An meine drei Damen und meine drei Knaben
Mozart by Lange (1789)
Don Giovanni – SEDUCTION AND TERROR
Le nozze di Figaro was staged with great success in Prague on December 1786, this fact prompted the impresario Pasquale Bondini to invite Mozart to visit the city and conduct one of the performances. Mozart went with his wife Constanze to the Bohemian capital, attended the performance of 17 January and conducted on 22 January 1787. The Mozarts returned to Vienna with a commission for a new opera to be performed in Prague the following season. The librettist was to be the same as for Le nozze di Figaro, Lorenzo Da Ponte.
In Vienna, Mozart had no other important commissions and so was able to devote himself tthe new opera, which was to be Don Giovanni. Between March and April 1787, Mozart composed works of an intimate nature such as the string quintets in C and g, KK 515 and 516, the rondò for piano in a, K 511, the sonata for piano duet in C, K 521 and the sonata for violin and piano in A, K 536. He also composed two serenades for strings: one of them described by Mozart himself as a satire on composition and performance, Ein musikalischer Spass, K 522, and what is probably his most popular work, the serenade in G, named by Mozart himself Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K 525.
On May 28, his father Leopold died in Salzburg and, although this fact saddened the composer, it seems doubtful that it had any influence on the music of Don Giovanni in the way the Romanticism and certain psychoanalytically oriented critics have postulated.
Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the libretto of Don Giovanni while engaged on librettos for Martín y Soler, L'arbore di Diana, and Salieri, adapting his opera Tarare from French into Italian with Axur rè d'Ormuz as title. On this occasion the librettist was unable to postpone other commissions as he had done in the case of Le nozze di Figaro, which may be a reason for the noticeably poorer quality of the text of Don Giovanni when compared to that of Figaro.
The principal sources serving as inspiration for Da Ponte were: El burlador de Sevilla y el convidado de piedra by Tirso de Molina, published in 1630; Molière's Le festin de Pierre of 1665; Goldoni's Don Giovanni Tenorio, ossia il disoluto published in 1736; and the libretto that Giovanni Bertati, a Venetian rival of Da Ponte as it happens, wrote for Don Giovanni, o sia il convitato di pietra, a comic opera by Giuseppe Gazzaniga first staged in Venice in February 1787.
The features of Don Juan vary considerably among Mozart’s forerunners, ranging from an almost religious version in which Don Juan is condemned more because his blasphemy than for his amorality – Tirso’s version – to Bertati‘s version in which the story becomes a perfect vehicle for exhibiting the picaresque qualities of Don Juan's servants.
Da Ponte kept very closely to Bertati's libretto, although practically the whole last section of Act I and the beginning of Act II are original. He included fewer characters than most of the previous versions, for the simple reason that Bondini's company only had seven soloists, three sopranos, three basses and a tenor.
Mozart wrote most of the music in Vienna, since he already knew almost all the singers, who had interpreted Le nozze di Figaro in Bohemia. He left the parts that were to be performed by singers not yet known to him for Prague, along with the possible choruses, since he did not know whether a chorus would be available, and the overture as was his custom.
Mozart and Constanze arrived in Prague on October 4, 1787 lodging almost the whole time in the city's suburbs at Villa Bertramka, which belonged to his great friend the singer Josefa Duschek; the villa still exists. The opening night was set for 14 October as part of the festivities planned to celebrate the marriage of Joseph II's niece Maria Theresia, to Prince Anton Clemens of Saxony. However, the complexity of the score, and the fact that the singers had not only to rehearse the new opera but to perform another opera every other day caused the first night to be put off to the 24, with Le nozze di Figaro being performed for the royal couple's wedding feast. On the 21, it was decided to postpone the opening once again, which came as a relief to Mozart as it gave him more time for the rehearsals. Finally, on 29 October 1787, at the Prague Imperial Theatre, Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni received its first performance, conducted from the pianoforte by Mozart.
Da Ponte had arrived on 11 October with his friend Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, then 62 years old, who lived and died at Dux, in the outskirts of Prague. The Romanticism was fascinated by the idea that Casanova might have written part of the libretto, but there is no historical evidence for this. Nevertheless, it is very likely that Casanova was among the audience on the première.
Estates Theatre Prague
Don Giovanni had a great success in Prague where it remained in the repertoire for the following twenty years. Joseph II learned of the success of the opera and ordered it to be staged in Vienna, the first performance taking place on 7 May 1788 in the Hoftheater in absence of the Emperor, who had left the city on account of war against the Ottoman Empire. As was always the case with everything Mozart wrote after Le nozze di Figaro, the Viennese aristocracy was not very receptive to Don Giovanni. The Emperor himself remarked to Mozart, “This opera is tough meat for my Viennese people,” to which the composer retorted, “then, let them chew on it, Sire”.
Don Giovanni did not, however, take long to reach a wide audience, especially in Germany, where ten different productions were mounted during Mozart's lifetime. Its first French performance was in 1805; it received its first London performance in 1817, with a New York production directed by Da Ponte the same year. The first Spanish production was in 1834.
Mozart always took into account the qualities of the particular singers when composing his operas as was customary at the time, and Don Giovanni was no exception.
Leporello, Don Giovanni's personal servant, Catalinón in Tirso, Sganarelle in Molière, is a figure imported directly from commedia dell'arte, with the characteristics of all servants of the type: intelligent and given to answering back. His voice is that of the basso buffo. The first Leporello was Felice Ponziani, who had played Figaro in Prague ten months before. As an actor, he had a great talent for comedy, indispensable in this role, although a degree of incompetence for the more serious parts, something that Mozart and Da Ponte exploit to their advantage in the second act. In Vienna, the role was interpreted by Francesco Benucci, who had been the first Figaro.
Donna Anna, daughter of Il Commendatore, is a serious and apparently cold young woman. A Spanish noblewoman promised in marriage by the King of Spain to Duke Octavio, so Tirso informs us. Da Ponte merges in the character of Donna Anna aspects of both the Duchess Isabel and Doña Ana de Ulloa from El burlador de Sevilla.
She is a heroic soprano with an aria of great coloratura. At its first performance, this role was played by the twenty-four-year-old Teresa Saporiti. The part was composed by Mozart while in Vienna, which indicates that Saporiti's voice was already known to him; she may have sung the part of the Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro ten months before although there is no documentary evidence of this. In Vienna the role was interpreted by Aloisia Weber-Lange, Mozart's sister-in-law, his first love and probably his greatest passion. Aloisia had been the first to perform the part of Mme Herz in Die Schauspieldirektor in 1786.
The role of Don Giovanni is a bass-baritone or baritone. It is significant that Mozart did not assign the role of Don Giovanni Tenorio to a tenor, even though he had an excellent tenor available. This is, to my mind, an indication of the composer's particular tastes for the different timbres of the human voice. He is an extremely licentious twenty-four-year-old Spanish nobleman, whose only aim in life is to obtain sensual pleasure. An uncounted number of intellectuals have written about this mythic character; it is not my intention to do so here in this brief monograph. I shall concentrate strictly on what concerns the opera itself.
