“Don Giovanni” (Mozart) premiered X 29 1787

Don Juan is a figure which crosses boundaries: the boundary between the sexes, the boundary between the classes and the boundary between life and death showing that even cemetery walls don’t stop him. He is said to have already loved 2065 women, 1003 in Spain alone, 640 in Italy, 231 in Germany and 100 in France. He is not only poaching in the Christian Occident, but also in the Orient where there were 91 in Turkey (his servant keeps a precise record of this).

In European literature, he has been on his ways since the Counter-Reformation, when around 1620 a Spanish monk recorded his legend in the comedia The Mockers of Seville and the Stone Guest. Quickly he penetrated the stage templates of the Italian commedia dell’arte as well as the classic French comedy. In Prague, Mozart and Da Ponte gave him his most impressive shape in their opera Don Giovanni or The Punished Libertine premiered there in 1787. The elements of farce, comic and tragic opera, in the low and high style, symphonic and sacred music, all occurring simultaneously lead into new virgin territory crossing borders of genre, right up to the rhythmic cacophony of the 1st Act Finale, with the three dance bands all playing at the same time, and to passages in which the chromaticism is driven even into atonal textures.

Giovanni is between all of these languages, he has no music of his own because he makes himself the object of projection for the women he desires: Donna Anna who was brought up in her father’s strict care and who seeks in him adventure; Donna Elvira who has escaped all ties, seeking and hoping to find in him emotional stability; and the lower-class girl Zerlina, who in his arms dreams of social advancement. The labyrinthine sequence of scenes in the opera is framed first by Giovanni’s murder of Donna Anna’s father and then his return from the dead as the “stone guest”.

Opera, Blood, and Tears
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Don Giovanni
October 30 at 7:30pm EST
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In the Catholic comedia, when Giovanni felt his end was approaching, he begged in vain to be allowed to confess. In the opera, it is the stone guest who wants to protect the rebel from eternal damnation by summoning him to repent – which he refuses. So, despite the fall into hell, it remains disputable who will be the inferior in this duel because the intellectual defiance of Giovanni is unbroken.

With this premiere production, the Vienna State Opera begins a new cycle of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas under the leadership of its musical director Philippe Jordan and directed by Barrie Kosky. (Source: Wiener Staatsoper)

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo Da Ponte
World premiere: National Theater (now Estates Theater), Prague, 1787.


The opera opens with Leporello waiting outside a house for his master, Don Giovanni. A masked Giovanni rushes out of the house pursued by Donna Anna, and her awakened father (the Commendatore) tries to defend his daughter. A duel ensues and Giovanni kills the Commendatore. Anna mourns her father while her fiancé Don Ottavio pledges to avenge his death.

The next morning, Giovanni and Leporello encounter Donna Elvira, who is seeking the man who betrayed her. Giovanni, the culprit, tries to console her before realizing her identity. He makes a quick getaway, leaving Leporello to explain to Elvira that she is just another one of Giovanni’s many conquests. 

The scene changes to Zerlina and Masetto’s wedding – Leporello joins his master and a group of peasants to celebrate. Giovanni sends the wedding party to his home while he flirts with Zerlina. Anna and Ottavio arrive and ask Giovanni for his assistance in finding the man who killed the Commendatore, unaware of his identity. Elvira returns to warn all of them of Giovanni’s character, but he makes another quick exit. Suddenly, Anna realizes who he is and tells Ottavio the full story, demanding that he find Giovanni and avenge her father’s death.

A party begins at Giovanni’s home with all of the wedding guests. Anna, Ottavio and Elvira appear at the house in masks and are invited to join the party. At the party, Giovanni leads Zerlina to another room. She screams and everyone rushes to rescue her. Giovanni blames Leporello. Anna, Ottavio and Elvirare move their masks and accuse Giovanni, who manages to escape. 


Giovanni decides that his next conquest is Elvira’s maid, so he switches clothes with Leporello to woo her without getting caught. Mistaking Leporello for Giovanni, Elvira comes down to be led away by him. Masetto appears, armed and with villagers. Don Giovanni (who is still disguised as Leporello) offers to help them. After sending the peasants the wrong way, Giovanni tricks Masetto into giving him all his weapons and makes a quick exit.

Later on, Leporello (who is still believed by Elvira to be Giovanni) is confronted by Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto. A panicked Leporello reveals his true identity before escaping. Ottavio asks the others to look after Anna as he looks for Giovanni to take revenge. 

After fleeing, Leporello joins his master in a cemetery where they notice a statue of the Commendatore. Suddenly, a voice from the statue warns Giovanni of his impending doom. Leporello is terrified but Giovanni thinks it is a joke. Giovanni invites the statue to a banquet and it accepts. 

At the banquet Elvira appears and begs Giovanni one last time to change his life and marry her, but he dismisses her. A loud scream sounds, and everyone looks – the statue arrives at the banquet to ask Giovanni to repent. Giovanni refuses and is thus consumed by the flames of hell. The others appear in an epilogue warning the audience about the dangers of sinful behaviour. (Source: OpenWire)

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