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5.110011 - MOZART: Don Giovanni (Highlights)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Il dissoluto punito ossia Il Don Giovanni

In Vienna during the last ten years of his life Mozart was at last able to turn his fuller attention to the composition of opera, a form for which his native Salzburg had offered less opportunity. In 1786 he had won success with Le nozze di Figaro, a collaboration with the Italian librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. In Prague the acclaim for the opera had been even greater and Mozart and Da Ponte had been commissioned to provide a new opera for the following winter season. Da Ponte found himself busy with three libretti at the same time. For Martin y Soler he was busy with L’arbore di Diana (The Tree of Diana), an original work, for Antonio Salieri he was making an Italian adaptation of Tarare, based on Beaumarchais, which became Axus, rè d’Ormus and for Mozart Don Giovanni. As Da Ponte alleged to the Emperor, in his own account of the matter, he would work in the morning for Martin, in the spirit of Petrarch, in the evening for Salieri, as Tasso, and at night, imagining he was reading Dante’s Inferno, for Mozart. Whatever the truth of this, he had an earlier model on which to base Don Giovanni, a recent treatment of the subject that had been staged in Venice, and the story of Don Giovanni and the Stone Guest was, in any case, well known, from the play on the subject by the Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina in the early seventeenth century.

            In Prague in October Mozart had allowed ten days for rehearsals of the opera. Not surprisingly this proved far too optimistic and the work was finally staged in Prague two weeks later, on 29th October 1787, too late for the celebration of the marriage of Archduchess Maria Theresia and Prince Clemens of Saxony for which the commission had been intended. Don Giovanni, however, won immediate success in Prague and a performance was commanded in Vienna for the following May. Here opinions were divided, with some, including the Emperor in one recorded comment, judging the music unsuitable for the voices or too difficult to sing. Da Ponte reported a more considered opinion. The Emperor had told him that he had found the work particularly fine but not perhaps to the taste of the Viennese, while Mozart himself had been content to allow time to do its work and history to give the final verdict on a work of the value of which he had no doubt.

            The opera Don Giovanni is unusual in the fact that two authentic versions exist, both by Da Ponte and Mozart, the Prague version of the first performance and the version adapted for Vienna. For the latter Mozart replaced the tenor aria Il mio tesoro with Dalla sua pace, better suited to the abilities of Francesco Morella, who took the part of Don Ottavio. For Donna Elvira, sung in Vienna by Salieri’s protégée Caterina Cavalieri, a scena was added. Performance customs have varied over the years, with some attempts to combine the two versions.

[1]       The Overture, in an ominous D minor, suggests something of the ghostly conclusion of the opera in its introductory bars, a mood soon dispelled with the start of the D major Allegro.


Act I

[2]       It is night. In a garden in Seville Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello is walking up and down in front of the house of Donna Anna. He complains of his life, with too little food and sleep and too much work, when he would like to be a gentleman, not keeping guard while his master enjoys an assignation. Voices are heard and he hides. Donna Anna comes out, holding Don Giovanni by the arm, while he tries to hide himself. She will not release him, while he refuses to let her see who he is and does his best to stop her cries, as Leporello comments on the scene. As her father comes out, Donna Anna releases Don Giovanni and runs into the house. The Commendatore challenges the Don, who refuses at first to fight him, but gives way. They fight and the old man falls, mortally wounded and calling for help.

            Don Giovanni calls for Leporello, who asks him who is dead, Don Giovanni or the old man, and when he understands what has happened congratulates his master on seducing the daughter and killing the father. Don Giovanni threatens to beat him and Leporello is silent, as they go out together.

            Lights in the house are lit and Donna Anna, Don Ottavio and servants come out, ready to help the Commendatore, Don Ottavio with sword drawn. Donna Anna sees her father’s body and is horrified, lamenting his death, while Don Ottavio tries to console her. She expresses her despair, while Don Ottavio, her lover, offers what comfort he can. They both swear revenge on the unknown murderer.

            Don Giovanni and Leporello are in a nearby street and the latter has something to say, if only Don Giovanni will not be angry with him. Don Giovanni promises to keep his temper, but is furious when Leporello bellows in his ear that his master is leading the life of a rogue. Calming down again, he tells his servant that he has another conquest to pursue, a woman he has met, and now he senses the scent of a woman, and they withdraw a little.

