Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
| March 3
||Napa Valley Opera House
| March 10
||SF Legion of Honor
| March 17
||Berkeley Hillside Club
|Don Giovanni, A young, extremely licentious nobleman
|Leporello, Don Giovanni's servant
|Don Pedro, Il Commendatore
|Donna Anna, his daughter
|Don Ottavio, a nobelman, betrothed to Donna Anna
|Donna Elvira, a lady abandoned by Don Giovanni
|Masetto, a peasant
|Zerlina, Masetto's bride
|Chorus: peasants, servants, young ladies, musicians, demons
ROLE: Don Giovanni
ROLE: Donna Anna
ROLE: Donna Elvira
ABOUT DON GIOVANNI
After the starkest of introductions, the mood soon relaxes. The overture bustles on in fine comic style, and the opening scene is pure buffa. Leporello, the disgruntled servant, on sentry duty, is pacing around outside in the dark, and complaining, as is his wont, in a perky little tune, that he has to do all the dirty work while inside, his master Don Giovanni is having all the fun:
Night and day it's toil and sweat
For a master hard to please,
Out in weather cold and wet,
Often down on hands and knees.
I am all for changing places;
Servant work is not for me;
Toil is not my cup of tea.
No, no, no, no!
This work is not for me.
But Don Giovanni is not having as much fun as Leporello imagines. The atmosphere quickly becomes sinister, threatening, violent. A cloaked figure, unrecognizable in the dark -- we have a pretty good idea who it is -- is apparently trying to escape from a very spunky young lady, who is holding on to him in a bold effort to find out his identity. Evidently, a scene too shocking to depict on stage has just taken place. Her father, the Commandatore, soon answers her frantic call for help. He takes on her assailant in a sword fight, and is almost immediately killed. All the while, nervous Leporello never stops talking: "I've a funny premonition this will land me in the stew." And it's all over in about two minutes. Don Giovanni with his jabbering servant makes a hasty getaway, and Donna Anna, alone with her father's dead body, is soon joined by Don Ottavio, her fiance. Together, they vow revenge on the villain who has committed the two foul deeds, whoever he may be:
We take an oath of honor;
No rest, no quiet moment,
Onward to persevere,
Till we can claim repayment
For blood we hold so dear.
And so the plot has been set in motion. The hunter has become the hunted. And though the Commandatore, Donna Anna's father, has been slain, don't think for a minute that we have seen or heard the last from him.
But the next scene is the start of a new day. After his exhausting experi-ences of the previous night,
Don Giovanni has had an excellent night's sleep. Never one to dwell on the past, he has waked up thoroughly rested, refreshed, bright as a lark, and as always, eager to explore for new adventure, which is never long in coming. Already his finely attuned nostrils have detected the delicious scent of femininity not far away.
In fact, we meet the lady before he does. Donna Elvira, in despair, is searching for the faithless lover who has recently seduced her with promises of marriage, only to abandon her, after three fleeting days of rapture and bliss. Again, we have little trouble figuring out who she is talking about:
Where is the kindly person
To tell me where he's fled?
A helpless prey of passion,
By love was I misled,
Flattered and then betrayed.
Oh, let him run for cover,
Turn from the tears I've shed.
I'll find the faithless lover
And see my pain repaid.
Her back is turned, and so we have the ironic situation of a lady in tears, vowing revenge on her seducer, who in fact is standing right there, totally unaware that she is referring to him, and overcome with compassion for her plight:
A beauty, broken hearted,
So sad, so young, so pretty!
What a pity, what a pity!
Their duet ends abruptly when she turns and they recognize each other.
She lashes out. "You brute! Fiend out of hell! Beast of the jungle!" to which Leporello comments: "A fair enough description. I myself could hardly express it better." Note that we now have three angry people out to track down and punish Don Giovanni. The list will continue to grow.
Don Giovanni, with his customary adroitness, soon maneuvers a speedy exit for himself, leaving Leporello, unlucky as always, to smooth the ruffled feathers of Donna Elvira, which he does in one of the great buffa arias of all time. Hauling out a massive volume:
For your pleasure,
Catalogued and recorded,
I've a list of the beauties discarded,
And the loves he has left broken-hearted.
Look it over, peruse it with me,
Alphabetic, from A down to Z.
In Verona, six hundred and forty.
Down for Dresden, two hundred eleven.
Monte Carlo, a mere ninety seven.
Ah, but in Spain! Here already
Are one thousand plus -- one, two, three!"