The role was inaugurated by Luigi Bassi who had sung Count Almaviva in Figaro months before. He was twenty-two years old and of handsome appearance. In addition to having a very agreeable voice, he was a fine actor. Although Mozart arrived in Prague with his part already complete, Bassi asked him to expand it, which the composer was only too willing to do, including the serenade in Act II, to give Bassi an opportunity to show off his voice, and for the delight of all those hearing the opera subsequently. In Vienna, the part was sung by Francesco Albertarelli, a new acquisition of the Imperial Opera.
The figure of Il Commendatore, the Spanish aristocrat whose daughter is Donna Anna, is based on Don Gonzalo de Ulloa in Tirso, who informs us that he had royal permission to erect a statue in his mausoleum, which acquires an extraordinary importance in the opera's second act. This bass part is relatively short, although of great importance both dramatically and musically.
The first Commendatore was Giuseppe Lolli. The part was composed in Prague. In Vienna the role was performed by Francesco Bussani, who had been the first to sing the parts of Bartolo and Antonio in Le nozze di Figaro.
Don Ottavio, the only tenor of the opera, is a Spanish aristocrat betrothed to Donna Anna. As a good Spanish nobleman, he doubts that another man of his class could be capable of the atrocities attributed to Don Giovanni. He prefers the path of legality to that of violence. He is not a man who feels or arouses much passion. His precursors in Tirso are Duke Octavio and Marquis de la Mota, although neither of these is so lacking in likeable qualities as Don Ottavio.
Mozart wrote Don Ottavio's part in Prague for Antonio Baglioni, who had sung the title role in Gazzaniga's opera in Venice. Baglioni was to play the title role in the first production of La clemenza di Tito, K 621 in 1791. In Vienna the role of Don Ottavio was played by Francesco Morella, who, feeling himself incapable of rendering adequately "Il mio tesoro", the only aria included in the part in the Prague version, asked Mozart to write a new one: "Dalla sua pace". Nowadays it is customary for productions to include both arias.
Donna Elvira is hysterically in love with Don Giovanni, despite having been abandoned after only three days of marriage, she persists in following, importuning, begging him, only to be abandoned once more. Despite the fact that some producers cast her as a mature woman, she is actually very young. Leporello refers to her as a fanciulla. Through Molière, we know that she was a nun seduced by Don Giovanni; so when, at the end of the opera, she promises to end her days in a nunnery, she ought in fact to speak of returning there.
Little is known about the first Donna Elvira, Caterina Miccelli. The fact that Mozart had written the music while still in Vienna indicates that he already knew her voice, which suggests that she may have sung Cherubino in Prague. In Vienna the part was taken by Catarina Cavalieri, who, as a friend of the composer, asked Mozart to write her a new aria to show her voice at its best. His response was "Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata", a picture of Donna Elvira as donna abbandonata. This aria, like "Dalla sua pace", breaks the dramatic structure of the opera, but its quality is such that we can hardly choose to ignore it.
Zerlina, a peasant girl on her wedding day, is a blend of Tisbea in Tirso and Charlotte and Mathurine in Molière; she is the principal, but by no means the only, object of Don Giovanni's attempts at seduction through the opera. She has two splendid arias and sings with Don Giovanni the most famous duet in the whole history of opera.
Zerlina is in fact, as Mozart conceived her, the prima donna of this opera. This conception changed, however, during the nineteenth century in Germany: the center of gravity shifting either to Donna Anna or Donna Elvira, but never returning to Zerlina.
It was the prima donna of Prague, Caterina Bondini, who gave the first performance of the role of Zerlina. She had sung Susanna some months before. In Vienna it was also the prima donna, Luisa Laschi-Mombelli - Nancy Storace had gone back to England - who sang Zerlina in the first seven performances but had to abandon the part due to an advanced pregnancy. Laschi was the first Contessa. Therese Teyber, who had sung the role of Blonde in the first performance of Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1782, took over the remaining five performances.
Masetto is Zerlina's betrothed, a hard-headed peasant with a big heart, generous and courageous. He is sung by a bass. Lolli in Prague and Bussani in Vienna were the first to perform this role, in both cases doubling up as Masetto and Il Commendatore.
Mozart's orchestra for Don Giovanni consists of strings, first and second violins, violas (often divided), cellos and double basses, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, timpani and, at certain special moments in Act II, a mandolin and three trombones. The melody is usually carried by the flutes, oboes, clarinets and violins, the bassoons and lower strings giving the resonance, and the horns giving cohesion to the harmony. The wind section of the Prague Imperial Theatre orchestra enjoyed a great reputation for the quality of its players, and this was exploited to the full by Mozart who composed music of exceptional quality for this group of instruments.
Mozart composed the Overtura the night before the opening. Legend says that Constanze kept him awake telling him stories of Aladdin and Cinderella and serving him hot punch until five o’clock in the morning, when Mozart went to bed, to get up again at seven, when the copyists arrived to do their work. The music not only surprised the audience but the musicians as well, who had to play it for the first time on the première.
The overture begins with a blast of sheer horror; a chord in D minor, opening an andante, then it goes into an allegro molto in D major characterized by sudden explosions of sforzando, raising the tension right from the beginning of the opera. The opera's basic key is D major, despite the first chords in d minor. The overture, the first of Mozart's to begin at a slow tempo, presents a perfect symphonic development. At the end, the key modulates from D major to F major to set the scene for the beginning of the action.
Although there are no precise indications in the libretto or in the score, it seems fair to assume that the entire action takes place during the course of a single day. The first act begins during the small hours of the night, around three o’clock in the morning one day in the seventeenth century in Seville or some other Spanish city, among the trees of a garden belonging to a lordly mansion and in front of a superbly sculptured vestibule. It is the house of Il Commendatore. A muffled figure is seen moving from one side to another; it is Leporello, Don Giovanni's servant and involuntary companion on his love adventures.
With flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, the Introduzione in F major, molto allegro, begins a musical number that, in Alfred Einstein's words, “is one of the wonders of the world“. Leporello expresses his disgust at the uncomfortable and sleepless nights to which his master’s adventures condemn him, No.1, "Notte e giorno faticar" (Laboring night and day). He expresses the heartfelt longing to be the gentleman instead of the servant. Hearing noises, he hides.
To a loud crescendo from the orchestra Donna Anna rushes out of the house in pursuit of Don Giovanni. She is unaware of his identity, since Don Giovanni is wearing a hat and cape similar to those worn by Don Ottavio. The key shifts to B flat at the precise moment when Donna Anna says he will have to kill her if he wishes to escape from her, "Non sperar, si non m'uccidi, chi'o ti lasci fuggir mai" (Don't hope, if you don't kill me, that I will ever let you escape), but Don Giovanni, happy that his identity has not been discovered, makes fun of her while Leporello remarks that the libertine will surely be his undoing.
Awakened by the noise, Il Commendatore enters and challenges Don Giovanni to stand and fight - the music is now andante in a somber G minor - which the latter declines to do. Il Commendatore insists and Don Giovanni unsheathes his sword and after a brief struggle - molto allegro once more, but now in D minor, kills Il Commendatore, while the melody changes to an andante in F minor, "Lascialla indegno! Battiti meco" (Unhand her, rogue! Fight with me!).
