Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Magic of Don Giovanni

The endless amount of ink and print (and in future I guess 000000's and 11111's of computers) expended concerning Wolfgang Mozart's Don Giovanni is essentially a battle of superlatives. For the last 150 years or so the central debate, that continued into my childhood in the 60's, was whether Don Giovanni was the the greatest and most perfect artwork of all time; the greatest opera ever written or all of the above. It has cast a magical spell since its' premiere in Prague October 29th 1787. By any measure that's quite a run. 

By the nineteenth century Don Giovanni passed from musical history into philosophy in the hands of Soren Kierkegaard and his Diary of  a Seducer. Like Wagner's Ring, Don Giovanni became a symbol for the great struggles of good and evil,darkness and light, sexuality (the endless seducer) and divine retribution against heavenly and moral transgression (the Commendatore returns from the dead to call him to account); the battle of the sexes, the trials of fidelity on the part of the loving couples tempted by " the glamour of evil ". Still, it all begins with the music .

From the first chords to the end it never stops, flags or stumbles in the search for inspiration and the illumination of human foibles and virtues. Two characteristics shine above all others, relentless, breathless forward motion and the ability to fuse the comic and tragic with the name Shakespeare not following far behind. Beginning with a failed (or not ?) seduction, followed by a peerless ensemble of dramatic power and gravity ending in a fathers death as he attempts to protect his daughters honor, Notte e giorno faticar, "Slaving night and day for one whom nothing please " . This servant's comic complaint is followed immediately by a one sided sword fight and without skipping a beat he is on the hunt again with the Commendatore dead, Donna Anna in tears, the ineffectual Don Ottavio promising revenge and Don Giovanni? Indifferent. This in about 12 minutes counting one of the greatest overtures ever written. In the two acts that follow to the conclusion he will at times attempt seduction and evasion of three women at once and endless numbers of furious and fearful men. Much of this including pranks and mockery of those who fruitlessly try to stop him. By the time of the meeting with the Commendatore in the graveyard it seems that only an otherworldly force can restrain him. Then the wildly comical and horrifying dénouement of inviting the dead man to a late supper, with musical accompaniment and in the face of divine wrath unrepentant to the end!

The ensembles, solos and orchestral /melodic writing is equally relentless. In Act One alone we get : Ah, chi mi dice mai ; Madamina, il catalogo e questo;  La ca darem la mano;  Ah, fuggi il traditor; Dalla sua pace ... it goes on and on. The daimonic character is accompained by equally daimonic and inspired music and vocal writing - the result is nothing less than magic. Mozart and his librettist DaPonte created a model of creative cooperation that resonates to this time. Often imitated, always admired, but perhaps never equaled. Tune in one hour earlier this Saturday at 11:00 am for the magic of the Metropolitan Opera and Mozart's Don Giovanni, here on KPAC and KTXI.
by Ron Moore

No comments: