RogerBW's Blog

Thought on Don Giovanni 20 February 2014

Don Giovanni is one of my favourite operas; I met it first through the splendidly-overblown Joseph Losey film in the 1980s, and have continued to enjoy it since.

Something I find in it, though, doesn't seem to have been talked about much: the portrayed decay (both moral and effectual) of the old aristocratic order. What does Don Ottavio plan to do when he is brought, finally, to realise that the (maybe-)violator of his true love and (certainly) murderer of her father is indeed Don Giovanni? Will he run the scoundrel through? Will he denounce him to the world? No, he will go away and call the authorities. He's a meek little man thrust into the role of a noble knight, and it's just too big for him.

Meanwhile, Donna Anna's primary role is to put off Don Ottavio. "Just give me one more year for my grief to run its course"… and naturally we believe that she'll marry him after the year. Yes, of course we do.

Donna Elvira is the only one of the three "good" nobles to have a spine of her own, and her future… her future is to immure herself in a convent, where she will have no contact with or influence over the world.

And Don Giovanni himself: his sin, in the end, is to be consistent. He has chosen the role of the licentious nobleman, and he sticks with it to the end. He is given every chance to break away, lastly by Elvira and the Commendatore himself; he knows what will happen to him if he carries on; but he is true to his course, and his reward is to be dragged off to hell. And the Commendatore violates his hospitality to do it! (Not that this necessarily occurred to da Ponte.)

This is the end of evildoers!

And the wicked die as they have lived!

But this is also the end of the aristocracy, and the good don't seem to be in much better shape than the wicked.

Meanwhile below stairs, Leporello "wants to be a gentleman" but clearly never will be – he's going straight back to the inn to find a new boss – and Masetto has no respect for his "betters" at all. They are the survivors; they are the future.

Tags: opera

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