Donna Elvira is anything but mollified by these revelations. On the con-trary, she is now convinced that she is a divinely appointed emissary, sent from heaven to bring down the villain and see that no more names will be added to his infamous book. But Don Giovanni, vastly relieved to be out of the vicinity of her sharp tongue, is quick to find new diversion -- no less than a wedding party, a simple, merry rustic affair.
The happy couple -- a very pretty, certainly a very lively girl and an obviously goodhearted country bumpkin -- are on their way to the church, accompanied by a few of their well-wishing friends. The ordinary would-be seducer would find this a daunting challenge. But Don Giovanni is no ordinary seducer. Child's play! He invites the whole group to his palace for a wedding party. He will personally escort the bride. Masetto, the groom, is not the brightest man in the world, but he is capable of putting two and two together. Furthermore, he is highly prone to jealousy, as well he might be. But he is powerless to resist the strong tide of Don Giovanni's personality, especially as Zerlina, the pretty bride, is charmed at being singled out by a man of such distinction, and she is only too eager to find out where all this might lead to. As soon as they are alone, within striking distance, as it were, he turns on the magnetism full force:
Melting in soft surrender,
Your pretty hand in mine,
Not far away, in splendor,
We there shall blend as one.
I would, and yet I wonder.
Your words that flow like wine,
So soothing, smooth and tender,
Are spoken perhaps in fun.
For you alone I've waited.
Masetto's claim is greater.
For greater heights you are fated.
Can I resist much longer? . . .
As one, we go invited
Along a pathway lighted
By love and love alone.
By love! By love!
So hand in hand, as one,
We're off to lands unknown
Of love and love alone.
But hold on! In the nick of time, Donna Elvira, the jilted lady, bursts in upon the scene to save the girl from the abyss that she is about to fall into: "Stop this abomination! Each slimy word I"ve overheard with horror."
Dare not believe his brazen lies!
A man devoid of shame,
He has betrayed and lied to me.
You can expect the same.
Decidedly not one of Don Giovanni's happier days. The scene is further complicated by the unwelcome appearance of Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, her faithful fiance, both of them implacably determined to track down her father's killer. Bear in mind, they have not yet connected Don Giovanni with the killer. So they are inclined to believe him when he explains away Elvira's bizarre accusations. After all, he is a nobleman, and noblemen do not lie.
Poor creature, so unhappy,
So in love, driven crazy.
A man of heart,
I pretend to return it.
Oh, yes! I'm far too kind.
When will I ever learn it?
The quartet that follows is a marvelous example of how four dis-tinctly different
viewpoints can be simultaneously woven into one fabric of music.
Giovanni to Elvira: "Quiet, quiet, or you'll gather all the nosy local rabble.
Hearing your infernal babble, some will snicker, some will sneer." Donna Elvira, desperate to be believed: "Call my charges idle chatter; I shall wage eternal battle. What do care and caution matter when I've nothing left to fear?" Donna Anna, trying to figure out Donna Elvira: "Though on edge and overwrought, no trace of madness can I spot." Don Ottavio, hedging his bets: "I am staying here till certain who is lying, who is not."
Elvira leaves, quickly followed by Don Giovanni, eager to latch on to any excuse to get away, hastily explaining that he has to see that the poor demented creature comes to no harm. Donna Anna has an appalling realization. That voice! It could be none other. There stood the man who murdered her father. And she recounts the horrors of that night to Don Ottavio. Though some may be inclined to think that she stops short of telling him the whole truth, even in her discreetly censored version, Don Ottavio simply cannot believe that a nobleman,
to whom the very word honor is sacred, could be capable of such enormity. Before denouncing him to the world, he wants to wait until they have proof beyond a shadow of doubt that they have found the right guy. Now Don Ottavio has been frequently criticized for being, well, wimpish --- which goes to show how little tolerance opera goers seem to have for sensible behavior.
But nobody disagrees that Don Ottavio's two tenor arias are among the most beautiful in the entire opera. Here, alone on stage, he contemplates how completely his happiness depends upon hers:
Silent or spoken,
Our ways are blended;
When she rejoices,
My day is mended.
When she's in sorrow,
I'm in despair,
Utter, utter despair . . .
Giovanni, once again extricated from an awkward situation, is his usual carefree self. As Leporello says, "There he goes, so easy, and carefree as St. Francis of Assisi." Looking ahead as always, he is focused on the party soon to take place at his palace, where incidentally he will have another crack at Zerlina, this time hopefully uninterrupted by Donna Elvira. He has never been in better
Wine by the gallon,
Beer for the hearty.
