Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Of the many operas based on the legend of Don Juan, Mozart's is the most famous and widely regarded as the finest. The opera was billed as dramma giocoso or "funny drama," belonging to a genre neither completely comic nor completely tragic. In the original production the actors alternated between spoken recitative and sung aria, but most modern productions use the secco-recitatives composed by Mozart in place of the spoken text.
The Danish philosopher Sřren Kierkegaard wrote a large essay in his book Either/Or in which he - or at least one of his pseudonyms - defends the claim that Mozart's Don Giovanni is the greatest work of art ever made. The finale in which Don Giovanni refuses to repent has been a captivating philosophical and artistic topic for many writers including George Bernard Shaw, who in Man and Superman, parodied the opera (with explicit mention of the Mozart score for the finale scene between the Commendatore and Don Giovanni). The aria Il mio tesoro is used as the main theme to the classic Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.
The garden of the Commander. Leporello is keeping watch outside Donna Anna's house. Don Giovanni, Leporello's master, has crept into the house order to seduce Donna Anna. (Leporello aria: "Notte e giorno faticar -- I work night and day") Donna Anna appears, chasing a masked Giovanni. She wishes to know who he is and cries for help. The Commendatore, Anna's father, appears and challenges Giovanni to a duel. Giovanni stabs the Commendatore and escapes unrecognised. Anna stands aghast, and Don Ottavio, Donna Anna's fiancé, swears vengeance. (Duet: "Fuggi, crudele fuggi -- Flee, cruel one, flee.")
Change of scene: A public square outside the palace of Don Giovanni. Giovanni and Leporello arrive and hear a woman speaking of having been recently spurned (Elvira aria: "Ah, chi mi dice mai -- ah, who could tell me.") Giovanni starts to seduce her but then realizes she is a recent conquest, Donna Elvira. Upon this realization, he shoves Leporello to the front and hurries away. Leporello endeavours to console Elvira by unrolling a list of Don Giovanni's amours. (Leporello aria: "Madamina! Il catalago e questo -- Little madame, this is the catalogue.") In a frequently cut recitative, Elvira vows vengeance.
When she has departed, a marriage procession with Masetto and Zerlina enters the scene. Don Giovanni and Leporello arrive soon thereafter. Giovanni immediately sees and is attracted to Zerlina, and he attempts to remove the jealous Masetto. (Masetto aria: "Ho capito! Signor, si. -- I understand! Yes, dear sir.") Don Giovanni and Zerlina are soon alone. He immediately begins his seductive arts. (Duet: "Lá ci darem la mano -- There we will entwine our hands.")
Elvira arrives and thwarts the seduction. When Ottavio and Anna then arrive, plotting vengeance on the still unknown murderer of Anna's father, Elvira announces Giovanni's recent betrayal of her. Giovanni answers her reproaches by declaring to Ottavio and Anna that both Zerlina and Elvira are insane. (Elvira aria: "Non ti fidar, o misera -- Don't believe him, sad one.") With Giovanni's departing oath to help find the Commendatore's murderer, Anna suddenly recognizes Giovanni as her seducer and, thus, said murderer. Ottavio, not convinced, determines to keep an eye on his friend. (Ottavio aria: "Dalla sua pace -- Of his peace").
Leporello informs Don Giovanni that all the guests of the peasant wedding are in Giovanni's house, that he distracted Masetto from his jealousy, but that the return of Zerlina post-seduction had spoiled everything. Don Giovanni, however, is extremely cheerful. (Giovanni's champagne aria: "Fin ch'han dal vino -- Finally, with the wine.") He hurries to his palace.
Zerlina follows the jealous Masetto and tries to pacify him. (Zerlina's aria: "Batti, batti o bel Masetto -- Beat me, oh lovely Masetto") Don Giovanni leads both to the bridal chamber, which has been lavishly decorated, and Leporello also invites three masked guests, the disguised Elvira, Octavio, and Anna.
