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W.A Mozart – Don Giovanni
Produced by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1787, Don Giovanni is regarded as one the best operas ever made. The piece is based on the legend of Don Juan, an illusory libertine and seducer of women (Kerns, 2010). At first, Mozart’s opera seems more like a story of the romantic adventures of a dissolute nobleman and his disgrace. However, there is much more to Don Giovanni than just a series of events and serious laughs, just as the protagonist is much more than a notorious, single-minded, and unprincipled seducer. Closer examination of the piece reveals its core themes of social classes and divisions as depicted by Leporello’s complaints about his servitude to his employer in the first scene (Mozart, Fisher, & Ponte, 2007). The play also touches on vital human traits and principles, including loyalty, faithfulness, and sincerity. More importantly, Don Giovanni centers on the ambiguity intrinsic to human relations, the intricate connection between life and death, and the interminable tension between love and the risk of its extermination.
Don Giovanni can be characterized as a comic opera due to its indulgence with tragic themes, such as crime and murder, in an astoundingly funny manner. By definition, an opera is an art form in which the composers combine dramatic works with musical scores and libretto or text in theatrical settings. The singing may be either melodic or recitative. Traditionally, operas incorporate most of the typical elements of spoken theatre, including scenery, acting, dance, and costumes (Sadie & Tyrrell, 2001). In Don Giovanni, Mozart’s matchless music and Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto work in perfect harmony to depict both the consequences of Giovanni’s devious schemes and the opera’s incessant humor. The resultant ambiguity causes the audience to root for Giovanni despite the emergence of his dark side.
Historically, operas were born in Italy in the later 16th century by a group of Florentine intellectuals and musicians who were interested in Ancient Greek customs and arts and opposed to the extremes of the polyphonic music of the Renaissance. Initially, operas aimed at making music subservient to words by combining successive recitatives with instrumentals and musical interludes (Taruskin & Gibbs, 2013). The genre evolved over the years as new philosophical, social, and political events led to the development of new traditions in different regions. During the romantic era, for instance, composers mixed traits of comic and serious opera and adopted certain aspects of symphonic music with issues drawn from historical and contemporary life (“History-Opera-Europa”, n.d.). Although the present-day operatic offer is more varied than ever before, the opera audience is still expectant of a thrilling show of words, dramatization, and music.
This Classical piece was produced during the Age of Enlightenment, a philosophical era in which European scholars acknowledged and celebrated social justice and the worth of ordinary individuals, in sharp contrast to the powerful aristocrats who led the masses during this era. Having come from a working-class background, most of Mozart’s pieces were meant for middle-class audiences with ideas drawn from the prevailing social conditions during the Enlightenment (Gutman, 2011). The era brought about a significant reorientation that questioned conventional authority and touted for the improvement of human conditions through rational changes. Similarly, Don Giovanni depicts this struggle and tension through the traits of its characters, including the Don himself, his servants, mistresses, and their fiancés and close relations.
Mozart was an influential and prolific composer of the Classical era who was born in Salzburg and demonstrated phenomenal talent from an early age. He began composing from the age of five and performed before royalty in Europe. One of the most significant influences on Mozart’s professional life was his father, Leopold, an experienced teacher and minor composer. Leopold took young Mozart on long family tours throughout Europe, where he interacted with several musicians and composers. He was intent on showcasing his son’s extraordinary abilities as both a composer and performer. He also helped Mozart to transcribe his creations (Kerns, 2010). Mozart’s travel to Vienna and his employment by Archbishop Colloredo was another major influence on his professional life. While the latter only wanted his musical servant to be close, Mozart was determined to meet and perform for the Emperor, who eventually supported him financially through a part-time job and commissions. Perhaps one of the biggest influences on Mozart’s career was the economic and social environment in which he grew up. In spite of his artistic success, Mozart still earned peanuts and was determined to find a better position elsewhere. Further, Salzburg provided few opportunities for composing operas, in addition to the closure of the court theatre. His determination compelled him to partake in long expeditions with his father where he met other musicians and even premiered his opera, La finta giardiniera (Gutman, 2011).
Mozart seized the opportunity to express various themes in Don Giovanni, among them, the oppression and harassment of the common man by totalitarian rulers and the struggle for freedom. The opera is a clear depiction of the powerful and rather uncontrollable forces of humanity as well as the consequences of bad conduct. While it may seem like the piece was intended to mock the rulers, Don Giovanni presented actual socio-political concerns that were occurring in Europe
Gutman, R. (2011). Mozart : a cultural biography. London: Vintage Digital.
History – Opera-Europa. Opera-europa.org. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from http://www.opera-europa.org/en/opera-resources/history
Kerns, J. (2010). Mozart’s Don Giovanni: An Enlightenment Hero?. The Atlas Society. Retrieved 28 November 2017, from https://atlassociety.org/commentary/commentary-blog/3902-mozarts-don-giovanni-an-enlightenment-hero
Mozart, W., Fisher, B. & Ponte, L. (2007). Mozart’s Da Ponte operas : the marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte. Miami, Fla: Opera Journeys Pub.
Sadie, S. & Tyrrell, J. (2001). The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians. New York: Grove.
Taruskin, R. & Gibbs, C. (2013). The Oxford history of Western music. New York: Oxford University Press.