Major Operas | Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Classical Era
Composed in 1787 and triumphantly premiered in Prague on 29 October that year, Don Giovanni reworks the old legend of the serial seducer, drawing on the Spanish play by Tirso de Molina (1630) and Molière’s Don Juan (1665).
The opera revolves around the tensions of class and sex that were so central to Figaro. Ensembles and propulsive ‘chain’ finales remain crucial, although the structure is more episodic than Figaro’s. The roles are likewise a mixture of the serious and the comic, with the chameleon Don Giovanni and the scorned but devoted Donna Elvira of so-called ‘mixed type’ (mezzo carattere).
Mozart called Don Giovanni an opera buffa. However, from the awesome D minor introduction of the overture – foreshadowing the chilling appearance of the ‘stone guest’ who drags the hero to his doom – it is a very different work from Figaro. The main section of the overture is a tense, brilliant D major allegro, leading directly to a wry buffo aria for the comic servant Leporello. Typically, though, comedy is immediately juxtaposed with tragedy as Don Giovanni emerges from Donna Anna’s bedroom, fights a duel with her father and kills him. In the second-act finale, tragedy and comedy are superimposed, with the terrifying statue commanding Don Giovanni to repent, while Leporello provides a chattering counterpoint. The demonic, supernatural elements of Don Giovanni and the enduring fascination of its convention-flouting hero made Don Giovanni beloved by the Romantics, at a time when much of Mozart’s music was patronized for its supposed Dresden china prettiness.
Leporello awaits his master outside the Commendatore’s house, where Don Giovanni is in Donna Anna’s room. He comes out, pursued by Anna. Anna’s father, the Commendatore, challenges Giovanni; they fight and the Commendatore falls, mortally wounded. Anna demands that her betrothed, Don Ottavio, avenge the murder. Giovanni scents a woman. Donna Elvira enters, seeking the man (Giovanni) who seduced her. He steps out to ‘comfort’ her, then recognizes her and slips away, leaving Leporello to explain that she is but one entry in his catalogue of conquests. Country folk are celebrating the wedding of Zerlina and Masetto. Giovanni, attracted by the bride, sends everyone else off to be wined and dined. Telling Zerlina she is too good for that peasant, he promises marriage and invites her to his villa. As she agrees, Elvira enters, denounces Giovanni and sends Zerlina off. Anna and Ottavio enter, and greet their neighbour Giovanni. Elvira claims that Giovanni is a betrayer but Giovanni assures them that she is mad. Anna recognizes Giovanni as the man who invaded her room and tells Don Ottario that after a struggle she freed herself. She again demands vengeance. Ottavio determines to bring her comfort.
Giovanni hopes for a successful party that evening. Zerlina tries to calm Masetto and they go off to the ball. Anna, Elvira and Ottavio enter, masked, solemnly...
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