Change of scene: Ball room. Don Giovanni, in the midst of merry dancing, leads Zerlina away, while Leporello engages Masetto's attention. When Zerlina's cry for help is heard, Don Giovanni tries to fool the onlookers by rushing upon Leporello with drawn sword and accusing him of seducing Zerlina. The guest do not believe Giovanni and attack him, but he fights his way through the crowd and escapes.
Outside Elvira's house. Leporello threatens to leave Giovanni, but Giovanni calms him with a peace offering of money (Duet: "Eh via buffone -- come on, buffoon.") Giovanni, wanting to seduce Elvira's maid, pursuades Leporello to exchange cloak and hat with him. Elvira comes to her window (trio: "Ah taci, ingiusto core -- Ah, be quiet unjust heart") and Giovanni and Leporello convince her to descend to the street. Elvira thinks Leporello (who is wearing Giovanni's clothes) is Giovanni, and Leporello exits with her to occupy her while Giovanni attempts to seduce her maid (Giovanni aria: "Deh vieni alla finestra -- come to the window").
Before Giovanni can complete his seduction of the maid, Masetto and his friends arrive, searching for Giovanni. Giovanni (dressed as Leporello) convinces the posse that he, too, wants Giovanni dead and joins the hunt. After getting the posse to separate (Giovanni aria: "Metá di voi qua vadano -- Half of you go this way,") Giovanni beats up a unarmed Masetto. Zerlina arrives and consoles Masetto. (Zerlina aria: "Vedrai carino -- come dear one.")
Change of scene: In a dark courtyard, Leporello abandons Elvira. As he tries to escape, Anna and Ottavio arrive and, thinking him Giovanni (he's still dressed as Giovanni), threaten to kill him. Masetto and Zerlina, on their way home, happen upon the scene and join in the threatening. Elvira tries to protect the man whom she thinks is Giovanni, claiming that he is her husband and begging for pity (Sextet: "Sola, sola in buio loco -- Alone in this dark place.") The other four ignore her, and Leporello removes his cloak to reveal his true, un-Giovanni identity. Everyone is so taken aback, Leporello is able to escape in the confusion (Leporello aria: "Ah pietá signori miei -- ah, pity me, good people.") With all these circumstances, Ottavio is convinced of Giovanni's guilt and swears vengeance. (Ottavio aria: "Il mio tesoro -- my treasure.")
Change of scene: A graveyard with the statue of the Commendatore. Leporello tells Don Giovanni of his near death experience, and Giovanni taunts him. The voice of the statue commands Giovanni to be silent; upon threat of death by Giovanni, Leporello reads the inscription upon the statue's base: "Vengeance here awaits my murderer." Leporello trembles, but the unabashed Giovanni mockingly invites the statue to dine with him at the evening meal. (Duet: "Oh, statua gentilissima -- Oh most gentle statue"). The statue nods its head and answers, "Yes."
Change of scene: Donna Anna's room. Ottavio pressures her to marry him, but Anna thinks it inapporpriate so soon after her father's death. (Anna aria: "Non mi dir -- Don't tell me.")
Change of scene: Don Giovanni's chambers. Giovanni revels in the luxury of a great meal and musical entertainment (during which the orchestra plays contemporary operatic music -- that of the late 18th century -- including a reference to Mozart's own Le nozze di Figaro), while Leporello serves (Finale "Giá la mensa preparata -- already the meal is preprared.") Elvira appears, hoping to move Giovanni to repentance. Giovanni taunts Elvira and ignores her pleas, so she angrily departs. As Elvira leaves, the statue of the Commandatore suddenly appears. It exhorts the careless villain to repent, but Giovanni refuses. The statue sinks into the earth and drags Giovanni with him. Hellfire surrounds Don Giovanni as he is carried below.
A concluding chorus of the entire cast of the opera delivers the moral of the opera - essentially, that evildoers will receive their comeuppance. This chorus was sometimes omitted in the past by few conductors (e.g. von Karajan) claiming that this concluding chorus was never really considered to be part of the opera. This approach did not survive, and today's conductors almost always perform the complete opera as composed by Mozart.
References and external links
- Plot taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz , 1921 version.
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