From the very first performance, audiences have wondered whether Donna Anna pursues Don Giovanni in order to discover his identity or to stop him from abandoning her after experiencing a few hours of pleasure. All are, of course, at liberty to believe what they wish.
Don Giovanni and Leporello exchange comments in recitativo secco on the night's events, and exit.
Donna Anna and Don Ottavio come out of the house with some servants. A Recitativo accompagnato begins; then they discover the corpse and Donna Anna swoons, recovering consciousness as the servants take the body away. This is followed by a Duetto allegro-maestoso-adagio-allegro in d with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, No.2 "Ma qual mai soffre, o Dei..." (Oh, what dreadful sight, O God...), and "Fuggi, crudeli, fuggi" (Go away, cruel man, go away!) in which she laments the death of her father, and demands vengeance of Don Ottavio, with whom, on regaining consciousness, she at first confuses with her aggressor who was similarly dressed. Don Ottavio swears to comply with her wish on account of the love he has for her. This key, D minor, has clearly tragic connotations for Mozart, and is related to the very beginning of the overture.
Beethoven was to write variations on "Notte e giorno faticar" in his Diabelli variations Op 120, and used Mozart's melody accompanying the phrase "Che giuramento, oh Dio!” with which the previous duet ends, at the beginning of the fourth movement of his sixth symphony Op 68. Beethoven was not a particular fan of Don Giovanni, and it is likely that he used these two fragments owing to the influence Mozart had on him during the three weeks they spent together while Mozart was composing the opera.
The scene changes to a street in which there is an inn with a balcony and Don Giovanni's palace with a small pavilion in the background.
At dawn, around six o’clock, Don Giovanni, now without his cape and wearing a different hat and Leporello are returning home. Leporello tells his master to give up the life of a scoundrel, to which Don Giovanni retorts with a warning not to be impudent. It emerges that Don Giovanni is already set on a new conquest; and then this confession is interrupted by the announcement that the great seducer scents a woman - "mi pare sentir odor di femmina!" - causing Leporello to marvel at his master's keen sense of smell. They hide in the doorway of the inn.
The woman is Donna Elvira, who makes her entrance singing an Aria in E flat major, Mozart's key of emotional conflict, with clarinets - that will accompany Elvira during the opera - bassoons, horns, and strings. She is searching for the “wretch... I loved, and who proved false to me”, in order to tear his heart out if he refuses to return to her. The aria becomes a trio when Don Giovanni joins in - seconded by Leporello - as he realizes she is a young woman abandoned by her lover, who will have to be comforted, while Leporello mentions the 1,800 he has “comforted” in the past: No.3 "Ah! chi, mi dice mai..." (Oh, would I might discover..!). Moments later Leporello checks the total, finding it to be somewhat larger.
Both Donna Elvira and Donna Anna are two angry women, although Elvira, unlike icy Anna, is hot-blooded, a quality that Mozart underscores with the use of clarinets. Elvira is furious on account of her abandonment, Anna because of the death of her father.
Don Giovanni leaves his hiding place and recognizes Donna Elvira too late; by a ruse, he manages to escape her justified rage, leaving her with Leporello who, after finishing an odd geometrical disquisition, tells her - to comfort her - that Don Giovanni is not worth her concern since she is neither the first nor the last he has treated in that way, and shows her the ledger in which he has noted all Don Giovanni's conquests.
The Aria No 4, "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" (Young lady, this is the record), in which Leporello catalogues for Donna Elvira his masters conquests, in D major, with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, begins as an allegro, classifying according to nationality 2,065 in total - not 1,800 - with 1,003 for Spain alone - an interesting fact for a country that, right up until the death of Franco, considered female virginity as next to sanctity. Mozart shows us how music can be made to laugh, even when the words themselves are not comic: at the beginning of the aria, the flutes, normally serious instruments, play some descending scales that are nothing less than guffaws. The music changes to andante con moto on describing the features of the women that please his master, which as it turns out leave none excluded. "Voi sapete quel che fa!" (You know what he'll do!), he sings, before running away. Donna Elvira remains alone and, in a brief recitativo, gives voice once again to her rage and desire for vengeance before retiring to the inn.
A group of peasants now enters on stage, dancing in celebration of the marriage of two of their companions, Zerlina and Masetto, who sing a duet followed by a Coro in the very plebeian key of G major accompanied by flutes, oboes, horns and strings, in which they express their joy at the marriage, No.5 "Giovinette, che fatte all’amore..." (Young girls made for love...) Don Giovanni and Leporello return, and while the latter goes off to mingle with the peasants, the former directs himself to Zerlina with the aim of beginning a new conquest. Zerlina and Masetto tell him they are about to get married and, taking Zerlina by the waist and Masetto by the arm, he offers them his protection, that of a gentleman, it is to be supposed. Leporello meanwhile has his arm around another peasant girl and, in response to a remonstrance from his master, announces that he too is offering his “protection”. Don Giovanni orders Leporello to take the whole group to his place, where they will continue the festivities, but keeps Zerlina with him; Masetto protests saying that Zerlina cannot stay without him. Zerlina, however, tells Masetto not to worry, since she is “in the hands of a gentleman”. Masetto continues to hesitate until Don Giovanni threatens him with the rattling of his sword.
Masetto begins his Aria, molto allegro in F major - the same defiant F major used by Figaro in "Se vuol ballare" - with flutes, bassoons, horns and strings: No.6 "Ho capito..." (I understand...), in which, blending indignation and irony, he addresses both Zerlina and Don Giovanni, saying that he understands the latter's intentions perfectly, "Faccia il nostro cavaliere, cavaliera ancora te" (Let our fine gentleman make a fine lady of you!), while also casting a slur on Zerlina with the words "Bricconaccia! malandrina!" (You little minx! you hussy!). Finally, Leporello manages to carry Masetto off to the place, leaving Zerlina and Don Giovanni alone.
Don Giovanni now begins his seduction of Zerlina, offering her marriage on the spot, which at first she refuses, but as the Duettino begins, andante in an A major - Mozart used A major as tonic in all his seduction–love duets - with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, No.7 "Là ci darem la mano" (There we shall take hands), Zerlina begins to be swayed. As the tempo accelerates to allegro towards the end of the duet, she falls completely under his spell. This duettino, probably the most famous in the history of opera, is extremely simple as far as Don Giovanni's line is concerned but highly ornamented in Zerlina's. At the opera's first performance it was repeated three times; it is indeed seductive, and not only of Zerlina, but of all who hear it.
Beethoven composed variations on "Là ci darem la mano" for two oboes and an English horn WoO 28; Chopin based some very beautiful variations for piano on it, and Liszt, also something of a Don Juan, makes considerable use of it in his Réminiscences de Don Juan. Aldous Huxley uses the text sung by Zerlina, and in a certain manner the music, to express Lucy Tantamount's lust in his finest novel, Point Counter Point. Even more than her arias, this duet makes of Zerlina the prima donna of the opera.
