Friday, October 29, 2010

The Opera of All Operas

223 years ago today Don Giovanni premiered at the Estates Theater in Prague. We discuss the opera here from time to time (See the Mozart and Opera tags) but this year on the anniversary of its premiere I thought I would look at some contrasting interpretations of the finale, specifically the penultimate scene. Obviously these productions all share the commonality of the libretto and music, but each also makes a different aspect the chief characteristic of the scene.

(see last year's selections)

I. The Moral

With its horrific visions of demons and the punished this production picks up on the lines "Da qual tremore insolito / Sento assalir gli spiriti! Dond'escono quei vortici / Di foco pien d'orror?" and Tutto a tue colpe è poco! /Vieni, c'è un mal peggior!" and emphasizes the punishment that awaits the Don for his sins.

II. The Manic

Terfel's wide-eyed and manic performance is the center of this production. Seeing the Commendatore his shock turns to glee and we see the Don as a sort of unleashed id, acting and reacting not rationally but wholly unconstrained. The Commendatore's arrival, then, feels particularly paternal.

III. The Defiant Don

Here our attention is nealry all on the Don himself, the camera focusing on him even when the Commendatore is speaking. By that and Raimondi's seething scowl Giovanni's sense of defiance is the crux of this interpretation of the finale. Recall that the Commendatore came not to condemn but to offer repentance (Pentiti scellerato!) and here we see the Don's disgust at the thought of bowing to anything other than himself. In contrast to Terfel's Don, Raimondi's is rationally rejecting repentance.

IV. Disbelief

Initially this performance seems to be playing it straight, not calling attention to any one element. Yet Siepi's Don walks around rather casually. Then he attempts to stab the Commendatore and, having failed, grows more and more nervous as he becomes persuaded that the Commendatore is not of this world. We sense the Don didn't really believe this was possible and we sense this terror as he cannot break free from the Commendatore's grasp. In his final moments when the lights go out, as he tries to escape but is finally carried off, we seems to say, "This wasn't supposed to happen, this wasn't supposed to be possible!"

V. Ambiguity

With the removal of the Commendatore's presence from the scene Giovanni seems frustrated as he addresses the void. Might he have sought forgiveness had he known the identity, and authority, of who called him to repent?

VI. The Rake

Rather self-explanatory, it seems.

VII. The Cosmic

Clearly the simplest of the performances we've looked at, it reflects most the spirit of the overture. The simple staging reflects the cosmic contrast of the overture, that between being and non-being. Even the costumes have an elemental contrast. Here, Don Giovanni is not so much punished as simply unmade and scattered back into the continuum of the universe.

video of performance unavailable


  1. Talk about a feast! Thanks for putting this together--a great experience. The fact that all these intepretations work at some level proves what a timeless opera DG is.

  2. Exactly what I was thinking, that at some level these are all legitimate, even though some might be better executed or tie into a stronger thread of the opera. It also makes me think that a completely "normal" production which did not pick something to accentuate would be pretty boring even if it were accurate and even. It also makes me grateful for these productions being available on DVD and Youtube. Not too long ago one had to wait a lifetime to see such a variety of productions. Glad you enjoyed it too!