            Donna Elvira, who has been jilted by Don Giovanni, complains of her treatment, as she seeks her former lover. Don Giovanni, at first not recognising her, comments, aside, on her plight and suggests bringing her some consolation, a plan that draws a cynical response from Leporello. Eventually Don Giovanni steps forward and he and Donna Elvira recognise each other; he is the one who has deceived her, and she upbraids him, while he seeks to calm her and leaves Leporello to explain what has happened, as he makes his escape.


[3]       Leporello, in his catalogue aria, lists, by way of consolation, Don Giovanni’s many conquests, 640 women in Italy, 231 in Germany, a hundred in France, 91 in Turkey and in Spain now 1003, women of all classes, ages and degrees of beauty.

            Donna Elvira vows revenge, furious at this revelation of infidelity.

            In the country villagers have gathered to celebrate the marriage of Zerlina and Masetto. Zerlina points out that youth is the time for love and Masetto that marriage is the answer. They are joined by Don Giovanni and Leporello. Don Giovanni offers Zerlina and Masetto his friendly protection and invites the gathering to his castle, telling Leporello to keep Masetto occupied, while he looks after Zerlina. He threatens Masetto, who has doubts about this. Masetto declares that he has understood what is going on, thanking Don Giovanni and, in an aside, rebuking Zerlina for her ready compliance with the latter’s wishes. Leporello, meanwhile, tries to carry out his master’s orders, eventually succeeding in leading Masetto away.


[4]       Don Giovanni, alone with Zerlina, tells her that she is wasted on Masetto and is made for something better: he offers to marry her. He takes her hand, to lead her into the castle, but she suspects that he is not serious and, in any case, is attached to Masetto. Eventually they make to go off together, arm in arm.

            Don Giovanni’s intended seduction of Zerlina is interrupted by the angry appearance of Donna Elvira, full of reproaches for her former lover and ready to rescue Zerlina. Don Giovanni pretends that Donna Elvira is out of her wits, through love for him, and that he must pretend to respond, in order to humour her. Donna Elvira urges Zerlina to learn from her example and escape from Don Giovanni’s deceits while she can. She leads Zerlina off with her.

            Alone, Don Giovanni laments his bad luck. He is joined by Don Ottavio and Donna Anna, still unaware of his part in her seduction and the death of her father. They seek his help, which he promises. They are interrupted by the return of Donna Elvira.

            Donna Elvira warns Don Ottavio and Donna Anna against Don Giovanni. He explains to them that the woman is mad, after disappointment in love. Donna Elvira continues to inveigh against Don Giovanni, and he urges the other two to leave them alone, so that he can pacify her. Donna Elvira, however, seems to be about to convince them of her sanity. Finally he succeeds in persuading her to go. In feigned pity for the poor woman, he leaves Don Ottavio and Donna Anna, and goes after her.


[5]       Donna Anna at last realises that Don Giovanni is the man who killed her father, recognising his final words. She explains how she had mistaken the intruder into her room for Don Ottavio and eventually called out for help, when she realised her mistake, repelling the man. Her father had come to her help, but had been killed. Now she has recognised his voice and knows the identity of the man who made an attempt on her honour and killed her father and begs Don Ottavio to seek revenge.


[6]       Don Ottavio, alone, finds it difficult to believe that any gentleman would have behaved in this way, but resolves to find out the truth and avenge his mistress and her father. In a new aria, written for the Vienna performance, he sings of his love for Donna Anna and how his peace of mind depends on hers.


[7]       As Don Ottavio leaves, Leporello and Don Giovanni return, the former explaining how he has provided entertainment for the villagers and for Masetto in the castle, unfortunately to be interrupted by Donna Elvira, whom he finally succeeded in shutting out of the castle.


[8]       Don Giovanni plans a wild party for all the girls Leporello can find. With dancing and drinking he will add another ten conquests to his list before morning.


[9]       In the garden Zerlina tries to convince Masetto that Don Giovanni has not touched even the tips of her fingers. He can beat her, if he must, she suggests, and she will kiss his hands, as she urges a truce between them. Masetto admires Zerlina’s witchcraft in making peace with him. The voice of Don Giovanni is heard, giving orders for the entertainment he has planned, and Zerlina urges Masetto away, arousing his suspicions once again. Masetto must escape before Don Giovanni finds him, urged on by Zerlina. He hides, planning to test her fidelity.