At the end of the duet, Donna Elvira leaves the inn and notices the seduction in progress. She takes Zerlina by the arm to prevent her going off with Don Giovanni, who says that he only wants to amuse himself, which angers Donna Elvira all the more. He then tells Zerlina that Donna Elvira is in love with him and that he must “feign love” for her, as he is a man with a “good heart” - probably he believes it. In an Aria, allegro in D major, No.8 "Ah! fuggi il traditor!" (Ah! Flee from the deceiver!), Donna Elvira tells Zerlina not to pay attention to Don Giovanni as he will only make her suffer. In this aria Mozart employs a baroque style, that in 1787 would already have been felt to be archaic, either in order to make Donna Elvira's diatribe seem all the more ridiculous or to heighten the quasi-religious nature of what sounds like a sermon. Donna Elvira leaves the stage leading Zerlina by the hand.
Don Giovanni remains alone lamenting his bad luck on this day in which three attempts at seduction have failed, when Donna Anna arrives dressed in mourning, with Don Ottavio. They have come to ask his help to find the aggressor and murderer, from which he gathers that he has still not been discovered; he, of course, offers to give them his help, even to shed his blood if necessary. Donna Elvira returns, furious, and renews her invectives against Don Giovanni, beginning a great Quartetto, andante and, with flute, clarinets - Elvira's instrument - bassoons, horns and strings: No.9 "Non ti fidar, o misera" (Do not trust, unhappy lady). Once again Mozart demonstrates his ability to compose ensembles, in which each character expresses his or her feelings often in contradiction one with another, and without ever forcing the overall harmony. Donna Elvira expresses her anger in what sounds rather like a tantrum as she sings "Ho perduto la prudenza! Le tue colpe de il mio stato voglio a tutti palesar" (I dont care any more! I want everyone to know about your evil deeds and my plight); Donna Anna and Don Ottavio express their doubt and surprise, and Don Giovanni his discomfort and his concern at the possibility of being unmasked before those of his social class. Don Giovanni tells Donna Anna and Don Ottavio that Donna Elvira is madly in love with him, that they should not pay attention to her and that he will take care of her. Donna Anna and Don Ottavio do not believe this explanation; they note Donna Elvira's noble bearing and dignity that she does not seem mad. The quartet sung outside the inn has to be performed piano, if one is to avoid it turning into a confused commotion, something Don Giovanni underlines when he sings the words "Zitto, zitto che la gente si raduna a noi d’intorno" (Hold your tongue, for people are beginning to gather around us!). Don Giovanni manages to lead Donna Elvira away, coming immediately back to the scene. The key used by Mozart in this quartet, B flat major, is regarded as proper to the aristocracy and for situations of movement, like that of the second segment of the Introduzione, in which Donna Anna, an aristocrat, gives chase to Don Giovanni, another aristocrat.
Don Giovanni excuses himself to Donna Anna; he must accompany Donna Elvira so as to avoid more problems, but offers to help in any way he can. Donna Anna recognizes the voice of her aggressor and in a recitativo accompagnato in E flat major - the key of emotional conflict - she relates to Don Ottavio the attempt at rape - not seduction, no, no, no! - to which she was subjected. Donna Anna mentions her confusion when she mistook Don Giovanni for Don Ottavio - as incapable of committing any impropriety, as he is of using aggression. Don Ottavio breathes a sigh of relief when he realizes that the worst did not happen - the very thought of having to marry a non-virgin.... Once the confession is over, Donna Anna breaks into her first Aria, accompanied by flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, strings and trumpets, an andante in D major, in which she demands he take vengeance as soon as he finds out the identity of the aggressor: No.10 "Don Ottavio, son morta!... Or sai chi lonore..." (Don Ottavio, I’m distraught!... Now you know who it was..). This aria, less demanding than the one in Act II, is an extremely beautiful piece, marked piano - let us remember that the characters are still in a public place, outside the inn. Nevertheless, few singers observe Mozart's dynamics at this point, and thus the sense of internal tension that Donna Anna expresses in this moment of great revelation gets lost.
Don Ottavio remains alone and his personality takes over: he doubts that a gentleman like Don Giovanni could be so base; his duty must therefore be to persuade his beloved of her mistake, since otherwise he will have to assume the unpleasant task of avenging her honor - Don Ottavio's pusillanimity has always made him the least popular character in the opera. Tenors strongly challenge the previous statement.
At this point, Mozart and Da Ponte made the first important alteration to the initial version when presenting the opera in Vienna. They introduced a new Aria, out of context, from the dramatic point of view, in response to the tenor's feeling that he could not sing to the original aria in the second act. In the new aria, andantino sostenuto in G major, accompanied by one flute, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, Don Ottavio describes his own peace and happiness as depending on that of Donna Anna and, on finishing, he withdraws from the scene. No.10a "Dalla sua pace..." (On her peace of mind my own depends). The aria interrupts the dramatic flow of the action and demonstrates the bland character of Ottavio. It is nowadays usually included in most performances along with that in Act II.
Leporello, then Don Giovanni, returns to the stage; it is now around noon or one o’clock in the afternoon. The servant succinctly narrates the events in Don Giovanni's palace, the arrival of Zerlina with Donna Elvira, the anger and jealousy of Masetto, his skill in calming him and getting rid of the hysterical Donna Elvira and, finally, his success in getting all the peasants tipsy. Don Giovanni seems pleased and breaks into his main Aria, presto in B flat major, a suitable key for a nobleman full of excitement, with flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and strings, in which he orders Leporello to organize a great celebration, inviting as many women as possible and predicting that, by the following morning, he will have added another ten names to Leporello's list: No.11 "Finch’han dal vino calda la testa..." (When their heads are heated with wine...). This aria is a great test for the interpreter of Don Giovanni, since it must be sung presto but without losing control, with brilliance but without harshness. The melody is pitched in a high tessitura that may well cause some basses to force their voices. It is a very fine and brilliant piece of writing, on which Don Giovanni imprints not only his lordly character but also, unequivocally, his hunger for pleasure. Since the nineteenth century, this aria has been known as the “Champagne aria” on account of a German translation, that began with the words “Treibt der Champagner”. Liszt also uses the theme of this aria in his Réminiscences.
The scene changes to the garden of Don Giovanni's palace, in which we see some shrubs and some benches. There are two doors, closed according to Da Ponte's precise instructions, and a balcony or window of the palace. The peasants are lying around asleep, some on the grass and others on the benches. Zerlina and Masetto are among them and awake; it is approximately three o’clock in the afternoon.
Masetto is accusing Zerlina of infidelity, which she denies - technically she is speaking the truth - and replies to the anger of her betrothed with a beautiful Aria in F major, andante grazioso, with one flute, one oboe, one bassoon, horns and strings, including a cello obbligato, No.12 "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" (Hit me, hit me handsome Masetto), inviting him to beat her while she suffers his blows “like a lambkin”; afterwards she will kiss his hands. This pleading softens Masetto's heart and the aria ends with an invitation to make up and to “spend the nights and days in joy and gaiety”. This aria surely cannot be liked by the fanatics of women's liberation and the “politically correct”, since apparently no movement has yet gotten under way to have it expunged. When the aria ends, Zerlina hears the voice of Don Giovanni approaching, and begs Masetto to hide, which serves again to stir up his jealousy.
