If more operas had Talking Statues of Doom in them, there would be no “opera is boring” stigma. Don Giovanni is one of my kids’ favorite operas. I swear, an opera could be about the proper pronunciation of “endive” and the kids would watch it on the edge of their seats just waiting for the talking statue of doom.
Kudos to Mozart for the brilliant marketing strategy.
Don Giovanni (pronounced dōn jō-vahn’-ee, aka Don Juan) is reputed to have seduced something around 2,000 women by the time this opera takes place. If you pay attention in scene two, there’s an aria devoted to the cataloging of those women. But I get ahead of myself.
Seduced. Yeah, not so much. He tries to seduce them, but sometimes it doesn’t go so well – like in the opening scene where he’s trying to leave the home of Donna Anna. He has broken in at night and she has shut him down. She raises the alarm and her elderly father, the Commodore, comes to her aid. The Commodore brandishes his sword and fights Don Giovanni while Donna Anna goes for help. Donna Anna would have done better to send her father for help while she fought DoGio. But then the Commodore might not die and there would be no story. And no Talking Statue of Doom (TSD).
Don Giovanni finishes off the Commodore and flees. Donna Anna returns with her fiance (Don Ottavio), finds the body and swears revenge.
Meanwhile, Don Giovanni has disappeared with his servant, Leporello. It’s not long before Don Giovanni hears a woman, Donna Elvira, singing sadly. He decides he is just the man to cure what ails her, except guess what? He’s already been there and done that and now she, too, is looking for him with thoughts of longing and revenge. Don Giovanni gets Leporello to distract her while he again vanishes. This is when Leporello sings the catalog. Because what jilted lover doesn’t want to hear about the 2,000 previous conquests?
Later that day Don Giovanni and Leporello come upon a young couple celebrating before their marriage. Of course, Don Giovanni is smitten with the young woman, Zerlina. Her fiance, Masetto, tries to keep Don Giovanni from her but is scurried away by Leporello. Don Giovanni is making headway with Zerlina when Donna Elvira appears.
And then Donna Anna and Don Ottavio appear. Before long, Donna Anna recognizes Don Giovanni as the man who killed her father. She sings the aria “or sai, chi l’onore,” which is Italian for “my name is Donna Anna. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Don Giovanni throws a party at his pad. He’s still trying to seduce Zerlina and assorted parties are stalking him in party masks. In my humble opinion, the best part of this scene is the fact that there are three orchestras playing three different pieces of music. That Mozart really knew how to shake things up.
In Act Two, Don Giovanni is outside Donna Elvira’s house. He is smitten, but not with her. He’s got his eye on her maid (who in some versions is Zerlina). He gets Leporello to change clothes with him so he can better seduce the maid. Oh, and he has Leporello lure Donna Elvira away from the house. Don Giovanni doesn’t get very far with the girl because a group of people, including Masetto, have come to kill him. Dressed as Leporello, he sends them off on a wild goose chase. I must here note that characters in operas must a) have notoriously bad eyesight to fall for these disguises, and b) be gullible as hell.
Leporello tires of having Donna Elvira chase him and ends up in a cemetary, narrowly escaping the wrath of pretty much everyone we’ve met so far. Don Giovanni, also looking for a safe place to hide, finds him there.
In the cemetary is a life-size statue of the Commadore. Imagine Don Giovanni and Leporello’s surprise when the TSD addresses them and tells Giovanni he’s going down hard, and soon. Don Giovanni is characteristically cavalier about a talking statue declaring his fate, and invites him to dinner.
The last scene is a dinner party at Don Giovanni’s. Sure enough, the statue arrives. He asks Don Giovanni to repent (which is a good idea right before you die, fyi). Don Giovanni does not repent, but instead tells the statue to chill and grab some grub. The statue is not interested in grub grabbing, being dead and all, and invites Don Giovanni to dine with him. Which would be a mistake to accept, right? Right. Giovanni accepts, and is swallowed by flames – making the finale look like a Dio concert.*
Let this be a lesson to you all.
*I’ve never been to a Dio concert, but if you do a google search for Dio images, it does look like someone getting dragged into hell. Also Dio rhymes with Gio – as in Giovanni. You have to pronounce it “Doh” to rhyme it correctly.