Don Giovanni is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. It was premiered in Estates Theatre in Prague on October 29, 1787.
Don Giovanni is widely regarded as one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed, and of the many operas based on the legend of Don Juan, Mozart's is thought to be beyond compare. The opera was billed as dramma giocoso or "playful 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 philosoper Søren 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).
A screen adaptation of the opera was made under the title Don Giovanni in 1979, and was directed by Joseph Losey. Some of the great Don Giovannis on the opera stage have been the basses Ezio Pinza and Cesare Siepi, the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, and the baritones Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Thomas Hampson.
According to Opera America, Don Giovanni is the seventh most performed opera in North America
The final chorus was sometimes omitted in the past by a few conductors, notably Herbert von Karajan, who cited the claim by the eminent music critic Henry Edward Krehbiel that the finale was "long ago" discarded and is an "anti-climax". Another "traditional" approach is to cut Don Ottavio's aria Il mio tesoro, since in the Viennese premiere the tenor Francesco Morella did the same, preferring the much easier Dalla sua pace. However, neither of these approaches is commonly used today. The duet, Per queste tue manine, composed specifically for the Viennese premiere, is still often cut in performance.
Don Giovanni and other composers
The sustained popularity of Don Giovanni has resulted in extensive borrowings and arrangements of the original. The most famous and probably the most musically substantial is the operatic fantasy, Réminiscences de Don Juan by Franz Liszt. The minuet from the Finale of Act I makes an incongruous appearance in the manuscript of Liszt's Fantasie on Two Motives from Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro", and Sigismond Thalberg uses the same minuet, along with Deh vieni alla finestra, in his Grand Fantaisie sur la serenade et le Minuet de Don Juan, Op. 42. Deh vieni alla finestra also makes an appearance in the Klavierübung of Ferruccio Busoni, under the title "Variations-Studie nach Mozart" (Variation-study after Mozart). Beethoven and Chopin each wrote a series of variations on the duet between Don Giovanni and Zerlina, L� ci darem la mano.
The music from Don Giovanni has also featured in a number of movie soundtracks, including It Happened in Brooklyn, Parting Glances, Some Girls (film), Madagascar Skin, Il Cermonie, and The Bonfire of the Vanities . The aria Il mio tesoro is used as the main theme to the classic Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets. In addition, L� ci darem la mano is performed in Babette's Feast between one virginal female lead, Philippa, and her suitor, the opera singer Achille Papin, at a moment of romantic indecision that mirrors the circumstances of the opera.
DON GIOVANNI, a young, very licentious nobleman (baritone)
DONNA ANNA, a lady betrothed to Don Ottavio (soprano)
DON OTTAVIO (tenor)
DON PEDRO, the Commandant of Seville (bass)
DONNA ELVIRA, a lady of Burgos abandoned by Don Giovanni (soprano)
LEPORELLO, Don Giovanni's servant (bass)
MASETTO, lover of Zerlina (bass)
ZERLINA, a peasant girl (soprano)
CHORUS peasants, servants, demons
The garden of the Commander. Leporello is keeping watch outside Donna Anna's house. Don Giovanni, Leporello's master, has crept into the house in 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. (Trio: "Non sperar, se non m'uccidi - You shan't flee, unless you kill me) The Commendatore, Anna's father, appears and challenges Giovanni to a duel as Donna Anna flees for help. Giovanni stabs the Commendatore, killing him, and escapes unrecognised. Anna, upon returning with her fiancé, Don Ottavio, is horrified, and Don Ottavio swears to avenge his betrothed's father. (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 and calling for revenge (Elvira aria: "Ah, chi mi dice mai -- ah, who could tell me.") Giovanni starts to flirt with her but, as she turns to look at him, recognizes her as a recent conquest, Donna Elvira. Upon this realization, he shoves Leporello to the front with an order to tell Elvira the truth and hurries away. Leporello endeavours to console Elvira by unrolling a list of Don Giovanni's amours. He comically rattles off the number of lovers his master has taken and their countries of origin: 640 in Italy, 231 in Germany, 100 in France, 91 in Turkey, and 1,003 in Spain. (Leporello aria: "Madamina! Il catalago e questo -- My little lady, 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 by offering to host a wedding celebration at his castle. Masetto, upon realizing that Giovanni means to remain behind with Zerlina, becomes angry (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 (Elvira aria: "Ah, fuggi il traditor. -- Fly from the traitor!") When Ottavio and Anna then arrive, plotting vengeance on the still unknown murderer of Anna's father, they run into Giovanni. Anna, unaware that she is speaking to her attacker, pleads for his help in the matter, which Giovanni promises heartily and asks with great concern what cruel man dared to disturb her peace - obviously, he still sees a chance with Anna. The Don is out of luck again, though - Elvira returns and announces Giovanni's recent betrayal of her. Giovanni answers her reproaches by declaring to Ottavio and Anna that Elvira is insane. (Quartet: "Non ti fidar, o misera -- Don't trust him, oh 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 (Anna aria: "Or sai chi l'onore. -- He is the one who robbed me of my honour") Ottavio, not convinced, determines to keep an eye on his friend. (Ottavio aria: "Dalla sua pace -- On Her Peace").
