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Don Giovanni
May 5, 2016

When we first started to speak and create this Mozart-Da Ponte cycle, at the time with Frau Hessler and Herr Pessen, it was clear to me from beginning that I would wait with Don Giovanni to the end of the cycle - as late as possible. So it was, we started two years ago with Cosi fan Tutte, then last year Nozze di Figaro and now, not so late anymore, we arrive to Don Giovanni. I was afraid of this opera, I am probably still afraid of it, but at the time I really hoped that after doing the other two and getting more familiar with Mozart I will have more chances of being ready for Giovanni. As a child I remember the deep and serious anxiety the first bars have created in me. For some reason, the image of this opera was to me of a very tragic and scary. This might sound strange but not any other opera, even the most cruel or tragic, have this image in my head. At this point we also have to speak about the film Amadeus. As a child this film was my bible, I watched it hundreds of times, knowing until today every musical or textual moment. The image of Mozart as it comes out of this film was so strong that it took me years to get over it! Few things though have touched me profoundly and one of them is the sick and haunted Mozart conducting his Vienna show of Don Giovanni. The hall was almost empty and the public was apparently shocked, on the stage the final scene with the death of Giovanni and a very small applause as the curtain goes down. This moment is an unforgettable moment, a tragedy of the composer seeing already beyond but still living with us. Naturally, film is a film and one must make it dramatic, but for me and I would like to be honest, until today the image of Don Giovanni is this scene from Amadeus. You might now start to understand why I wanted to wait so much with this opera, and as I was preparing it towards this production I started to see it from different points of view. The first important thing is that the opera has 24 numbers, arias, ensembles and two finales in which only one number (duet to Donna Anna and Don Ottavio at the beginning of the opera) is in a minor key (d minor) all the rest of the opera is in major keys. How does this settle with the dark and haunted image of the opera? Observe in a more profound way:

Overture - d minor (same music as the death of DG at the end of the opera) - D major allegro.
Introduction - F major (killing comandatore)
Duetto d minor - DA and DO (promising to revenge)

from this moment all the rest of the opera is in major keys

Finale of the opera starts in D major, entrance of the commendatore is in d minor (as the overture) and finishes in D major.

Now we can also see that the only minor tonality to be used in this opera is d minor which is directly connected to the heart of this opera - The Sinner (Mozart have chosen also the d minor as the tonality of his Requiem). The impact of the d minor in three hours Major keys is enormous, Mozart manages to build a bridge between the two d minor key moments (overture - death of DG). The overture also helps me understand the way Mozart and Da Ponte actually saw this drama giocosa. This overture is very different of all the other Da Ponte operas overtures because it actually uses a big and precise part of the music to be later heard and become the most important dramatic moment of the entire opera. In Nozze and Cosi, one might find some small similarities but both overtures present the spirit of the piece rather then the precise musical materials later to be heard. In Giovanni, Mozart does something else, he presents the musical material and not only that, he presents the musical material of the character’s death scene, almost immediately painting him as a dead man already on the first minute. Everybody knows that when starting to tell a story of a film to a friend, one must build the tension and not give all the secrets right in the beginning, but not Mozart! The hero is being defined on the first minute of the opera as a anti-hero, this is so original and modern in a way that is even difficult to appreciate at our time: Nietzsche, Freud, Wagner, Picasso and Hitchcock al together in one bar of music! The bridge between the overture and the death scene, as we already mentioned connects two distant parts but also hold them together in their destiny.

Getting closer to the production we had to also decide on the version and cuts that we would like to do. As known, there are two official versions of Don Giovanni: Prague and Vienna, both connected to the premieres leaded by Mozart himself who made some changes during the time that passed between the two productions and during the rehearsals (some say even after the production ended). The main question is about the end of the opera: Should we finish with the death of Giovanni (Vienna Version) or with the last scene-the Moral (Prague Version)?

Without jumping yet into decisions, one must accept the fact that “Mozart for a certain time before the Vienna premiere… seriously counted on the deletion of the entire scene (the Moral)” (Plath, Rehm 1991) There are evidence that show that Mozart himself did think and as I believe even tried to cut the final scene and end the opera with the death of Giovanni. To this opinion, there are many faces and we will start with the historic facts. On the Textbook from the Vienna 1788 production one cannot find the “Moral” scene, which means that it ended with the death of Giovanni, and was even articulated with this scenic comment for the last moments of the opera: “The fire gets bigger, as D.Gio is drowned in: at this moment come out all the others: looking, scream and escape. Curtain falls” Isn’t this amazing? This is very surreal and much more modern then one can even imagine. (and might also explain the Fiasco he had in Vienna, ended with the famous quote by the Viennese Emperor “The opera is divine, maybe even more beautiful then Figaro, but it is not a kind of food for the teeth of the Viennese..” )
At this point one must agree, that as a performer we must consider this option as a valid one, the “true” way to perform it should not be decided by the critical editions but by the performers themselves. The musicological arguments are very important and interesting but it is clear that there is no correct way and if one must be chosen it should be chosen by the artistic ideas and intuition of a performer. (Stefan Kunze: Mozarts Oper, p.419)

