Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Don Giovanni, Heroic Sinner

Mozart took Moliere's Don Juan, who is not much more than a gentlemanly thug, and turned him into something new: an immoral man, a wicked man who is nevertheless a man of courage and charm, a human mephistopheles who insists on being true to himself and living life on his own terms and becomes thereby so offensive to Heaven that he is hauled off to Hell while he is still alive and kicking, still stoically and heroically unrepentant, still glamorous--and still therefore an affront to moralists. I read somewhere that Beethoven was shocked and that surprised me.

Mozart's opera makes hash of our moral categories, and this we may think is what great art ought to do. That, however, is a modern idea; no classical artist or thinker would or could have said or even thought such a thing; it is also a romantic idea: Don Giovanni was first presented in 1787 just at the beginning of the modern romantic era, and just before France revolted against the ancient regime of power and privilege that had sustained the legend of Don Juan.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

  1. If we simply look at the libretto, Don Giovanni is a bad guy who gets what he deserves. At the end of the opera, the other characters sing about how they will go on to improve their lives now that this villain is out of the picture. It is the music that adds complexity to the character of Don Giovanni. This is typical of Mozart's operas. In The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night gets to sing the best aria, and the serious initiations scenes have no music at all. I discuss this in my
    Similarly, in Cosi Fan Tutte, the love duets of the supposedly comic scenes where the girls are being deceived are the places where the music is the most sincere. You can read about this in my book The Blessed Human Race, written under my English name, George Jochnowitz