The Finale No.13, of Act I begins. Like those of Le nozze di Figaro, it is composed of a series of different sections. Masetto and Zerlina have a brief duet at the end of which Masetto hides in order to observe Zerlina and Don Giovanni together and so to gauge how far the adventure of the morning went: "Presto, presto..." (Quick, quick, before he gets here...), allegro assai in C major with the whole orchestra except for the tympani. Don Giovanni enters, richly dressed and attended by four servants, and invites everyone to enter the palace: "Su! Svegliatevi! Da bravi!" (Come, rouse yourselves, look lively!). The servants encourage everybody to enter and while they do so, Don Giovanni returns to the prowl after Zerlina, who tries to hide, but Don Giovanni catches her by the waist. Then, taking her into a niche with him, he finds Masetto hidden there and, rapidly overcoming his embarrassment, he asks Masetto what he is doing shut up in there: “Your lovely Zerlina cannot stay a moment longer without you.” The music changes to an andante in F major without clarinets, trumpets or tympani. We hear a counterdance from inside the palace, and the three enter singing a gay, concerted trio in harmony.
Now another trio enters the garden: Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Don Ottavio who, wearing masks like in Da Ponte's Venice, come to settle accounts with Don Giovanni. The music in d minor, the key of terror and punishment, is andante as the three try to work up their courage to carry their enterprise through to the end. "Bisogna aver coraggio, o cari amici miei" (We must have courage, my dear friends). From within we hear an aristocratic minuet in F major as Leporello observes them from the window. After consulting with Don Giovanni, he invites them to come in; Don Ottavio, delegated by the two women, accepts. Before entering, the three take off their masks and intone a solemn and ornamented trio in B flat major, accompanied only by the wind section, in which they pray for Heaven's protection, "Protegga il giusto cielo..." (May a righteous heaven protect...). They put their masks back on and enter the palace.
The scene changes to the ballroom in Giovanni's palace, brilliantly lighted and with a number of doors visible. The peasants have just finished dancing and are consuming the refreshments offered them by Don Giovanni, Leporello and the servants. Three small orchestras are situated on different parts of the stage, which was common practice in eighteenth-century Vienna. The music is allegro in E flat major with the oboes, trumpets and tympani resting. A quartet begins in which Masetto mulls over his anger, Don Giovanni continues his harassment of Zerlina, Leporello imitates his master paying compliments to two peasant girls, and Zerlina foresees disaster: "Riposate vezzose ragazze" (Rest yourselves, charming girls). At the entrance of the masked trio, the music changes to maestoso with full orchestra (except for the horns) in D major. Leporello welcomes them, ignoring Don Ottavio, with the words "Venite pur avanti, vezzose mascharette!" (Come on in charming masked ladies), while Don Giovanni, the model of libertinage, welcomes them singing a toast to freedom, "Viva la libertà!", while giving orders to Leporello to form the guests into couples to dance.
The first orchestra, consisting of oboes, horns and strings, begins a minuet that is danced by the aristocrats Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, leaving Donna Elvira without a partner. The musicians of the second orchestra, consisting of violins, cello and double bass, tune their instruments as Leporello tries to make Masetto dance. They then strike up a bourgeois counterdance danced by Don Giovanni and Zerlina. As they dance they move towards one of the doors, while the third orchestra, also composed of violins, cello and bass, begins a German dance, to which Leporello makes Masetto dance. At that moment Don Giovanni escapes with Zerlina, who screams from off stage, causing Leporello to let go of Masetto; the two then go rushing out after her, Leporello singing "Qui nasce una ruina" (This could spell disaster). This part of the finale to Act I is a marvel of Mozartian composition, in which three different melodies are played at the same time, all in G major, but at three very different tempi, 3/4, 2/4 and 3/8, achieving an unprecedented counterpoint effect.
The on-stage orchestras stop playing and the principal orchestra takes up an allegro assai in E flat major, in which the masked trio and Masetto try to help Zerlina, whose screams can be heard coming from various parts of the backstage in turn, until finally Don Ottavio and Masetto break open one of the doors - which, we recall, were all closed when seen from the garden. At this point the music changes to an andante maestoso in F major. After a pause Don Giovanni enters by another door denouncing Leporello as the aggressor. Zerlina, still intact, joins Masetto once again and Don Giovanni swears that Leporello shall die for his dastardly act, which draws forth the servant's protests. The masked trio uncover themselves at the moment when Don Ottavio points his pistol at Don Giovanni. Nobody is taken in by his farce, and the five, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto, accuse him of deception, as the men surround him.
The music is now allegro in C major, with the whole orchestra and the accusers led by Donna Anna and Zerlina, who promise to make Don Giovanni's baseness known to the whole world and prophesy that he will be struck by lightning that very day - as is his fate in Goldoni's play. Don Giovanni and Leporello express their confusion in view of these threats, but the seducer maintains his dignity and courage, exclaiming "Ma non manca in me coraggio... nulla mai temer mi fa" (I don’t lack courage, however... nothing will make me fear). The music, now tumultuous, accompanies the escape of both master and servant, one supposes, fighting, as the curtain comes down on Act I.
As the second act begins, we find ourselves in the same street as in Act I, scene IV, with the inn with its balcony and Don Giovanni's place in the background. It is around seven o’clock in the evening and the sky is getting dark.
Mozart opens the act with a duet. In it, Leporello says he no longer wants to carry on with Don Giovanni. “What have I done?” asks Don Giovanni. “Not much”, answers his servant, “only half-killed me”. “It was only a joke”, says Don Giovanni, but Leporello is very serious about his intentions. This Duetto in G major with oboes horns, and strings, No.14, "Eh via, buffone" (That's enough, buffoon), is in the true style of the Italian opera buffa.
Don Giovanni finally manages to convince Leporello with four doubloons, which are accepted. “Have you got the spirit to do what I ask?” asks Don Giovanni; “Provided we forget about the women”, is the reply. “Impossible”, says Don Giovanni; he needs them more than the air he breathes, and if he cannot be faithful to any one, it is because that would imply cruelty to all the rest. Leporello decides, cynically, to accept his master's philosophy, and stay. By the way, says Don Giovanni, Donna Elvira's chambermaid is a beauty. He asks him to exchange cape and hat so as to make it easier for him to approach her; “With girls of that class, fine clothes put them on their guard” - an interesting observation on class consciousness among the serving classes. He gives him his sword and grabs hold of the mandolin that Leporello carries under his cape - a normal working instrument for the servant of a seducer.
From this moment until Leporello's second aria, master and servant exchange clothing and pretend to be one other, which requires not only excellent singers but very good actors as well; at this point poor acting can ruin the whole show. This episode of the opera also forms the basis for the fascinating speculations of the psychoanalytically oriented critics regarding Don Giovanni's split personality.
