Mozart’s Don Giovanni, 1787
Friday May 5th
Why this subject?
This was Mozart’s commission for Prague, where
there was a long tradition of Don Juan stories.
And perhaps Mozart had a Don Juan fantasy?
“After all, he was strongly attracted to women,
both precociously and throughout his life, and
was frequently rebuffed by them. Such
speculations are automatically ridiculed, owing to
a deification process that forbids attempts to
separate the composer’s musical genius from his
humanness, the sublimity of the one being
equated with a saintliness in the other. The
Mozart halo outshines that of any other artist.”
(More at NY Review of Books).
Or was it his fascination with death? Mozart
called this opera a dramma giocoso – a “playful
drama”, but its dark meanings dominate modern
gothic productions. OperaBlog and Limelight
The perfect opera?
Charles Gounod thought so: “From the very
beginning of the overture, I felt myself
transported… to a completely new world… Thus
enveloped in the double embrace of the beautiful
and the terrible, I murmured the following words:
Oh mother, what music! This truly is music, to be
sure!” This opera is indeed remarkable for its
combination of comedy and seriousness, darkness
and light, serenity and violence. It is no wonder
that people could read into it the precursors of
ideas that would lead to the French Revolution just
two years after its premiere…(Opera de Montreal)
Gustave Flaubert called Don Giovanni, along with
Hamlet and the sea, "the three finest things God
But it’s far from perfect! “…disjointed, marred by
implausible incidents, peopled mainly with one-
dimensional figures, and confused in its moral
position.… [B]ecause of the absence of a
philosophical basis for the character of Don
Giovanni … the validity of his destiny is uncertain
and the sequence of events is not well ordered.”
(NY Review again)
The anti-hero we know only by repute
The Don’s character comes to us indirectly, from
Leporello, from the women he wrongs and from
the Commendatore. But this is a strange operatic
hero, and an acting rather than a singing part.
“Don Giovanni himself doesn’t get any showstopper
arias, which are traditionally the vehicle of character
revelation in opera. Mozart doesn’t give us any
soliloquy to reveal what his title character thinks and
feels – in two of his arias, he is actually imitating
someone else! At the end of the opera, Don Giovanni
is still a mystery to us.” (OperaBlog on the
As last week with Figaro, we’ll compare and play
excerpts from the Glyndebourne and Amsterdam
trilogies. Also a documentary about the ideas behind
the radical Amsterdam production.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes
as the Don, OA.