, complex women characters, and unforgettable visuals.
English conductor Harry Bicket, a brilliant Baroque specialist, returns to lead the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus. His earlier triumphs at Lyric include Handel’s Rinaldo, Hercules, and Partenope, plus Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice/Orfeo ed Eurydice and Bizet’s Carmen. Michael Black is chorus master.
English director Richard Jones created the coproduction, collaborating with set and costume designer ULTZ (Lyric debut) and lighting designer Mimi Jordan Sherin, plus puppetry director Finn Caldwell, puppetry designers Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes, and choreographer Lucy Burge. Benjamin Davis serves as revival director for Lyric’s performances (the latter four are Lyric debuts).
Wait, what? Puppets? Instead of the ballet sequences that are traditionally part of Ariodante, puppets are integral to this production.
Truly multinational: Despite being written in Italian by a German composer living in London, Ariodante was originally set in medieval Scotland. Original director Richard Jones updates the action to the 1970s.
Sung in Italian with projected English translations.
Approximate running time: 3 hours, 50 minutes including two 25-minute intermissions.
Six performances Mar. 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, and 17 at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Performance times vary.
For more information and to order tickets, visit lyricopera.org/Ariodante or call 312-827-5600. Tickets start at $39.
For information about pre-performance dining options at Lyric, visit lyricopera.org/dining to learn about on-site restaurants, beverage service, and more.