Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Don Giovanni as film; the overture from Losey 1979

Don Giovanni can be an intoxicant. It speaks of sexual freedom, of high-spirited escapades, dances, wine, and an escape into a moonlit cemetery. But it also speaks of reckoning. Murder, broken lives, obsession for revenge, and supernatural retribution fuel its dark side.

Is Don Giovanni himself a playful comedian who attempts but seldom attains? Is he a villain to be despised for self-absorbed, scheming lies? Has he committed rape? He is dragged to hell by the ghost the Commandant—not for his sexuality—but for murder, and he does not repent in the face of damnation.

So, which is it? The debate continues. Da Ponte and Mozart created the first indeterminate opera: dark, light or both simultaneously. Meaning depends upon cumulative effects; a mixture that has proven to be infinitely faceted.

This famous version of Don Giovanni made in 1979 by Joseph Losey (1909-1984) develops mixtures from the possibilities of film. In the overture, anticipation is developed as preparations are made, candles lit. We get our first look at the Don, played by Ruggero Raimondi, as he comes toward us, walking past without recognition. A crowd follows. The horizon darkens and the famous chromatic lines are harmonized with dizzying visual effects.

The allegro molto is set as an entrance to a masked ball near a glassblowing furnace. It is as if Don Giovanni is visiting hell on earth to gauge what the end of the opera will hold.


  1. Don Giovanni is so different from Puccini. The amount of dialogue that is "spoken" is the biggest difference between the two that I can see right now. I have never heard an opera where the music practically stops in order to make way for the characters to "speak." I'm having difficulty liking it as much as my Puccini favorites. Also, Mozart must have decided on making his music difficult for singers--the arias are so complicated! Bravo to those who can master it!

  2. Dear Allison, Keep working on it...the Mozart style often takes folks a little time to process. What you have noticed is called a recitative, which is literally spoken music. Arias allow the emotion of the characters center stage but can also seem to stop the dramatic motion. It is the ensembles in the Mozart style that really move the plot; Mozart was one of the best at having several singers articulate ideas simultaneously that are all distinct. Anyway, by the late 19th century many composers were writing opera where the seams are less obvious; they unfold more like modern movies.


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