The version, as we start to see here was from day one a very flexible issue. Evidently, Mozart tried to play with it and was not completely convinced with the work. There are some other interesting arguments to add to the discussion, one speaks about the fact that this opera is in the genre of Opera Buffa and as Da Ponte and Mozart knew and respected the official form, the opera must end with the Moral scene. Another argument, rather silly, argues that Mozart did those changes in Vienna because he was afraid the opera was too long for the Viennese public. What actually people say: Mozart, the greatest artist maybe ever lived, changed the form of his opera, and in a very prevocational way (he could have cut anything else, much less important) only to play into the hands of the public. Imagine Mozart taking his score, and cuts the last scene because it is last? And it is easy to cut? So he would save time working on the parts of the orchestra?

Lets examine a bit this on a dramaturgical point of view. Naturally one must say that after the death of DG, there are still some open questions and issued to be solved by the other characters. This is true and one should think about those issues, and one might even want to know how does it end for them, but is it the opera’s responsibility?
to answer that we need to stabilize a fundamental way to observe this piece: in a way this is a comedy in a tragedy or vice versa, as I see it, it is all due to the fact that there is only one character that actually function as the motor of the piece. There is no space for pardon as in Nozze, and it seems that it is all controlled by the “bronze soul” of DG. The themes of fidelity, humanity and dignity are also confronted in Nozze and Cosi, but in our case all are confront with the “destructive violence of Don Giovanni” (S.K:Mozarts Opera, p.394).
In a way, none of the characters survives after the death of Giovanni. They are alive, yes, but have lost their reason or motivation. As DG himself says “senza alcun ordine, la danza sia” - without any order, the dance goes (or continues, exists) and when he dies, suddenly the mess is evident and the dance stops. Because he was the one that somehow managed to transform the mess into a dance, now without him the mess stays a mess and the dance stops. What I am actually trying to say is that maybe by finishing the opera with his death, this idea passes in a more clear way. The beauty of this opera, a comedy with a tragic figure or a tragedy with comic figures, has a much more profound and modern message with the death of DG. It is a way to perform the big paradox of this opera: the one thing that keeps the circled forces together is actually the same one that is trying to destroy any relation: with his anti-conformist character DG is actually functioning as the glue of the drama. The constant fear of dying is confronted with the fear of the death of someone else: the person that actually creates our own fear of death. The death of DG is actually the greatest fear all the characters share although none of them is actually really familiar with the other before the opera starts. (not like in Cosi or Nozze where most of the characters have had a relationship already before the curtain is up) I imagine the sensation at 1788 of a full opera, characters, singing and emotions are surrounding the theatre, and then it stops! If Mozart wanted to terrify Vienna (rather then give them a “short version”), this was for sure the right way.

Another important dramaturgical issues, are the small cuts Mozart did in the death scene (in the Vienna version). As it appears in the Vienna version, Mozart did not just cut the moral scene, he also added some changes of arias (Don Ottavio and Elvira, duet Zerlina Masetto) and some small changes inside the death scene-now becoming the last scene. Two small cuts are added to the scene: the first cuts the words of DG “parla, parla, ascoltando ti sto”, the comments of Leporello fearing the worst and the commandatore “parlo, ascolta piu tempo non ho” (b.478-482). this music and text repeats twice in the Prague version and what happens now, when cutting those bars, DG only says it once and without any comments of the others. (b.482-485) The second small cut of the Vienna version is in bars 503-507 and here it cuts only DG text “ a torto di viltate tacciato mai saro!” - I will never accept being wrong accused of cowardice!.
As we see here, the first thing this two cuts have in common is that they both present DG as a stubborn courageous person fearing not the dead commendatore, cutting them out, brings forward a more fragile DG. The brave man, immoral and sinner, is suddenly a bit afraid. It is as Mozart understood that if he wants to cut the moral scene and end the opera with the death of DG, he would need to render more realistic DG’s understanding of what is about to happen. I would like to put it in different words: if Mozart would have just cut the moral scene leaving the death scene as it was, we would have a stronger DG and maybe a more surprised DG when death will occur to him. so why did Mozart added the small cuts? What would he gain by soften the resistance of DG by adding fear? I have been thinking about it a lot, and I do have an idea. I think that originally this scene was not a death scene. I will explain, in the Prague version with the moral scene as a hole, DG’s death scene was actually a “running away” scene. Maybe DG fakes it in order to run away from the mess he has created, going to a new place where new mess is expecting him. think about it, DG brings a friend to hide in the commendatore’s shield and faking with him this hole scene. Naturally Leporello did not know about it, and he is really afraid. Then when Giovanni insists of provoking the dead comenadtore in the bars that later would be cut, he actually only extremes the “show” and the fear of Leporello by fakely provocating the dead commendatore. Then, after deciding to finish the opera with this scene cutting the moral out, Mozart has to take out those “fake provocation” moments in order to render this as an actual death scene. When DG knows that this death scene is a fake one he plays the hero, but when this scene become his actual death scene then DG is afraid like we would all be.