            Don Giovanni enters, accompanied by four liveried servants, to whom he gives orders for the entertainment. Zerlina tries to hide, but is caught by Don Giovanni, from whom she tries to break away. He discovers Masetto’s presence. At this moment the sound of dance music is heard, and all three leave to join the party.

            Don Ottavio, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira enter, masked, Donna Elvira urging courage, as they seek to uncover the villain, echoed by Don Ottavio, while Donna Anna expresses her fears. Leporello opens the window and draws Don Giovanni’s attention to the approaching guests, now invited to join the entertainment.

The three masked guests express their feelings, as they look for revenge, calling for the protection of heaven in their enterprise.


[10]     In the splendid ballroom Don Giovanni and Leporello offer the villagers entertainment, dancing and refreshments, coffee, chocolate, sorbets and sweetmeats. Zerlina and Masetto foresee trouble, with justification, as Don Giovanni approaches her. Don Ottavio and his two companions, still masked, are ushered into the ballroom, offering polite greetings to Don Giovanni, who proposes a toast to freedom. The dancing resumes, Don Ottavio in a minuet with Donna Anna, Don Giovanni a contredanse with Zerlina and Masetto forced into dancing by Leporello. Don Giovanni leads Zerlina away, followed by Masetto, who breaks away from Leporello. The voice of Zerlina is heard, calling for help, with the shouts of Masetto, while the three masked guests try to come to her aid. Eventually Don Giovanni returns, sword in hand, dragging in the alleged culprit Leporello, whom he pretends to strike. Don Ottavio and his companions unmask, accusing Don Giovanni. Together with Masetto, they call on him to tremble before their revelations of his cruelty and wickedness. At first at a loss, Don Giovanni finally takes courage.


Act II

[11]     In a street Don Giovanni and Leporello are arguing, as the latter seeks to leave his master’s service, but is told to stop his nonsense. In the end Leporello’s worries are put to rest for the moment by money and he is ready to obey his master, if he will leave off women, a commodity that Don Giovanni protests to be as necessary to him as food or the air he breathes. He has a new plan, and changes clothes with Leporello, in order to woo Donna Elvira’s maid.

            Evening draws in as they approach the house of Donna Elvira, who is seen at her window, trying to suppress her feelings for Don Giovanni. He pushes Leporello forward and addresses her, while Leporello makes suitable gestures. She is induced to come down to meet her lover, to the amusement of Leporello. Don Giovanni tells Leporello to embrace Donna Elvira, as soon as she comes, pretending to be him, ensuring obedience by threatening him with a pistol.

            Donna Elvira is embraced by Leporello, who carries on the pretence, until Don Giovanni leaps out on them, brandishing his sword. At this Leporello and Donna Elvira take flight. Don Giovanni begins to serenade Donna Elvira’s maid, accompanying himself on the mandolin. He sees someone at the window.

            Don Giovanni is interrupted by Masetto, armed with an arquebus and a pistol and followed by fellow-villagers. Masetto challenges the figure he makes out in the darkness and Don Giovanni answers in the voice of Leporello. Masetto is looking for Don Giovanni, who, in his assumed rôle, offers to help him, sending one group off to the right, the other to the left, and telling them to strike out, if they see a man and woman together, adding a description of the man, Leporello in the guise of Don Giovanni himself, who cannot be far off. The other villagers go, followed finally by Don Giovanni, together with Masetto.

            In a moment the two return, Don Giovanni leading Masetto by the hand. Masetto hands his weapons over to Don Giovanni, who seizes the moment and beats the man with the flat of his sword, the latter crying out for help, as Don Giovanni runs off.


[12]     Masetto is joined by Zerlina and complains that he has been beaten by Leporello, as she tends his bruises.

            Leporello has led Donna Elvira to a dark courtyard, that of Donna Anna’s house, being careful to stay in the shadows, and wondering how he can rid himself of her. She is afraid to be left alone by her supposed lover, who looks for a door through which to make his escape. Don Ottavio and Donna Anna come out, he bidding her calm herself, for her father’s sake, while she sees her only remedy in death.

            Donna Elvira calls out for her beloved and, seeing the door, is about to go out, when she is met by Masetto and Zerlina. They see Leporello and Donna Elvira calls for mercy for her betrothed, whom Don Ottavio is about to kill. Leporello kneels, asking for pardon, and revealing himself, to general amazement. Don Giovanni’s pursuers express their wonder at these events, while Leporello seeks for a way out of his predicament.

