Don Giovanni: Essential Opera – Director’s Notes

As we gather here in the Mead Theatre, after a long and difficult hiatus, I venture to guess that none of us takes this occasion for granted, nor shall we ever again. Telling each other fascinating stories through music is a timeless expression of our imagination and shared humanity, and opera (meaning “work” in Italian) as an art form grew out of court entertainments in Florence in the late sixteenth century, intending to revive the purity of ancient Greek drama.

By the time Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) burst onto the scene as a child prodigy at the height of the Classical period in music, opera had been formalized into lavish spectacles for the aristocracy, based on Greek myths of gods and goddesses and  dominated by Italian composers and poets. With his typical bravado, Mozart set about to revolutionize opera by composing The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782) in German, the language of his Viennese audience. Mozart’s incomparable genius for exquisite melodic writing, his acute dramatic sensibilities, and his extraordinary innovations in creating vocal trios, quartets, etc., in which several characters express diverse thoughts and feels simultaneously, enriched the operatic experience immensely. His remarkable choice of librettos, such as Beaumarchais’ highly controversial play The Marriage of Figaro, brilliantly adapted by Lorenzo da Ponte into a comic masterpiece filled with characters whose realistic motivations are set to absolutely glorious music, altered the course of opera forever.

It was the tremendous commercial success of The Marriage of Figaro in Prague that led the impresario of the National Theatre of Bohemia to commission a new opera from Mozart, who left the choice of subject to da Ponte. He chose the popular legend of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer, and leaned heavily on a libretto by Giovanni Bertati for Don Giovanni Tenorio in creating his version. With another scandalous subject before him, Mozart lavished his genius on characters spellbound by the seemingly irresistible Don Giovanni, a blasphemous murderer and rapist pursued by Justice and Revenge until Divine Retribution finally catches up with him. A heady mix of humor, violence, passion, and the supernatural, this extraordinary “dramma giocosa” (dramatic comedy) premiered to great acclaim on October 29, 1787.

Unfortunately, the Viennese public did not share the enthusiasm of Mozart devotees in Prague, and after endeavoring to accommodate a new cast of singers with replacement arias and featured scenes, which confounded the dramaturgy of the plot, the Viennese debut on May 7, 1788, was not deemed a success.

During the nineteenth century, Don Giovanni was seen as a hero of Romanticism, a charming seducer who defied the powers of earth and heaven to live freely (“Viva la Liberta’!) and die on his own terms, defiant and unrepentant. But, in our #metoo era, we must look at this opera through new eyes, and in our current Covid culture, even the experience of attending live performance must be scrupulously examined.

Hence, we present the production you are now attending, socially-distanced for both audience and performers alike and condensed to ninety action-packed minutes of essential Mozart. With Giovanni’s sly wingman Leporello as our guide, we offer you the chance to reconsider the curiously fascinating yet repulsive title character Don Giovanni and his ambiguous effects on all of those whose lives he touches. We hope this contemporary production will prove to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, as opera should always be.

Thank you very much for joining us!

Please take care and stay healthy~

With immense gratitude,

Gary Briggle