The character of Don Giovanni has been characterized by some as a lovable, fun-loving rogue, and by others as an evil, lying villain. I believe that Mozart’s Don Giovanni is the embodiment of reckless courage, exuberant energy, indestructible optimism, and love of life. It is in the love of life that the main secret of the charm of this hero lies. However, his selfishness, contempt for the laws of honor and morality become a source of unhappiness for everyone whom Don Giovanni meets on his way. The composer emphasized the duality, inconsistency of the hero, which the viewer also feels through music. In my opinion, Don Giovanni in Mozart’s opera is not just a punished libertine, as in most of the literature or musical works dedicated to him, but a strong personality living according to his laws.
In the 1st action of the opera, the listener receives a characterization of the character. This happens when a series of closed numbers follows, characterizing the other heroes of the opera – Donna Elvira, Leporello, Zerlina, and Masetto. Outwardly little interconnected, these numbers, are united by the main character – Don Giovanni, representing a single grandiose exposition of his image. Don Giovanni reigns in Elvira’s thoughts and feelings, so her aria (No. 3) reflects his characteristic theme in its way: movement by the sounds of chords, and the allocation of an ascending quart turn, T – D ratio (“Mozart”). “Aria with a List” (No. 4) is a portrait of Don Giovanni, seen through the eyes of his servant (Kerns para. 4). This is evidenced by her elevated emotional tone and the tonality of D-dur (this is the tonality of Don Giovanni, as well as B-dur), and a whole series of quarts, and the predominance of three-tone harmonies, and the rhythmic figure of summation (“Mozart”). The two–part form of the area, built on two contrasting themes, embodies different facets of Don Giovanni’s appearance such as inexhaustible energy and seductive softness.
Don Giovanni’s actions in the opera in the first act are not indicative, revealed further in the course of the opera. Don Giovanni and the Avengers pursuing him (Elvira, Anna, Ottavio) come into direct contact for the first time in quartet No. 9 (“Mozart”). However, the conflict here is not yet open, since Don Giovanni remains unrecognized. The most revealing moment of Don Giovanni’s actions, in my opinion, is his dialogue with the Commander in the second act.
As soon as the Commander gets into the action, the entire emotional and musical atmosphere of the opera instantly changes. A strict, gloomy D minor reigns, and the material of the opening section of the overture is repeated: in the same order, one after another, the same motifs pass (the thematic arch technique). The leitmotif of rock sounds menacing – a quart, harmonized with a tense reduced harmony (Kerns para. 12). The Commander’s part is the most developed here, the material that was associated with the Commander throughout the work develops in it (the key of D minor, strict, as if frozen recitation, the restlessness of rhythm, tirades, etc.). Don Giovanni’s response to the Commander’s invitation is full of determination and courage, his party at this moment acquires the character of an upbeat recitation, involuntarily submitting to the enemy (“Mozart”). The drama grows more and more, and Don Giovanni’s remarks turn into cries of despair, exposing his true essence, proven by accepting the Commander’s challenge to a duel.
Throughout the final scene, the tension continuously increases. Squeezing Don Giovanni’s hand, the Commander demands repentance, but Don Giovanni remains adamant. The duel becomes more and more furious, the replicas become more frequent and, in the end, the whole depth of the confrontation is expressed only in monosyllabic “Si!”, “No!” (Kerns para. 16). In the opera there is also a second, additional ending of the epilogue type, when after the death of Don Giovanni all the other characters gather on the stage and the final, light and major, ensemble sounds. The opera’s conclusion was not a tragic climax, but a generalizing, balancing finale that corresponded to Mozart’s aesthetic attitudes, and his classical type of thinking. The second finale is a necessary final link in the composition of the whole. This is a well–known tribute to tradition in the form of a final moral, and the end of the opera on an optimistic note in the style of the Enlightenment period.
A vivid example of Don Giovanni’s music, and how he interacts with others in music, is shown in the dinner scene. The orchestral beginning of the finale sounds fun, and carefree, outlining the festive atmosphere at the Don Giovanni’s dinner (fanfare theme, orchestra tutti, key in D major). Even during the arrival of Donna Elvira, who wants to warn her unfaithful lover for the last time, her passionate plea is ridiculed by Don Giovanni, which is shown with the help of music.
Therefore, in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the main character is the embodiment of superhuman vital energy and emotions of joy and pleasure that know no boundaries and prohibitions, which elevates him to the level of a symbol.
Kerns, John. “Mozart’s Don Giovanni: An Enlightenment Hero?” The Atlas Society, 2020.
“Mozart: Don Giovanni – Complete (English Subtitles) in HD.” YouTube, uploaded by Pluterro, 2017.