Don Giovanni, Opera by W. A. Mozart
Prague had been kind to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s classic opera buffa The Marriage of Figaro. Riding the high of his previous success, the composer quickly accepted the commission by the local Estates Theatre for another opera and called back librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. However, Mozart made sure not to fall into a pattern and produced Don Giovanni, an opera beyond standardisation whose wide story arc is the stuff of legend. The Rome Opera House revives a true classic!
When the opportunity to work together again came, both Mozart and Da Ponte had several projects on their plates. The age-old story of the frivolous womaniser Don Giovanni seemed like a natural choice for the two men. It was well-known and lent itself to operatic adaptation effortlessly. The risqué plot matched the composer’s notorious sense of humour and inspired the composer to produce some of his trademark musical metaphors that still delight audiences to this day. Most of all, however, the naughty escapades and the tragic end of the protagonist allowed Mozart to display his full creative range, and the Austrian genius rose to the challenge admirably.
Don Giovanni starts out as a classic opera buffa and takes a playful look at the title character’s life of partying and serial adultery. His servant Leporello helps us find out about his immoral master’s conquests in the famous ‘catalogue aria’ (‘Madamina, il catalogo è questo’) where the notes’ durations describe the different ladies’ body types. We also get to see Don Giovanni in action in the seduction duet ‘Là ci darem la mano’. The two melodies slowly come together and start flowing in harmony, signifying the successful courtship.
Mozart’s musical imagination goes to great lengths in setting up the light-hearted first half of Don Giovanni, which makes the slow descent into drama and horror all the more powerful. The last bit of comedy drains from the opera with the bombastic entrance of the dreadful Commendatore, a granite ghost who materialises to exact punishment on Don Giovanni for his life of unbridled sin. Even his legendary charm cannot save him this time as he is dragged down into hell.
Don Giovanni premiered on 29 October 1787 at the Estates Theatre in Prague, and its unique mixture of comedy, drama and horror left audiences in awe. Mozart’s undeniable masterpiece continues to impress, as audiences at Rome’s Teatro Costanzi are bound to experience.