Don Giovanni epitomizes what has sometimes been called the madness of sex. Don Giovanni (Don Juan), the infamous womanizer, makes one conquest after another supposedly seducing 1,003 women in Spain alone.
Over the course of a scandalously sinful day, his misadventures come back to literally haunt him, when the ghost of Donna Anna’s father, the Commendatore, (whom Giovanni killed) makes his appearance. He offers Giovanni one last chance to repent for his improprieties, but Giovanni will not change his ways, so he is condemned to hell for all eternity.
Don Giovanni came into being on the eve of the French Revolution and was itself a revolution in many respects. Don Giovanni in the time of its composition, the turbulent late eighteenth century, has enthralled artists and thinkers since its premiere in 1787. Inspired by the Baroque work of the Spanish monk Tirso de Molina’s El Burlador de Sevilla.
It is an opera in two acts with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and an Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. This was the second collaboration between Mozart and Da Ponte following their success with The Marriage of Figaro. Da Ponte described Don Giovanni in the cast of characters as “an extremely licentious young nobleman.” In the mayhem of rape and murder that constitutes the opera’s opening scene, it can almost pass unnoticed that Leporello calls his master a “libertine.” In Mozart’s day, it was associated with another licentious nobleman: Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade.
Mozart’s music is incomparable in the skill with which Mozart displays all the varied moods and situations arising out of the story of the legendary rake Don Juan. Every character stands out in the musical picture. There is scarcely a feeling known to humanity which is not expressed in some of the situations or characters. The profound expression of melancholy, the variety of its situations, the beauty of its accompaniment, or the grandeur of its heightening and protracted scene of terror Don Giovanni stands heads above in dramatic eminence.
One of the greatest operas every written, Don Giovanni simply does not age. If you’ve never seen it, discover the glory of a piece that has been thrilling audiences while simultaneously shocking them for over 225 years. This month the Washington National Opera will be performing it. But don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself in the following clips that I have included.
Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.