            Zerlina accuses Leporello of having assaulted Masetto. Donna Elvira accuses him of having deceived her and Don Ottavio of trickery in his present disguise. Leporello is left begging for mercy, an innocent corrupted by his master, turning to Donna Elvira, then to Zerlina, about whose Masetto he knows nothing, and then to Don Ottavio, as he edges towards the doorway, to make his escape.


[13]     It is left to Don Ottavio to suggest that, since Don Giovanni is clearly guilty of the murder of Donna Anna’s father, they go into the house for a while. He asks them to comfort Donna Anna, while he lays a complaint against the murderer.


[14]     Returning with Zerlina, Donna Elvira admits that, however Don Giovanni has treated her, she still feels pity for him.


In a graveyard, with equestrian and other monuments all around, including the statue of the Commendatore, Don Giovanni glories in the darkness, apt for his pursuit of girls. He sees that it is barely two o’clock and wonders how Leporello has fared with Donna Elvira. He hears him coming and calls out to him. Leporello explains the events of the night and how he was beaten in his master’s place. Don Giovanni tells Leporello how, disguised as him, he had met a girl and profited from the mistaken identity in his servant’s place. They are interrupted by a solemn voice, declaring that before dawn Don Giovanni will finish with laughter. Leporello is terrified, fearing a voice from another world, while Don Giovanni draws his sword, striking at the grave monuments and looking for the speaker. The voice is heard again, bidding Don Giovanni leave the dead in peace. Don Giovanni imagines a trick and, looking round, sees the statue of the Commendatore. Leporello is forced to read the inscription on the tomb, threatening revenge on the killer of the Commendatore, and Don Giovanni forces his servant to invite the statue to dinner.

            Leporello’s invitation is given in the most courteous and fearful terms, urged on, the while, by Don Giovanni. To Leporello’s terror the statue nods his acceptance, and, pressed for an answer, replies ‘Yes’.


[15]     In a gloomy room Don Ottavio tries to console Donna Anna with the idea of approaching punishment for Don Giovanni, hoping to persuade her to marry him without further delay. She begs him not to think her cruel. How can she be cruel to him, when she loves him so much? Perhaps one day heaven will have pity on her, and now Don Ottavio shares her suffering. He promises to support her.


[16]     In Don Giovanni’s castle a dinner has been prepared and musicians employed. Don Giovanni orders the musicians to play, ready to spend his money for his own enjoyment. Leporello is in unwilling attendance, as his master starts to eat, and the musicians play. He wonders at Don Giovanni’s appetite, as he serves the dishes and pours the wine and surreptitiously takes what he can for himself. Don Giovanni sees what is happening and makes fun of his servant, asking him to whistle, when his mouth is full.

            Donna Elvira bursts in, to make final proof of her love. Don Giovanni stands, she kneels and he kneels too, seeming to mock her. She begs him to change his ways, as he sits down and starts eating again. He drinks to women and to good wine, and she gives up, leaving him to his own wickedness. She goes out, but then screams and rushes back again, before making her escape from the other side of the room. Don Giovanni tells Leporello to go and see what the matter is, and he too screams in horror at what he sees, before running back in again. In fear and trembling he tells Don Giovanni not to go out there, for outside is a man of stone, white and terrible. There is a solemn knock at the door and Don Giovanni tells his servant to open it, which he is too afraid to do. Don Giovanni stands up and takes a light, going to open the door himself, while Leporello hides under the table.

            Standing at the door is the stone statue of the Commendatore, come to dine with Don Giovanni, who orders Leporello to set another place. The reason for the presence of the stone guest, however, is not to eat but to invite Don Giovanni in turn to dine with him. The latter accepts the invitation and the statue seizes and holds his hand, as he cries out and tries to break away, refusing to repent of his sins, in spite of the urging of the ghostly statue and of Leporello. The statue disappears and flames are seen, as the earth shakes and voices from below threaten damnation. Don Giovanni is already racked by the tortures of hell, as he is drawn into the inferno.

            When all is over, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto enter the room, seeking Don Giovanni. Leporello emerges to tell them what has happened. Now that heaven has brought revenge, Don Ottavio induces Donna Anna to promise marriage after a year. Donna Elvira will withdraw from the world for the rest of her life, while Masetto and Zerlina will go home and have their dinner together. Leporello resolves to find a better master, with the others consigning Don Giovanni to the gods of the underworld. They all join in the final moral. This is the end of the evil-doer; as a man lives, so shall he die.

Keith Anderson

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