Mozart’s Don Giovanni

Event: Mozart’s Don Giovanni
Date: October 22, 2016, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 3 hours 22 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for Don Giovanniper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for Don Giovanniper student • $11.00 online


Act I

Spain, mid-18th century. Leporello, servant to the nobleman Don Giovanni, keeps watch outside the Commendatore’s home at night. Suddenly, the Commendatore’s daughter, Donna Anna, comes running out, struggling with the masked Giovanni and followed by her father. The Commendatore challenges Giovanni to a duel and is killed. Giovanni and Leporello escape. Anna asks her fiancé, Don Ottavio, to avenge her father’s death.

In the morning, Giovanni and Leporello encounter one of Giovanni’s former conquests, Donna Elvira, who is devastated by his betrayal. Leporello explains to her that she is neither the first nor the last woman to fall victim to Giovanni and shows her his catalogue with the name of every woman Giovanni has seduced.

Peasants celebrate the marriage of Masetto and Zerlina. Giovanni flirts with the bride, telling her she is destined for a better life. But Elvira urges Zerlina to flee her suitor. She also warns Anna, who is still unaware of the identity of her father’s murderer and has asked Giovanni for help in finding the man. Giovanni, for his part, insists that Elvira is mad, and Anna and Ottavio wonder what to believe. As Giovanni leaves, Anna suddenly recognizes his voice as that of the murderer. Devastated but determined, she once more asks Ottavio to avenge her. He wonders how to restore her peace of mind. Giovanni, who has invited the entire wedding party to his home, looks forward to an evening of drinking and dancing.

Outside Giovanni’s home, Zerlina asks Masetto to forgive her. Giovanni leads them both inside. Anna, Elvira, and Ottavio appear masked and, unrecognized, are invited in by Leporello. In the ballroom, Giovanni dances with Zerlina, then tries to force himself on her in an adjoining room. Her cries for help prompt Giovanni to blame Leporello. Anna, Elvira, and Ottavio unmask themselves and, along with Zerlina and Masetto, accuse Giovanni. He is momentarily caught off guard but manages to slip away.

Act II

Having exchanged clothes with Giovanni, Leporello takes Elvira on a nighttime walk, leaving his master free to serenade her maid. When Masetto arrives with a band of peasants to hunt down Giovanni, the disguised Don sends them off in various directions, then beats up Masetto. Zerlina finds her bruised fiancé and comforts him.

Later that night, Leporello—still believed by Elvira to be Giovanni—is surprised by Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina, and Masetto, who all denounce the supposed Don. Fearing for his life, Leporello reveals his identity and escapes. Ottavio declares he will take revenge on Giovanni and asks the others to look after Anna. Elvira thinks about Giovanni, whom she still loves in spite of everything.

In a cemetery, Giovanni and Leporello meet the statue of the Commendatore, who warns Giovanni that by morning he will laugh no longer. Giovanni forces the terrified Leporello to invite the statue to dinner. The statue accepts.

Once again, Ottavio asks Anna to marry him, but she replies that she will not until her father’s death has been avenged.

Elvira arrives at Giovanni’s home. She makes a last attempt to persuade him to change his life, but he laughs at her. The statue of the Commendatore appears and asks Giovanni to repent. He refuses and is consumed by flames. Elvira, Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina, Masetto, and Leporello are left behind to contemplate their futures and the fate of an immoral man.

Notes by Zeke Hecker

The two great modern Western myths are Faust and Don Juan. Faust seeks absolute knowledge and power, and the quest destroys him. Don Juan seeks complete sensual gratification. Ditto.

Of the three Mozart-da Ponte collaborations (the others are The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutte), Don Giovanni is the most problematic. Like Faust, the Don Juan legend was a cliché, a standing joke, by the time they got to it. (What Goethe did for Faust, they did for Don Juan.) Da Ponte hastily cobbled his libretto from existing sources — including the adventures of his pal Casanova — and Mozart lifted some of the music from his rival Gazzaniga’s recent operatic setting. After the Prague premiere, the work needed revisions for a Vienna production: a replacement aria for a weaker singer as Ottavio (both arias are usually included in modern performances), a low-comedy scene for Zerlina and Leporello to accommodate Viennese bad taste (invariably omitted nowadays), and most significantly the omission of the homiletic epilogue. The result, like Hamlet, is an ungainly, ambiguous, endlessly fascinating work. The authors called it a “dramma giocosa” (comic drama). Is it a comedy? Maybe, if you trust the epilogue and applaud Don Giovanni’s fate. Or a tragedy? Probably, if you end with the statue dragging him to hell, as in the Vienna version.

At the start, has Don Giovanni raped Donna Anna? Was it “date rape?” Why is she pursuing him? What does Donna Elvira want? What exactly happens between Don Giovanni and Zerlina? What’s the story with the nameless (and voiceless) maid he serenades with his mandoline? Is he a hero or a villain? Consider Bernard Shaw’s pronouncement: “Now, Don Juan is a tragic hero or nothing: his destiny is announced by Mozart from the first chord of the overture.” On the other hand, on this last day of his life, the famous seducer is a flop. His liaisons are either unconsummated entirely or go horribly wrong, and he is relentlessly pursued by his would-be conquests. Even the score insults him: he has only two brief solo numbers, neither of much significance to the plot.

So what? For countless listeners, from Shaw to Kierkegaard to Kundera, Don Giovanni has been what E.T.A. Hoffmann (as in Tales of Hoffmann) called it: “the opera of all operas.”