Opera Essentials: Don Giovanni
A quick guide to Mozart's brilliant tragicomedy.
24 January 2014 at 1.13pm | 2 Comments
Malin Byström and Mariusz Kwiecień with Kasper Holten in rehearsal for Don Giovanni, The Royal Opera ©ROH/Bill Cooper, 2014
The Story Begins…
Don Giovanni is known throughout Europe as a charismatic seducer of women. But where will his multiple seductions lead him? After Giovanni kills the father of one of his conquests, his future looks increasingly dark…
A Mythic Hero
The character of Don Juan (Don Giovanni) first appeared in a play by the Spanish playwright Tirso de Molina, El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest), published around 1630. Don Juan has remained an iconic figure in literature. Among his various literary incarnations he features as the hero of a play by Molière and an epic poem by Byron, plays an important role in a play by Bernard Shaw, a novel by Sylvia Townsend Warner and a film by Ingmar Bergman, and was the inspiration behind John Berger’s 1972 Booker Prize-winning novel G.
The Creative Seducer
Kasper Holten’s production focuses on the creative and seductive energy of Don Giovanni, an energy that has huge appeal but that can turn dangerously destructive. The set plays with themes of reality and imagination, with projections evoking Giovanni’s state of mind at important points in the drama. The production also questions what hell might be like for a character like Giovanni, or for a contemporary audience.
Mozart was commissioned to write Don Giovanni for the Prague National Theatre, following a triumphant performance of Le nozze di Figaro there. The premiere of Don Giovanni, on 29 October 1787, was also a success. For Don Giovanni’s Viennese premiere in May 1788, Mozart made some alterations to his score, including a major cut to the final scene.
Mozart the Innovator
Mozart was always keen to set himself new compositional challenges. Novel effects in Don Giovanni include the three superimposed dance metres in the Act I finale and the rich chromatic harmony of Don Giovanni’s Act II scene with the Commendatore. Mozart also provides brilliant musical portrayals of his characters, particularly in Donna Anna and Donna Elvira’s introspective arias in Act II and in Don Ottavio’s arias expressing his love for Donna Anna.
The production is staged with the generous philanthropic support of David Hancock, Richard and Ginny Salter and the Royal Opera House Endowment Fund.