(As part of the run-up to Mozart’s birthday tomorrow, I am delighted to share with you some reflections on Don Giovanni in today’s guest post from the esteemed Stephen Llewellyn, aka Operaman entitled “1003 in Spain alone. Boy, and I thought I had a misspent youth.”)
by Stephen Llewellyn
Don Giovanni is one of a small handful of operas that on any given day I am prepared to pronounce my favourite opera. Note that I am not suggesting that it is the greatest opera ever written. Not even that it is Mozart’s greatest opera (most people would, I think, accord that honour to Le Nozze di Figaro.) But it is a work I never cease to love and marvel at.
Why? Well, prima la musica (‘first the music and then the words’), of course. Whether it be the humour of ‘Madamina, il catalògo e questo’ (the pre-cursor to Arthur Sullivan’s patter songs perhaps), the sheer beauty of ‘Deh vieni alla finestra’ or that “exquisite waste of time” ‘Il mio tesoro,’ Mozart’s pen spewed tunes that still leave us trembling, smiling, and whistling.
(Here’s a charming clip of Simon Keenlyside singing ‘Deh vieni alla finestra.’)
But that glorious music alone wouldn’t do it without Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto masterpiece which, when taken with the music, lays before us what seems like the whole of the human condition. I can think of no writer, except Shakespeare, who manages to present the landscape of humankind before us, warts and all, without bitterness or judgement.
I suppose if you are an opera composer looking for a worldly-wise wordsmith who can get to grips with love, lust, chicanery, comedy, tragedy, life and death, you would be hard put to do better than Da Ponte. Born a Jew, converted to Roman Catholicism, took holy orders, seduced another man’s wife (with whom he had children), managed a whore house with her, ultimately fleeing to America where he became a grocer in Brooklyn before taking a post as the first professor of Italian literature at Columbia University. Yes, there was a man who knew life!
I could rattle on for pages on how each scene of the opera holds its own unique treasures but as space does not permit, let me jump to the ending. What an ending! The Don is given the opportunity to admit the error or his ways and receive God’s – and our – absolution. He’ll have none of it, preferring to remain true to himself and be damned.
Excuse me but I need to get online and see whether any company within a hundred miles of where I am sitting has plans to give us Don Giovanni any time soon. I am so there.
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About the Author: Stephen Llewellyn is a former barrister, an Internet luminary, an #Operaplot champion, an opera devotee, bon vivant, and a blogger of record for the Portland Opera Company. You can read more about him in this scintillating Operatoonity Q&A.
Editor’s Note: If you, like Operaman, have Don G. fever, you can visit Bachtrack.com at this link for the production playing (or soon to run) nearest you. Since Stephen is across the pond, he can also consult One Stop Arts to see what operas are playing in London these days. You’re in luck, Stephen. Don G. is at the ROH until Feb. 29.