Donna Elvira appears on the balcony beginning an extremely beautiful Terzetto, an andantino in the sensual key of A major (seduction again), with flutes, clarinets (of course), bassoons, horns and strings: No.15 "Ah! taci, ingiusto core..." (Be still, perverse heart...). In this trio it is obvious that Donna Elvira is more in love than angry. Don Giovanni pushes Leporello into a position where she can see him and begins again with his words of love, while he manipulates the servant's arms from behind. Leporello is astounded by his master's capacity for falsehood, as well as by the lady's credulousness and has to force himself to contain his laughter. Leporello, at the beginning of the opera, wanted to be a gentleman and before twenty-four hours are up he has achieved his wish, success with the ladies thrown in!
After receiving instructions from his master, when Donna Elvira comes out, Leporello, imitating the voice of the seducer and enjoying his role, wins back her love and finally dashes off with her as Don Giovanni comes out of his hiding place and pretends to attack them.
With the field now free, Don Giovanni approaches the balcony and sings his serenade to Donna Elvira's chambermaid in the form of a Canzonetta in D major, accompanied only by one mandolin, supposedly played by himself, and plucked strings, No.16 "Deh, vieni alla finestra..." (Come to the window..), cynically repeating the same melody he used in the phrase of the terzetto in which he reconquered Donna Elvira: "Discendi, o gioia bella" (Come down my beautiful jewel).
A silhouette appears on the balcony and, full of excitement, Don Giovanni draws nearer, but it is once again interrupted - what a day! - now by Masetto and a group of peasants who have come looking for him to kill him. Don Giovanni, still pretending to be his servant, offers to join in the hunt, in an aria in which he cleverly “organizes” Masetto's companions, splitting the group and sending half of them off in one direction and the other half in the opposite direction: No.17 "Metà di voi qua vadano" (Half of you that way..). This Aria in F major, in which Don Giovanni impersonates Leporello, with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, was also composed in Prague after Mozart had taken note of Bassi's histrionic abilities.
Once alone, Don Giovanni asks Masetto if it would not be enough to give the seducer a beating up. Masetto insists on the need to kill him. Don Giovanni, by a ruse, disarms Masetto and then beats him over the head with the flat of his sword, leaving him in a sorry state before exiting. Zerlina arrives looking for Masetto, whom she finds much the worse for wear. She then begins her own very personal treatment with an aria which makes up with eroticism what it lacks in naiveté, at the end of which she takes his hand and lays it on her breast - or over her heart as the coy would have it. The Aria No.18, "Vedrai, carino, si sei buonino..." (You'll see, my darling, if you're good...), grazioso in C major with flutes, clarinets - not, here, in the style of Donna Elvira, but full of genuine love - bassoons, horns and strings, is a musical marvel composed especially to show off the voice of Caterina Bondini, the prima donna and darling of Prague. Both retire from the stage, Masetto helped by Zerlina.
The scene changes to a dark courtyard in front of Donna Anna's house, empty and with three doors at the back. It is about nine o’clock in the evening.
Leporello, well wrapped up, has brought Donna Elvira as far away as possible from Don Giovanni’s place and, seeing people approaching with torches, tries to hide himself and escape through one of the doors, but finds it locked. A monumental Sestteto begins, of great musical and dramatic quality building up to a climax in which Mozart uses the full orchestra. In the first part, No.19 "Sola, sola in buio loco..." (Alone, alone in this dark place...), andante in E flat major, Donna Elvira expresses fear of the dark and Leporello frustration at not finding a way to escape and get rid of Donna Elvira, poor donna abandonnata! Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, accompanied by servants bearing torches, leave the house, giving expression to Donna Anna's grief, with a magnificent modulation from E flat major to D major. Donna Elvira looks for the man she believes to be her husband, while Leporello does his best to escape and is about to do so, when Masetto and Zerlina arrive and stop him. Masetto pushes him into the center of the stage and all, except for Donna Elvira who defends him, demand his death. Finally, Leporello uncovers his face, to everyone's surprise, especially Donna Elvira's. The music returns to E flat major - once again the key of emotional conflict - and accelerates to a molto allegro with the phrase "Mille torbidi pensieri" (A thousand confused thoughts) in the climax of the sextet. Donna Anna withdraws with her servants.
This sextet led Edward Dent to think that probably Don Giovanni had been initially designed as a four-act opera like Le nozze di Figaro. There is, however, no historical evidence to sustain this belief.
Leporello is now in a very dangerous situation: Zerlina accuses him of having injured Masetto, Donna Elvira of having made fun of her, and Don Ottavio of being there with the intention of committing some undefined crime - very astute, that Don Ottavio. Leporello defends himself, singing his most expressive aria, since it is now his physical safety that is in danger; he tells the others that they are right, but that he is not really the guilty party, but rather Don Giovanni, who “stole his innocence” - a genial phrase, coming from a picaro like Leporello. Donna Elvira “knows how it happened”; she needs no explanations - after the farce he has just subjected her to. He tells Zerlina that he knows nothing about what happened to Masetto as this “young lady”, questa fanciulla, will testify, meaning Donna Elvira. Then, addressing Don Ottavio, he breaks down in confusion: “To you, sir, I say nothing... an accident... it being light out there... and dark in here”, reminding us a little of his “il quadro non è tondo” (the square is not round) of the first act, until finally he manages to open one of the doors and takes to his heels. No.20, "Ah, pietà, signori miei!" (Have pity on me, kind sir and madam). This is a great Aria buffa, an allegro assai in G major with flutes, bassoons, horns, and strings, composed expressly with Ponziani in mind, one of the singers who had made Le nozze di Figaro such a success in Prague.
Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto are left with the wind taken out of their sails, wondering at Leporello's speed. Don Ottavio addresses them, first in a recitativo secco, in which he announces his attention to go for the bailiffs - a safer option than taking vengeance in his own hands - and then singing his original Aria No.21, "Il mio tesoro intanto..." (Comfort my beloved while I’m gone...), an andante grazioso in the very aristocratic B flat major, with clarinets expressing tenderness, bassoons, horns and strings. This aria is almost heroic, somewhat in contrast with the fellow's character, and unforgettable. When the aria is over, Zerlina, Don Ottavio and Masetto abandon the stage.
In the Prague version, the action continues with the cemetery scene; however, in the Vienna version, there are two additions, one of which is to all intents and purposes neglected. The other is, however, seen as indispensable nowadays, not from the dramatic point of view, but on account of its musical quality and the final touch it gives to the psychological portrait of Donna Elvira.
The first addition is a comic Duetto between Zerlina and Leporello, No.21b "Per queste tue manine, candide e tenerelle..." (By these little hands of yours...), in which she ties the picaro to a chair and threatens to “shave” him with a very sharp razor. Of course he manages to escape once again. The duet in C major, allegro moderato with flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, breaks the dramatic action and so, having heard it in some recordings and festivals, I can only agree that it is better left out. We do well to remember that it was composed to please what Mozart referred to as the coarse taste of the Viennese.