This discussion is very interesting in the light of DG, because it has to do with the questions Mozart and Da Ponte put on the table: is there a truth? Giovanni sometimes changes his own truths every bar, and naturally creates different truths to different people. Please notice my words, he is not lying to people, he is creating different truths to different people. This is the only way he could go on with this way of life, and still make the wheel turn. We all connect with Don Giovanni because we all have a personal relationship with the sin. Some of us hate the sin, some of us love it, some of us like other people’s sin and some of us like to judge. What is sure that our life is all about the sin. He is the classic person we all afraid of, but secretly admire. The Last scene - the Moral, is actually divided in three parts: part one is where they all look for DG in order to make him pay for his actions, and Leporello tells them he is dead. Then the second part where each of the persons tell what he is about to do, DO and DA will forgive each other and go live their lives together, Masetto and Zerlina will go home to dine together, Leporello will look for a new patron and only Elvira admit that her life is over. This is very interesting that all the couples somehow see their lives continue after the disappearing of DG, but Elvira doesn’t. I the aria that was added to the Vienna version, Mozart actually expand Elvira’s personality and connection to DG. “abbandonata provo ancor per lui pieta” - abandoned I still feel pity for him. But what is very beautiful is that only Elvira actually predicts DG’s death: “Numi! in quai misfatti orribili tremendi… ah no, non puote tardar l’ira del cielo! “ - God! For all this terrible things he has done, the wrath of god cannot be far. This added aria, is so important to the piece because Elvira is actually the only one that sees his end, she is the only one that actually see him. 

With this ideas and facts, there are the equally valued ideas and facts that claim that we must play the last scene and not finish with the death of DG. Those facts are the official “historic” approach that took over the world of classic music in the last century. The people who insist on playing it “like it was” or “the right way” or “as Mozart wanted” are actually wrong with their approach and I will explain why. When people start to talk with the term “truth”, I am immediately starting to be afraid. Truth does not exist in art and above all in music, the truth is a goal of an artist, yes, but the whole idea is to never find it. When an artist finds the truth, in my opinion, he stops being an artist and it stops being the truth. In visual art, things are technically easier because we can watch and touch the works of old masters. A Rembrandt is exactly as he painted it and we can watch and learn. With music, we have some kind of a recorded sound tradition that goes back around hundred years, but do we actually know how things sounded before that? Could we know how Beethoven played his music? We might know how his piano sounded like, because we have the instrument, but we could never know how fast or slow, loud or soft the Pathetic sonata actually was. For me, this might be the real magic in Music and one of the main reasons I am a musician, I love the mystery and I love the freedom I have everyday, every moment. Back to our question, I think that one must acknowledge that DG is an opera with two versions both with very convincing equally valid historical facts. When I choose to play one version and not the other, it is not because I think that this is how it was in 1788, or because I am convinced this is the true way to play this piece. I want to play it this way because I think this is the way I find it interesting or beautiful today. In art, we are sometimes forgetting, things are supposed to be personal, and I don’t find any interest in being a “museum of sound” artist, historically and musicologically well supported conserving other people’s ideas. One must learn and know everything he can, be prepared and understand the facts, but this cannot be the reason for an artist to play and deliver a piece of music in a certain way. Naturally, those arguments and fats will enter one’s interpretative world, but i feel that eventually the profound reason why I choose to do something in a certain way and not the other must and will remain a mystery even for me. This is not easy, it is like being the magician and still surprise yourself when the trick works.

As for today, I don’t know yet which of the versions we will choose, when you read this article it will be already in the program of the production, so all you need to do, is actually wait and see how the opera ends.