Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born Salzburg, 27 January 1756; died Vienna, 5 December 1791)
Lorenzo da Ponte.
Several works, especially the libretto Don Giovanni Tenorio (1787) by Giovanni Bertati, set by Gazzaniga.
First performance: Prague (National Theatre), 29 October 1787.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 12 April 1817.
First performance in Scotland: (tbc)
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 16 May 1964.
Mozart was commissioned to produce a new opera to follow the success of the first Prague performance of The Marriage of Figaro, and he and da Ponte worked very rapidly on the collaboration. Of all operas, this is one of the most endlessly fascinating, and one of the most difficult to get right, with rapid alternations of dark drama with outrageous comedy. The situations centre on Giovanni’s last day on earth, and his several attempts, all apparently unsuccessful, to seduce the various women he meets. Its impact can vary hugely, depending on how the various characters are interpreted, so even a minor character like Ottavio can vary from ineffectual elderly fop to grim young Jacobean avenger. While Giovanni is usually played young, and the first interpreter of the part was only 22, he may be presented equally well as a middle-aged man losing his touch.
The Commendatore, an elderly aristocrat (bass)
Donna Anna, his daughter (soprano)
Don Giovanni, a young aristocrat (baritone)
Leporello, his servant (bass)
Don Ottavio, engaged to Donna Anna (tenor)
Donna Elvira, a lady from Burgos (soprano)
Zerlina, a peasant girl (soprano)
Masetto, her intended (bass)
The setting is 17th century Seville. At night, Leporello waits in the garden of the Commendatore. His master is inside attempting to seduce, or perhaps rape, Anna. Giovanni comes out, still masked, and pursued by the lady, and the noise rouses her father, who challenges Giovanni and is killed. Anna and Ottavio swear vengeance. Leporello and Giovanni are interrupted by the arrival of Elvira, who has crossed Spain in pursuit of her seducer. She later rescues a newly married Zerlina from a similar fate by explaining Giovanni’s character. At last Anna recognizes Giovanni as her attacker, and when he hosts a wedding party for the peasantry she, Elvira and Ottavio denounce him, but he escapes again.
After a further attempted seduction, this time of Elvira’s maid, Giovanni finds himself with Leporello in the cemetery where the Commendatore has been buried. His statue makes its presence felt, terrifying Leporello, but Giovanni invites it to join him at supper. Giovanni is next seen dining alone, served by Leporello, and rejecting Elvira for a final time. She and Leporello are terrified by the sight of the statue of the Commendatore, arriving to accept the supper invitation. Giovanni, defiant to the last, is dragged down to hell. The surviving characters assure us that all bad people end up that way.
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