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Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
based on the play El burlador de Sevilla by Tirso de Molina
World première: National Theatre, Prague - October 29, 1787
Don Giovanni is Mozart's 19th opera, of a collection of works that ended with his 22nd opera, Die Zauberflote, known in English as The Magic Flute. It stands today along side Figaro and The Magic Flute as a monument in the collection of western art.
On May 1, 1786, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the 30-year old composer from the provincial Austrian town of Salzburg, experienced the greatest triumph of his all-too-brief career when his opera Le nozze di Figaro or The Marriage of Figaro as it is known in English, premiered in Vienna.
By January of the following year, the now celebrated composer and his wife went to Prague to attend the premiere of Figaro, which was taking the world by storm. By the time he left Prague in February, he had a contract to write a new opera, along with an impressive advance on his fee. Mozart chose his trusted Figaro collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte, with whom he would also create Cosi fan tutte, to chose the subject and write the libretto for this new Prague opera. Da Ponte recommended the story of Don Juan, or Don Giovanni in Italian, and these three masterpieces, Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte, are often referred to as Mozart's "Da Ponte Operas".
The legend of Don Juan, like that of Faust, appears throughout European literature and folklore. The combination of vice and sacrilege in this character first found poetic expression in Spain in the early 17th century with Tirso de Molina's Burlador de Sevilla. Da Ponte was the official poet to the court of Emperor Joseph II, and his involvement in creating Don Giovanni gave some assurance of imperial support. The new opera was to be performed in October of that fall, 1878, as part of the entertainment of the newlywed couple of the imperial niece, Maria Theresia, to Prince Anton Clemens of Saxony, who would become Emperor Franz II, as they passed through Prague that fall.
Mozart at this time had no other commissions, and he spent the spring and summer composing Don Giovanni and teaching a few pupils; one of whom was a gifted 17 year old named Beethoven. Because of da Ponte's having to write two other librettos at the same time, the new opera was not quite finished in time for the scheduled performance – so Figaro was given instead – and it is said, perhaps in exaggeration, that Mozart wrote the overture to Don Giovanni on the day of the premiere. It is humorous to note that the infamous libertine Giacomo Casanova himself was in the audience on the night of October 29, 1787 for the triumphal premiere of Don Giovanni.
For more information about Mozart's Don Giovanni, download An Irreverent Guide for Enjoying: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni (PDF).
At dawn, Giovanni flirts with a high-strung traveler outside a tavern. She turns out to be Donna Elvira, a woman he once seduced in Burgos, who is on his trail. Giovanni escapes while Leporello distracts Elvira by reciting his master's long catalog of conquests. Peasants arrive, celebrating the nuptials of their friends Zerlina and Masetto; when Giovanni joins in, he pursues the bride, angering the groom, who is removed by Leporello. Alone with Zerlina, the Don applies his charm, but Elvira interrupts and protectively whisks the girl away. When Elvira returns to denounce him as a seducer, Giovanni is stymied further while greeting Anna, now in mourning, and Ottavio. Declaring Elvira mad, he leads her off. Anna, having recognized his voice, realizes Giovanni was her attacker.
Dressing for the wedding feast he has planned for the peasants, Giovanni exuberantly downs champagne.
Outside the palace, Zerlina begs Masetto to forgive her apparent infidelity. Masetto hides when the Don appears, emerging from the shadows as Giovanni corners Zerlina. The three enter the palace together. Elvira, Anna and Ottavio arrive in dominoes and masks and are invited to the feast by Leporello.
During the festivities, Leporello entices Masetto into the dance as Giovanni draws Zerlina out of the room. When the girl's cries for help put him on the spot, Giovanni tries to blame Leporello. But no one is convinced; Elvira, Anna and Ottavio unmask and confront Giovanni, who barely escapes Ottavio's drawn sword.
ACT II. Under Elvira's balcony, Leporello exchanges cloaks with Giovanni to woo the lady in his master's stead. Leporello leads Elvira off, leaving the Don free to serenade Elvira's maid. When Masetto passes with a band of armed peasants bent on punishing Giovanni, the disguised rake gives them false directions, then beats up Masetto. Zerlina arrives and tenderly consoles her betrothed.
In a passageway, Elvira and Leporello are surprised by Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto, who, mistaking servant for master, threaten Leporello. Frightened, he unmasks and escapes. When Anna departs, Ottavio affirms his confidence in their love. Elvira, frustrated at her second betrayal by the Don, voices her rage.
Leporello catches up with his master in a cemetery, where a voice warns Giovanni of his doom. This is the statue of the Commendatore, which the Don proposes Leporello invite to dinner. When the servant reluctantly stammers an invitation, the statue accepts.
In her home, Anna, still in mourning, puts off Ottavio's offer of marriage until her father is avenged.
Leporello is serving Giovanni's dinner when Elvira rushes in, begging the Don, whom she still loves, to reform. But he waves her out contemptuously. At the door, her screams announce the Commendatore's statue. Giovanni boldly refuses warnings to repent, even in the face of death. Flames engulf his house, and the sinner is dragged to hell.
Among the castle ruins, the others plan their future and recite the moral: such is the fate of a wrongdoer.
– courtesy of Opera News
Born in Salzburg in 1756, Mozart was the son of Leopold Mozart, a leading music teacher in Vienna and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart. Leopold quickly recognized his son's great music genius and began touring and exhibiting his children around Europe. From 1762 – when Mozart was just six-years-old – until 1765, the Mozarts made stops in Paris, London, Holland, and Switzerland to demonstrate young Wolfgang's talents. Upon his short return home to Vienna, Mozart continued to compose music while his fame spread across the continent.
Known for his incredible ear for music, while touring Italy in 1769, Mozart visited the Vatican to hear Allegri's Miserere and later wrote it down in completion from memory.
In 1777, Mozart embarked on another tour with his mother to Munich, Mannheim, and Paris, where his mother died in 1778. During his numerous tours of Europe, Mozart met many of the leading musicians of the day including J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, and Joseph Haydn.
Haydn was soon in awe of Mozart, and when he first heard the last three of Mozart's series he told Leopold, "Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name: He has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition."
In 1782, Mozart wrote the opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, which was received as a great success, and one month later he married Costanze Weber against his father's wishes. Costanze was just as irresponsible with their finances as Mozart and the couple was forced to change residences 11 times in 8 years while debt followed their extravagant lifestyles where ever they went. Mozart continued to travel throughout his life, looking for various modes of employment – freelance composing, commissions for heads of state, and music lessons, to name a few.
In 1776, Mozart met Lorenzo de Ponte, a poet, who later supplied him with the librettos for three of his operas: The Marriage of Figarro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and Così fan tutte (1790).
Mozart died under mysterious circumstances in 1791, leaving his Requiem Mass in D Minor, one of his most recognizable works, unfinished. Over his lifetime, Mozart composed over 600 works and remains one of the most iconic figures in classical music.
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