In the second addition, we find Donna Elvira alone after Don Ottavio’s aria, or the duet between Zerlina and Leporello; she intones a Recitativo accompagnato, an allegro assai in B flat major, followed by her most characteristic Aria in E flat major - again, as always, Donna Elvira is lost in emotional confusion - with flute, clarinet (of course), bassoon, two horns and strings, No.21c "In quali eccesi, o numi... Mi tradì quellalma ingrata..." (In what crimes, ye gods... He deceived me without pity). In it she sings of her love for the villain, and exclaims that, even betrayed and abandoned, she still feels pity for him. Gilda has some lines in the same vein in the terzetto in Act III of Verdi's Rigoletto; despite the feminists, such long-suffering women, will always exist, hysterically enamored and almost always abandoned. This is, incontestably, a most beautiful piece of music which, together with its text constitutes a perfect portrait of the former nun, first seduced and then abandoned. A performance strictly according to the Prague version would, I think, leave me with a sense of emptiness for the want of this aria. After this point the two versions, Prague and Vienna, are identical and Da Ponte takes up the story as told by Bertati.
The scene is a walled cemetery with a number of commemorative statues; Da Ponte mentions equestrian statues in his stage notes, one of them being that of Il Commendatore, with the following inscription: “Retribution here awaits the evildoer who sent me to my grave”. The time is around ten o’clock at night.
Don Giovanni enters by leaping over the wall in flight from another compromising situation. He remarks on the beauty of the night, ideal for a seduction, and starts to wonder how Leporello's adventure with Donna Elvira turned out. At that very moment he hears his servant's voice from the other side of the wall. He calls to him and tells him the latest news: the woman from whom he was escaping was one of Leporello's loves, who discovering his real identity started to create a scandal. Leporello protests: “and what if she had been my wife?”, which the libertine finds a most amusing suggestion. The guffaws of Don Giovanni are answered by a solemn voice that comes from the statue of Il Commendatore, saying "Di rider finirai pria dell’aurora" (Your laughter will be over before daybreak). The profligate draws his sword and strikes various statues in search for the owner of the voice, which is heard again intoning the words "lascia a’ morti la pace" (leave the dead in peace). The voice, clearly that of Il Commendatore, is accompanied by oboes, clarinets, bassoons, low strings and, especially noticeable, some almost unreal chords on the trombones - which are actually placed underneath the stage.
Don Giovanni reads the inscription on the statue and, amused, orders Leporello to invite him to dine: No.22, "O statua gentilissima" (O most courteous statue). Leporello, terrified, obeys, beginning a Duetto which, for the length of one single note, becomes a trio, in E major, with flutes, bassoons, horns and strings. Don Giovanni is not alarmed; on the contrary, he is most amused and encourages his servant, with the tip of his sword, to continue. The statue answers with a single "Sì" (Yes) emphatically underlined by the sound of the horns alone. Don Giovanni recognizes the strangeness of the situation, but is in no way dismayed while Leporello, on the other hand, is totally overawed. Mozart does not forget for a moment that the scene is opera buffa and, although at times the music takes on a darker tone, he delivers a great piece in the purest buffo style for this scene.
The scene changes to a room in Donna Anna's house, in which Don Ottavio is trying to comfort her - not in Don Giovanni's sense of the word, of course! He also tells her that the libertine's excesses will be punished - translation: a full report has already been given to the police. He begs her to marry him the following day - it could only have occurred to someone like Ottavio to pop the question at such an awkward time; Donna Anna answers that this is not the moment for God’s sake! Don Ottavio - there is no getting through to him- insists, begging her not to be cruel, at which Donna Anna explodes and expresses her sentiments in a great Recitativo accompagnato e aria, No.23 "Crudele?... Non mi dir..." (Cruel...? Do not say so my love...), risolutto in the first part and larghetto-allegretto in the second, in F major throughout, which is a strange key for the daughter of Il Commendatore, accompanied by a flute, two clarinets (not this time the oboes of fury), bassoons, horns and strings. This aria not only confirms Donna Anna's serious musical character, but gives the finishing touches to her character portrayal, less frozen here than in her previous appearances. It is written in a very high range and with much ornamentation - Berlioz felt offended by this - for which reason, along with its use of tempi, it is regarded as a precursor of the Romantic aria, consisting of a slow section, the so-called cantabile and another, faster, section, the cabaletta. Despite the musical quality of this scene it is rather irrelevant from the dramatic point of view and only slows down the action. At the end of the aria Donna Anna leaves the stage and Don Ottavio, before exiting, says he must follow her to comfort her.
The next scene is in Don Giovanni's place: the same room as in Act I, now prepared for a dinner. On stage there is a band of wind instruments, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns in pairs, to enliven the meal. This kind of ensemble, which was known as Harmoniemusik in Vienna, was highly popular in the 1780s. It was one of the ensembles best handled by Mozart, and for which he was justly famed, we need only to remember the Serenade for winds in B flat major, K 362, the “Great Partita”, composed in 1782. It is now midnight.
The opera's Finale No.24 begins, with the full orchestra - except for the trombones, which will make their appearance later- in an allegro vivace in D major: "Già la mensa è preparata..." (The table is ready laid...). Don Giovanni is in the best of moods and orders Leporello to serve dinner in the same breath as asking the band to strike up. The libertine eats voraciously as Leporello shouts Bravi! “Cosa rara!”, in reference to the music played by the band, which is from the finale of Act I of the opera Una cosa rara, ossia bellezza e onestà by the Spanish composer Martín y Soler, the big hit of the previous season in Vienna. While Leporello marvels in astonishment at his master’s appetite, Don Giovanni is full of praise for the "piatto saporito!” (a tasty dish), which may be a gallant allusion to the highly attractive Teresa Saporiti - according to Bassi, the singers were encouraged by Mozart himself to improvise such lines with the sole condition that they did not stray from the musical score. Don Giovanni asks for another dish as the band strikes up the music to the aria "Come un agnello" (Like a lamb) from the opera Fra i due litigante il terzo gode by Giuseppe Sarti, and Leporello exclaims "Evivanno i 'Litiganti'", while serving wine. He then surreptitiously helps himself to a piece of pheasant which he eats with relish. Don Giovanni sees this but pretends not to. Now the band attacks the theme of "Non più andrai" from Le nozze di Figaro, which makes Leporello - Ponziani that is, who had, of course, sung it with great success in Prague - exclaims "Questa poi la conosco pur troppo" (I know this very well), while continuing to eat. Don Giovanni teases Leporello, who still has his mouth full, by asking him to whistle for him. To Don Giovanni's feigned surprise, the servant elegantly excuses himself by praising the cook - in Bertati's version, the cook, Lanterna, actually appears on stage.
The band stops playing as Donna Elvira comes running in to declare once again her undying love for Don Giovanni. Accompanied by the orchestra, lacking only the trumpets, trombones and tympani, and playing allegro assai in B flat major, she sings "L'ultima prova dell'amor mio..." (The last proof of my love...). She kneels and, Don Giovanni, mocking her, does the same. Helping her to her feet, he asks her what she wants of him, to which she answers that he must change his way of life. Laughing, he returns to the table inviting her to join him and then proclaims a toast to his creed, “women and good wine, the sustenance and glory of mankind: "Vivan le femmine! Viva il buon vino! Sostegno e gloria d’umanità!". She leaves in desperation but, screaming in terror, runs back across the stage, exiting by another door. Leporello is sent to investigate, also screams and returns, terrified and talking between sobs about a “white man... a stone man” who is approaching. The music is now a molto allegro in F major: "Ah, signor... per carità! Non andate fuor di qua!" (Ah, sir... for Heaven's sake... dont leave this room). A loud knocking at the door is heard, the musicians run away and Leporello hides under the table, as Don Giovanni opens the door.
