Don Giovanni (K. 527;
complete title: Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni, literally
"The Rake Punish'd, or Don Giovanni") is an opera in two acts with music
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and with Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da
Ponte. It was premiered in the Estates Theatre in Prague on October 29,
1787. Da Ponte in his Memoirs refused to acknowledge that his principal
model was an inferior Don Juan libretto written by Giovanni Bertati for
a performance in Venice earlier in the year 1787. Of the many operas
based on the legend of Don Juan, Don Giovanni is thought to be beyond
comparison. Da Ponte's libretto was billed like many of its time as
dramma giocoso, a term that denotes a mixing of serious and comic
action. Mozart entered the work into his catalogue as an "opera buffa".
Although often classified as comic, it is a unique blend of comic (buffa)
and drama (seria). The opera blends comedy, melodrama and supernatural
The Danish philosopher
Søren Kierkegaard wrote a long essay in his book Enten/Eller (Either/Or)
in which he argues, quoting Charles Gounod, that Mozart's Don Giovanni
is “a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection.” The finale,
in which Don Giovanni refuses to repent, has been a captivating
philosophical and artistic topic for many writers including George
Bernard Shaw, who in Man and Superman parodied the opera (with explicit
mention of the Mozart score for the finale scene between the
Commendatore and Don Giovanni).
A screen adaptation of
the opera was made under the title Don Giovanni in 1979, and was
directed by Joseph Losey. Some of the great Don Giovannis on the opera
stage have been the basses Ezio Pinza, Cesare Siepi and Norman Treigle,
and the baritones Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Thomas Hampson and Thomas
As a staple of the
standard operatic repertoire, it appears as number seven on Opera
America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America.
Don Giovanni, a young nobleman, after a life of amorous conquests, meets defeat in three encounters. The first is with Donna Elvira, whom he has deserted but who still follows him. The second is with Donna Anna, who must postpone her marriage to Don Ottavio after Don Giovanni tries to rape her and kills her father, the Commendatore, escaping afterwards. The third is with Zerlina, whom he vainly tries to lure from her fiancé, the peasant Masetto. All vow vengeance on Don Giovanni and his harassed servant Leporello. Elvira alone weakens in her resolution and attempts reconciliation in the hope that Giovanni will reform. Don Giovanni's destruction and deliverance to hell are effected by the cemetery statue of the Commendatore, who had accepted the libertine's invitation to supper.
The Commendatore, Anna's father, appears and challenges Giovanni to a duel while Donna Anna flees for help. Giovanni stabs the Commendatore, kills him, and escapes unrecognized.
An ominous knocking sounds at the door. Leporello, paralyzed by fear, cannot answer it, so Giovanni opens it himself, revealing the statue of the Commendatore. ("Don Giovanni! a cenar teco m'invitasti — Don Giovanni! You've invited me to dine with you"). It exhorts the careless villain to repent of his wicked lifestyle, but Giovanni adamantly refuses. The statue sinks into the earth and drags Giovanni down with him. Hellfire surrounds Don Giovanni as he is carried below.
The concluding chorus delivers the moral of the opera — "So ends he who evil did. The death of a sinner always reflects his life" (Questo è il fin).