Dramma giocoso in two Acts (1787)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Lorenzo Da Ponte
The legend of the charming and unscrupulous seducer Don Juan (or Don Giovanni) enjoyed great popularity in the 18th century: sometimes as a cautionary tale of a wrongdoer who eventually gets his comeuppance, sometimes as an allegory of a freedom-loving, unconventional libertine who questions the moral and religious ideas of his day. The »dramma giocoso« created by Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte perfectly blends serious and comic opera. They elevated the subject matter, which was normally given a buffoonish or moralising treatment, with psychological acuity, musical finesse and poetic wit, and depicted both the betrayed Donna Elvira and the seduced Donna Anna as serious antagonists and multilayered characters who are the equals of the irresistible Giovanni.
Leporello is tired of waiting for Don Giovanni, who is busy pursuing an amorous adventure. Just as he is about to leave, there is trouble. Donna Anna and Don Giovanni quarrel; suddenly, Anna’s father, the Commendatore, appears, intent on defending his daughter’s honor. Anna realizes the danger her father is in and hastens off to call for help. The Commendatore and Don Giovanni fight. Leporello helps Don Giovanni to escape.
When Anna returns with her fiancé, Don Ottavio, they find her father lying in a pool of blood. Anna tries to comprehend what has happened and demands that Ottavio avenge her father.
Leporello accuses Don Giovanni of having acted irresponsibly. Angry at these accusations, Giovanni is already thinking of his next conquest.
When a female voice is heard complaining angrily about her husband’s infidelity, Giovanni is immediately willing to console the unhappy woman. He only realizes at the last moment that the unknown woman is Donna Elvira, whom he once married and then abandoned. At first, he attempts to calm her down, but then leaves it to Leporello to enlighten her about his love life. Elvira stays behind, heartbroken, but then decides to avenge the insult she has suffered.
Giovanni and Leporello encounter a wedding party. The young bride Zerlina awakens Giovanni’s interest. He orders Leporello to remove her bridegroom Masetto and the other guests, so that he can be alone with her. Furious, Masetto has to witness how his bride follows Giovanni. Giovanni has no problems dispelling Zerlina’s scruples regarding Masetto when he promises to marry her; she cannot resist his seductive manner. Before Giovanni gets what he wants, however, Elvira discovers the pair and unsettles Zerlina with her accusations about Giovanni to such an extent that she flees.
While he is still annoyed about the failure of his plans, Giovanni meets Anna and Ottavio, who appeal to his friendship for help. Since he does not know whether Ottavio knows about his night-time encounter with Anna, he promises to support them.
Again, Elvira appears and causes confusion by accusing Giovanni of infidelity. Ottavio does not know what to make of these accusations. Anna understands the desperation of the woman she does not know, who Giovanni simply declares to be mad. When Giovanni has left with her, Anna’s confession comes pouring out: she accuses Giovanni not only of attempted rape, but also of her father’s murder. Trying to calm his bride down, Ottavio decides to find out the truth. Leporello reports to Giovanni what has happened in the meantime. He has had a very hard time keeping first Zerlina, then Elvira from ruining the festive atmosphere through their appearances. Untouched, Giovanni demands that he keeps on entertaining the wedding party, possibly inviting even more girls. His desire to amuse himself is boundless.
Zerlina, who has returned to Masetto, tries to deflect his accusations of having betrayed him even on their wedding day. No sooner has he relented and is willing to be reconciled than they hear Giovanni’s voice. Zerlina’s fearful reaction sparks Masetto’s jealousy anew. Despite her pleas not to leave her alone, Masetto hides in order to find out the truth about his bride and Giovanni. Before there can be another love-scene, his jealousy wins out and he interrupts them. Don Giovanni plays down the situation and pretends that he only wanted to celebrate their wedding with them in style.
Ottavio, accompanied by Anna and Elvira, wants to find out whether Giovanni has really committed the crimes the women accuse him of. They mingle with the guests who are being entertained by Leporello, so that Giovanni may have another opportunity to take Zerlina away from her bridegroom – this time by force. Her loud cries for help put the assembled company on their trail. Shocked, they witness what happens. Giovanni tries to make Leporello his scapegoat. Nobody believes him anymore. Cornered, Giovanni flees his opponents.
Resolved to abandon Giovanni once and for all, Leporello ultimately does not have the heart to leave him to his fate. Giovanni has only scorn for Leporello’s plea that he at least stays away from women from now on. When Elvira appears once more, he charms her, but then forces Leporello to change clothes with him and take his place. Elvira falls for the ruse and follows Leporello, assuming that she has won her husband back.
Giovanni, finally rid of Elvira, dreams of new amorous delights when he is interrupted by Masetto, who is looking for Giovanni in order to take revenge. Giovanni pretends to be Leporello. By promising that he will help in the hunt for Giovanni, he manages to disarm Masetto. After he has beaten him up, Zerlina finds the wounded Masetto.
Elvira, who still believes that she is in the company of her husband, is enjoying their reconciliation; Leporello tries to escape the situation, but Anna, Ottavio, Masetto and Zerlina – who are still searching for Giovanni – prevent this. Believing that they have finally found Giovanni, they want revenge. Elvira pleads for mercy for her husband. At that point, Leporello reveals that he was disguised and admits that Giovanni forced him to change clothes with him. The pursuers, whose confusion Leporello uses to escape, realize that they have been duped once again. Ottavio has now dispelled even his last doubts about Don Giovanni’s crimes, and he decides to ensure his punishment.
Despite the betrayal she has suffered, Donna Elvira is worried about Don Giovanni – she senses that his end is near. Giovanni takes pleasure in telling Leporello how he met a woman who mistook him for Leporello. At that point, they hear a voice threatening to end Giovanni’s life. Giovanni suspects a prank and tries to make out where the voice is coming from. Leporello is convinced that it can only be the Commendatore, come to demand satisfaction from Giovanni. If that was the case, Giovanni demands, Leporello should invite him for dinner. When he refuses, Giovanni issues the invitation himself. The voice accepts.
Ottavio promises Anna that Don Giovanni’s punishment is imminent, and presses her to marry him. Anna is evasive.
Giovanni, expecting his end, has Leporello serve him an opulent meal. Once more, Elvira forces her way into his presence. Fearing for his life, she begs him to change his ways – in vain. He is willing to bear the consequences and accepts his death.