Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mozart - Don Giovanni, The Commendatore Scene

Mozart's Don Giovanni is an adaptation of the legend of the Spanish nobleman and womanizer Don Juanthat was first written about in a play dating to the middle of the 17th century in Spain. The legend was written about in poems and plays by many authors but Mozart's opera (based on a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte) is the most well-known version and has inspired other versions of the legend. Don Giovanni is part comedy, part drama, part morality play. It was premiered in Prague in 1787 and conducted by Mozart to great acclaim.  He also participated in the works premiere in Vienna the following year.

The original name of the work in Italian is Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni - The Rake Punished, or Don Juan.  Act 2, Scene 5 climaxes the work with what has been come to be known as The Commendatore Scene.  In previous action, Don Giovanni has killed the Commendatore in a sword duel after Don Giovanni was caught with the Commendatore's daughter.  Then there occurs a lot of tomfoolery, deceit, disguises and attempts at seducing other women including a woman Don Giovanni has already betrayed once, a woman named Elvira.  Giovanni and his servant Leoperello have traded clothing and Elvira thinks Leoperello is Giovanni, while Giovanni tries to seduce Elvira's maid.

In complicated twists of plot, Elvira finally discovers that Leoperello is not Giovanni when people that Giovanni has betrayed condemn him and Leoperello confesses and runs away. They vow to get revenge against Giovanni. in the meantime, Giovanni and Leoperello meet in the cemetery that the Commendatore is buried in. The statue erectged on his grave comes to life and warns Giovanni that he will no longer be laughing by morning. Leoperello is horrified, but Giovanni laughs it off and forces him to invite the statue to supper.

Don Giovanni goes home and begins a late supper when Elvira (who still loves him despite all that the Don has done to her) bursts in and begs him to repent and change his life. Don Giovanni laughs at her and she storms out of the room. Her screams are heard from outside, she runs through the room still screaming and out another door. Leoperello hides under a table in fear and refuses to answer the door. Don Giovanni opens the door and the statue of the Commendatore enters. The statue tells Giovanni to repent numerous times, but Giovanni refuses. So the statue grabs Don Giovanni and as he screams the horror of what is happening to him finally sinks in. The statue disappears and drags Don Giovanni to hell.

Despite the influence the opera had on Beethoven, he came to  criticize the subject of the opera. Writing an art work on such a licentious subject offended Beethoven's somewhat prudish sensibilities.  But the music itself must have made up for the subject matter, for Beethoven knew the work well, wrote variations on an aria from the opera and quoted motifs from it in other works. The juxtaposition of the subject matter, the many moods and the final terror of the dying Don as he is dragged to hell for his wicked ways has made Don Giovanni one of the most popular operas ever written.

The video below begins as the statue of The Commendatore comes to life:

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