Leporello, still half-determined to leave, 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") Just as she manages to persuade him of her innocence, the Don's voice startles her and she wishes to flee. Masetto's trust evaporating in an instant, the jealous groom hides and wants to see for himself what Zerlina will do when Giovanni arrives. Zerlina hides from the Don's eyes, in vain, and he continues the seduction before stumbling upon Masetto. Confused but quickly recovering, Giovanni claims Zerlina was very sad that Masetto was away from her and returns her to him temporarily. He then leads both to the bridal chamber, which has been lavishly decorated, and Leporello also invites three masked guests, the disguised Elvira, Ottavio, and Anna, who have come to catch Giovanni red-handed, if possible.
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, Leporello dashes off to warn his master. Don Giovanni tries to fool the onlookers by dragging his servant into the room with drawn sword and accusing him of seducing Zerlina. Elvira, Ottavio and Anna unmask, claiming that they now know all. The guests 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, persuades Leporello to exchange cloak and hat with him. Elvira comes to her window (trio: "Ah taci, ingiusto core -- Ah, be quiet unjust heart"). Seeing an opportunity for a game, Giovanni hides, sending Leporello out in the open dressed as Giovanni and sings from his hiding place his promise that he is repentant and desires to return to her. Elvira, convinced, descends to the street. She 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, accompanying himself on the mandolin (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 "confiscates" all the firearms and beats up an unarmed Masetto, fleeing with laughter. Zerlina arrives and consoles Masetto. (Zerlina aria: "Vedrai carino -- Come dear one.")
Change of scene: In a dark courtyard, Leporello abandons Elvira. (Sextet: "Sola, sola in buio loco -- alone in this dark place.") As he tries to escape, Anna and Ottavio arrive, with the latter consoling the former in her grief. Just as Leporello is about to slip through the door, which he has a difficult enough time finding anyway, Zerlina and Masetto open it and, seeing him in his Giovanni regalia, catch him before he can escape. When Anna and Ottavio notice the scene, they move in to surround Leporello, threatening death. Elvira tries to protect the man whom she thinks is Giovanni, claiming that he is her husband and begging for pity. 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, my lords.") With all these circumstances, Ottavio is convinced of Giovanni's guilt and swears vengeance (Ottavio aria: "Il mio tesoro -- My treasure.")* and Elvira is furious at Giovanni for betraying her. (Elvira aria: "Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata -- That ungrateful wretch betrayed me")
Change of scene: A graveyard with the statue of the Commendatore. Leporello tells Don Giovanni of his near-death experience, and Giovanni taunts him, throwing in a story of his own--one of a near-success with a woman in love with Leporello. Leporello is not amused, and Don Giovanni laughs aloud at his servant's protests. The voice of the statue warns Giovanni that his laughter will not last beyond sunrise. At the request of his master, Leporello reads the inscription upon the statue's base: "Vengeance here awaits my murderer." The servant trembles, but the unabashed Giovanni orders him to invite the statue to dinner, threatening to kill him if he does not. (Duet: "Oh, statua gentilissima -- Oh most kind 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 inappropriate so soon after her father's death. He accuses her of being cruel, and she assures him that she loves him, and is faithful (Anna aria: "Non mi dir -- Tell me not")
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 the aria "Non piu andrai" from Mozart's own Le nozze di Figaro), while Leporello serves (Finale "Giá la mensa preparata -- already the meal is prepared.") Elvira appears, saying that she no longer feels resentment for Giovanni, only pity. ("L'ultima prova dell'amor mio" -- The final proof of my love) Giovanni, surprised by her lack of hate, asks what she wants. Elvira's desperate plea that he change his life is met only with one reply: "Brava!" as Giovanni taunts her and ignores her, praising wine and women, the "essence and glory of humankind". Hurt and angered, Elvira gives up and leaves. A moment later, her scream arches over the walls of the palace and she returns, fleeing through another door. Giovanni orders Leporello to see what upset her, and upon peering outside, the servant also cries out and runs back into the room with the news that the statue has appeared as promised. An ominous knock sounds at the door. Leporello, paralyzed by fear, cannot answer, so Giovanni opens the door himself to reveal the statue of the Commendatore. ("Don Giovanni! a cenar teco m'invitasti" - Don Giovanni! To dine with you you've invited me). It exhorts the careless villain to repent of his wicked lifestyle, but Giovanni adamantly refuses. The statue sinks into the earth and drags Giovanni with him. Hellfire surrounds Don Giovanni as he is carried below.
Donna Anna, Don Ottavio, Donna Elvira, Zerlina, and Masetto arrive, searching for the villain. They find instead Leporello under the table, shaken from the horror he has witnessed, which he describes to the others. Since the conflict is over, Anna and Ottavio choose to wait until Anna's year of grieving is over before marrying. Elvira will spend the rest of her life in a convent, Zerlina and Masetto will finally go home for dinner, and Leporello will find a new master at a tavern. The concluding chorus delivers the moral of the opera - "So ends he who evil did. The death of a sinner always reflects their life."
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.