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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
An Introduction to Don Giovanni
Background

The beginning of Don Giovanni
Mozart's genius
Other operas
Mozart and Da Ponte - The Marriage of Figaro
Cosi fan tutte
Don Giovanni: historical context
Don Giovanni

The opening: Leporello, Donna Anna, Don Giovanni and the Commendatore
The death of the Commendatore
Donna Elvira and the 'Catalogue' Aria
Masetto, Zerlina and Don Giovanni
The murderer is identified
Don Giovanni's villa and the 'Champagne' Aria
Act I. Finale
Act II beginning. Don Giovanni, Leporello, Donna Elvira and her maid
Tenor arias
The churchyard: Don Giovanni, Leporello and the statue
The final scene: supper at Don Giovanni's
Epilogue
Musical illustrations taken from Naxos 8.660080-82 conducted by Michael Halász
Narrative written by Thomson Smillie and spoken by David Timson
Bargain Price
NAXOS EDUCATIONAL 8.558115 [78:59]

 

This issue can either be taken in isolation or as complementary to the companion ‘Marriage of Figaro’, (NAXOS EDUCATIONAL 8.558078) with similarities in the background, section titles and content (trs. 1-6). What I found particularly striking in tr. 1, titled ‘The beginning of Don Giovanni’ are the facts that in the decade 1781-1791, during which the opera was composed, Haydn composed 76 major works, including one opera, whilst Mozart composed 158, and to quote the narrative, ‘including four, some might say six, of the greatest operas in the repertoire’. Such facts are included, informally and appropriately, in the narrative of this series. I believe they make for enhanced interest and enjoyment for the opera buff as well as the beginner. I would, however disagree with promoting the idea, in the next sentence, that Don Giovanni was Mozart’s greatest work; the Marriage of Figaro maybe, but then that’s just my opinion! These statements, like all the narrative in the 22 minutes of the ‘background’, are interspersed with relevant musical snippets. ‘Mozart’s genius’ (tr. 2) quickly passes over the influence, malign or otherwise, of his father Leopold, to extolling the early exhibition of the composer’s diversity, with reference to his church music, string quartets, concertos and symphonies. Smillie is not above noting that Beethoven wrote only one opera, Brahms none, whilst Verdi and Puccini wrote no symphonies. There is mention too of Mozart’s renowned musical memory, which allowed him to play over, in his mind, once heard, any work by any other composer. Reference is made to earlier operas (tr. 3), again backed by brief musical illustrations, before moving on to more detailed consideration of ‘Cosi’ and ‘Figaro’ (trs.4 and 5), the other operas of the Da Ponte trilogy. The last section of the background, titled ‘historical context’ (tr. 6), deals with the origin of the story of the opera and how it was used by Da Ponte and Mozart, its preparation for the premiere in Prague and why the premiere took place in that city rather than the composer’s home base of Vienna. It is only pointed out later, and then rather coincidentally (tr. 15), that there are distinct differences between what was written for Prague and what was later presented in Vienna, and what promoted these differences. I think those differences, and reasons, deserved separate and distinct treatment.

The remaining tracks of the disc (trs. 7-18), a total of 56 minutes, take the listener through the opera with a superbly cogent description and analysis of the development of the story, with relevant musical illustrations being taken from Naxos’ excellent complete recording of the opera (reviewed by me elsewhere on this site). The booklet gives details of first performances in the UK, as well as a summary of the background to the story, repeating some of the more germane points made in the spoken narrative. There is also a synopsis setting out the bones of the opera, scene by scene. The clarity of the explanations together with the incidental insights along the way, make an enjoyable journey for both the newcomer and even the enthusiast who may have seen the work many times. Strongly recommended.

Robert J Farr

 



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