We'll have a party
Into the night.
Serve by the way a
Ton of paella;
More pretty lasses
You can invite.
Round up an orchestra;
Fill up the glasses.
Light up the castle;
Offer the masses
Razzle and dazzle.
Let's do it right.
Feasting and laughter.
I'll not overlook.
And by tomorrow,
Not three or four more,
I'll have a score more
Names in the book.
Meanwhile, Zerlina has a bit of explaining to do to her outraged fiance. "Was it my fault if, like yourself, I was conned and maneuvered? You don't believe me?" Not yet successful in convincing him of her innocence, she turns to other tactics:
Battle, battle, O brave Masetto!
Wage a war on poor Zerlina.
Prove your honor; pounce upon her
Like the lion on the lamb.
With display of manly muscle
Turn a tiff into a tussle.
Ah, but then, serene again,
Receive a kiss with more to come . . .
By the end of this sweet aria, Masetto is reduced to melted butter. Still, unlike Giovanni, he does not look forward to the party soon to take place -- the party which in fact becomes the finale to Act One.
It was Mozart who literally invented the big act finale -- a continuous flow of music where the interest and excitement build and cumulate in one movement following another, like the closely related yet contrasting movements of an instrumental piece, all the while carrying the action to an exciting climax. In this case, a lot happens. Giovanni is intent upon his designs on Zerlina, if anything stimulated by the glowering presence of Masetto to whom she is about to be married. Nor is he deterred by the appearance of three mysterious masked figures, like the three fates -- an apt comparison: Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Don Ottavio, united in a just and righteous cause, have come to expose his heinous crimes. Ever the genial host, Don Giovanni welcomes them with open arms. The dancing begins. Three orchestras have been hired for the occasion, and they play simultaneously three different dances in three different rhythms, which somehow or other manage to blend into one piece. Again, Mozart the magician.
The famous minuet is one of them. While this sedately elegant dance is in progress,
Giovanni maneuvers Zerlina into an inner room, from which we soon hear a shriek.
The girl comes rushing out in hysterics, closely followed by Giovanni,
who has Leporello, ever the scapegoat, by the scruff of the neck.
"Here's the culprit caught redhanded!" But the guests are not deceived. They know who the real villain is, and they are ready to pounce. Facing a united front of angry foes, Don Giovanni is in his element:
Hunted down and now surrounded,
Facing charges not unfounded,
Borne upon a raging torrent,
I combat a rising tide.
Onward, still I go undaunted;
Never has my courage faltered.
Boldly on a course unaltered,
Paltry foes I take in stride.
He makes a hairbreadth escape that concludes the act in spectacular fashion.
Despite his many grievances ("Good heavens, you nearly killed me!") Leporello is persuaded (i.e. bribed) into staying on for the second act, in which Don Giovanni's tireless pursuit of women continues. But at least we get something akin to a rationale: "A case of conscience. Being faithful to one is unfair to the many." When pressed, he concedes: "But my good nature can be taken wrongly. Some women are confused by my kindness."
We also get the answer to a number of pressing questions. Will Don Giovanni proceed triumphantly to the final curtain, or will he carry his audacity too far and invite his own doom from a totally unexpected source? Will Donna Anna get her revenge? Will Don Ottavio finally become convinced that Giovanni is the man they are looking for? How much more will it take for Donna Elvira to wake up to her own folly? Will Zerlina and Masetto settle down to a placid, uneventful married life? Will Leporello finally carry out his repeated vow to break away from his unscrupulous master? What pivotal role is played by a marble statue? Far be it from us to spoil the ending.
Don Giovanni, sir, I have heard most disturbing reports about your character and about your conduct. According to my notes, you have been called
An evil monster
A cold blooded reptile
A slimy serpent, a lethal serpent
A fiend out of hell
A public menace
A ruthless hunter
An aristocratic lecher
A master of cunning and conniving
An animal, a beast of the jungle
From top to toe a scoundrel
Granted that nobody's perfect, how do you answer the charges?
Zerlina, reluctant as I am to cast judgment, some would say that your own conduct has not been above reproach. On the day of your wedding, what on earth were you thinking of?
"...a sparkling, fast-paced production that kept the audience on the edge of its seats... brilliant, true-to-the-spirit English translation of da Ponte's libretto!"
-- Eleanor Ohman, The Sun-Reporter
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