The statue now appears in the doorway. The whole orchestra, now with the trombones, plays andante, repeating fortissimo the chords in D minor from the beginning of the overture, although, harmonically, now more terrifying. Nothing else in music can compare with these chords for the sense of terror they impart. The statue speaks; it was invited to dinner, and here it is. "Don Giovanni, a cenar teco m’invitasti, e son venuto" (Don Giovanni, you invited me to dine and here I am). Don Giovanni, incredulous, tells Leporello, without batting an eye, to lay another place. As the servant crawls out from underneath the table, the statue tells him not to bother, since “those who have tasted the food of heaven do not eat mortal viands”; Leporello, whose buffo accents sound ever more out of place, has an attack of shivers. The music becomes progressively more somber and the harmonies more horrendous. Don Giovanni asks, defiantly, what the statue came for if not to dine. The statue responds that he has come to invite Don Giovanni to dine and expects him to honor the invitation. Leporello answers for his master, saying that he hasn't time. Don Giovanni cuts him short, saying he will not be called a coward. The statue demands as a sign of good faith that they shake hands. This is in effect an acceptance of a compromise with Hell and is underlined by the music with its tortuous harmonies. The statue demands that he repent and Don Giovanni refuses with a phrase of monumental courage, "No, no ch’io non me pento! Vanne lontan da me" (No, no I shall not repent! Begone, away from me!). The statue offers Don Giovanni several opportunities. Leporello urges him to say yes. Finally Il Commendatore pronounces that time is up and leaves the hall by the same door he entered by.
The music accelerates to allegro, still in D minor. Flames begin to flicker around the stage, infernal beings appear, an earthquake is sensed. Don Giovanni feels his spirits waning and this is expressed by a music that mixes in a most grandiose manner tones that are simultaneously dark and brilliant. The spirits of Hell surround him, announcing that what he is feeling is nothing compared with what is in store for him. Leporello is terrified to see how his master begins to break until, at the precise harmonic moment, the spirits drag Don Giovanni off to Hell.
The flames have still not been fully extinguished when Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Don Ottavio - with his bailiffs - Zerlina and Masetto enter. The orchestra, playing an allegro assai in G major, no longer includes trombones. The five have come to arrest the reprobate.
Leporello tells them not to look any further since he is now “far away”, "lontano andò", and, as they persist in their questioning, he tells them in his by now familiar disjointed fashion, what he saw. Donna Elvira ratifies this account, telling what she saw before leaving the hall. Don Ottavio, in larghetto - there is no getting through to him - asks Donna Anna once again to marry him the next day but she - maybe she really is frigid, rather than just cold - asks him to wait another year. Donna Elvira announces that she is going to retire to a nunnery; Zerlina and Masetto report that they are going home together to have supper, and Leporello that he is going to the inn to seek a new master. The six characters finish the opera singing a fugato, presto in D major, in which they moralize over Don Giovanni and his fate.
The finale of Don Giovanni has been, since the first performance in Vienna, the subject of a number of controversies. Mozart, having significantly modified the original Prague score, felt that the opera had grown uncomfortably long for Vienna, and so he replaced the final sextet with a scream of “Ah!” by the six characters on a D major chord. Nevertheless, he made no changes to the libretto nor to the score. It was Franz Süssmayer, Mozart's pupil who finished the Requiem, who modified the score in 1798. Throughout the nineteenth century, the opera finished with Don Giovanni's descent into Hell, which seemed in keeping with the Romantic ideas of the epoch. E.T.A. Hoffman wrote that the music of the final sestetto gives one “the sensation of having escaped the divinities of Hell”. Nowadays almost all productions include the final sextet, which seems to me correct, since its function is to cool down the dramatic tension and so remind us of the opera buffa nature of the work. The music for the scene of Don Giovanni's damnation is, besides, so powerful that it continues to ring in one’s ears long after the final curtain, irrespective of whether the final sextet was performed or not.
Mozart has presented us with the musical expression of terror in a form that, once heard, can never be forgotten, and which will probably never be equaled by any other composer. Those who have come closest are Carl Maria von Weber in the finale to Act II of Der Freischütz, and Francis Poulenc in the final scene of Dialogues des Carmelites. Nevertheless, in these cases the terror has either a magical quality, as in Weber, or metaphysical, as in Poulenc. In Mozart, it is real and absolutely elemental.
Mozart and Da Ponte present us with a Don Giovanni on a bad day. He attempts several seductions, without achieving his objective in any of them. In fact, it is the worst day of his short life, finishing with a very long journey. Nevertheless, we are left in no doubt regarding his qualities as a seducer; for this we need only listen once more to "Là ci darem la mano", "Deh vieni a la finestra", or even "Discendi, o gioia bella". Even more than the 2,065 conquests listed in Leporello's ledger, one cannot help being impressed by the ten impending ones he announces in "Fin ch'an dal vino", although his time runs out on him. Kierkegaard says that, after hearing the phrase "In Spagna son glia mille e tree", he is left with the impression that the list is still not complete. On the other hand, Don Giovanni is presented as a valiant man with tremendous sang-froid, never a coward although, undeniably, an abuser of his social position.
Not only is Don Giovanni the principal protagonist, but the whole opera turns around him, in terms of both action and music. His closest counterpart feminine is Donna Elvira, fidelity personified, who has one of the most precisely delineated personalities of the whole history of opera. They are the operas two leading and ambivalent figures - mezzo carattere; il Commendatore, Donna Anna and Ottavio constitute the opera seria, and Zerlina, Masetto and Leporello pure opera buffa.
Don Giovanni, moreover, is not the only seducer: Zerlina is very successful with Masetto and with Don Giovanni too; Don Ottavio, on the other hand, is incapable of seducing anyone, although he tries hard enough. Donna Anna is immune to seduction.
This was the favorite among Mozart's operas during the Romantic period. While as realistic as Le nozze di Figaro, it also has a number of characteristics that made it especially attractive to the Romantics: the grandeur of Don Giovanni's spirit - and his condemnation - and the exacerbated sentiments of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira. This had two effects: one positive, the fact that the opera was continually being interpreted; and one negative, that its interpretation was conceived in the mould of Romanticism, whereas it is in fact one of the most definitive and representative examples of Viennese classicism.
It was one of the most characteristic German Romantics, E.T.A. Hoffman, who extolled Don Giovanni as the “opera of operas”. Goethe, after attending a performance, expressed the wish that Mozart were still alive in order to create a new opera out of his Faust.
The fact is that whoever listens to this work runs the risk of being seduced; even more so, those who attend a performance in the flesh. After giving it all the attention, our intelligence and our emotions are capable of, we are left with a few moments of terror still resonating within us, along with the impression of having ourselves fallen into the seducer's snares and of Don Giovanni’s power.
© Luis Gutierrez Ruvalcaba