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  explore this.

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 ever made." 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 McVicar/OA production).

Our Meeting

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.