Don Giovanni can be described as a mixture between the traditions of opera seria (serious opera) and opera buffa (comic opera). Mozart was the first great composer to make his own living, and composing the way he wanted, instead of being employed either by a rich nobleman or by the church. In this opera, which is written in Italian (like all opera seria) he shows a nobleman (Don Giovanni) who lives an evil life and has to suffer for it in the end.
Mozart lived in Vienna when he was grown up. Although he was a very great composer, people in Vienna did not always like his music. Sometimes this was because other composers were jealous and tried to make Mozart look bad. Audiences had their favourite composers and went to support them. Mozart had written an opera called Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) which was performed in Vienna in 1786. The performance was not very successful. In January 1787 he went to Prague for the first time and performed Le Nozze di Figaro there. The Prague audience were very enthusiastic. From then on Mozart was always very welcome in Prague. He visited Prague five times during the last five years of his life. He was asked to write another opera for Prague, so he wrote the opera Don Giovanni. It was given its first public performance in the Estates Theatre in Prague on 29 October 1787. The opera house was very full. There was not enough room for everybody who wanted to come. It was a great success. Everybody cheered and clapped. They realized how beautiful the music was. When he performed it later in Vienna it was not nearly so successful. It was many years before it became really popular in Vienna.
When Mozart and his wife arrived in Prague about a month before the performance, he had not yet finished writing the opera. He finished writing it in Prague, either in the inn where he was staying, or in Bertramka, the house of his friend Duschek, which was just outside the city. The night before the first performance he still had not written the overture. The performers were really worried that Mozart would not finish it in time for the performance. Mozart sat up all night composing the overture. The orchestral parts then had to be written out by copyists for the various instruments of the orchestra. The music was ready just before the opera was due to start. The music for the overture was handed out among the orchestra who had to sightread it.
Mozart knew the singers who sang the main parts, and he wrote the music very carefully so that it would suit their voices. He spent a lot of time rehearsing them and the orchestra during the weeks before the production, and he conducted the performance himself.
The libretto (the words) were written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, based on a well-known story (often known by the Spanish title Don Juan, but also known as The Stone Guest). Other composers have written operas based on the same story.
The story of the opera [change]
The story is to take place in a town in Spain. Don Giovanni is a nobleman who has had lots of lovers. He promises he will marry them and then he goes off and leaves them. He has a servant called Leporello.
Act I [change]
Don Giovanni is in love with Donna Anna, whose father, the Commendatore, is an important gentleman. In the Commendatore's garden Leporello is standing guard while Don Giovanni is making love to Donna Anna. Leporello sings an aria in which he complains about his job. Suddenly Donna Anna appears, chasing Giovanni who is wearing a mask so that she does not know who she is. The Commendatore appears. He fights Giovanni with a sword and the Commendatore is killed. Donna Anna's fiancé, Don Ottavio promises Donna Anna that he will find the man who killed her father.
In a square outside the palace of Don Giovanni, another lady, Donna Elvira, is complaining about how her lover had promised her marriage and then left her. Giovanni and Leporello arrive and hear her. Giovanni realizes who she is and disappears, leaving Leporello to talk to the lady. In a very amusing aria, Leporello tells her all about the long list of lovers that Don Giovanni has had (in Spain alone he had 1003!).
When she has left, a wedding procession enters. Giovanni immediately likes the bride who is called Zerlina. He tries to get her future husband, Masetto, to go by saying that he will host a wedding celebration at his castle. Masetto is angry when he realizes that Giovanni wants to stay behind with Zerlina, but he finds it difficult to refuse because Don Giovanni is a nobleman and he is only a simple peasant, so he ought to obey him. Giovanni then flirts with Zerlina. Elvira arrives and warns Zerlina about how bad Giovanni is. Ottavio and Anna appear. They do not know that Giovanni is the man they are looking for who murdered the Commendatore. They ask him to help them look for the murderer. Elvira comes and accuses Giovanni of having left her. Giovanni explains to the others that she is mad. Anna suddenly realizes Giovanni was the man who tried to force her to love her. Ottavio is not quite sure.
Don Giovanni tells Leporello to organize a party quickly.
Zerlina tries to tell Masetto she is innocent. Masetto tries to see whether she means it. He watches what happens when Giovanni comes. There is a lot of confusion, and Giovanni gives Zerlina back to Masetto. Everyone goes to the wedding festivities. Elvira, Ottavio and Anna are masked so that people do not recognize them. They are trying to catch Giovanni and prove that he is bad. Giovanni tries to make love to Zerlina who shouts for help. When people rush to the scene he tries to say that Leporello did it, but they do not believe him. Giovanni escapes.
Act II [change]
Leporello threatens to leave Giovanni, but Giovanni calmly offers to pay him more money. Giovanni wants to make love to Elvira's maid, and so he changes clothes with Leporello. Elvira comes onto her balcony. Leporello (pretending to be Giovanni) sings that he is sorry about what he has done and wants her to return to him. Elvira comes down to the street. They go off together while Giovanni sings a love song to the maid. He accompanies himself on the mandolin.
Masetto and his friends arrive, looking for Giovanni. Giovanni (dressed as Leporello) pretends that he, too, wants Giovanni dead and joins the hunt. After getting the crowd to separate Giovanni beats up Masetto and runs away laughing. Zerlina arrives and comforts Masetto.
In a dark courtyard, Leporello leaves Elvira. As he tries to escape, Anna and Ottavio arrive. Zerlina and Masetto open the door and catch Leporello. They all stand round him. Elvira, who thinks he is Giovanni, asks for him to be forgiven and says he is her husband. Leporello throws off Giovanni's cloak and hat so that everyone realizes who he is. He manages to escape.
In a graveyard there is now a statue of the Commendatore. Leporello tells Don Giovanni how he was nearly killed. Giovanni just teases him. Leporello is not amused, and Don Giovanni just laughs . Suddenly the statue speaks. The statue tells Giovanni that he will soon stop laughing. Leporello is terrified, but Giovanni just laughs and invites the statue to dinner.
In Donna Anna's room Ottavio asks Anna to marry him, but Anna wants to wait because it is so soon after her father's death. She says she loves Ottavio and that she will be faithful to him.
Don Giovanni is having supper in his room. Musicians are playing. Elvira appears once more trying to persuade him to change his ways, but Giovanni ignores her and sings about wine and women. Elvira goes. Suddenly the statue appears. The statue sings: "Don Giovanni! You invited me to dinner, and I have come." Giovanni refuses to be sorry for the way he has lived, so the statue drags Giovanni down to his death in hell.
In the final scene everyone is happy. Leporello comes out from under the table where he has been hiding in fear. Anna and Ottavio promise to marry after a year. Elvira will spend the rest of her life in a convent, Zerlina and Masetto will finally go home for dinner, and Leporello will find a new master. The last chorus tells the moral of the opera - "That is the way in which an evil person dies. The death of a sinner always reflects their life."