THE overture, written in one night, is built on two figures, one supported by the whole strength of the orchestra, the other simply by the first violins. The vicissitudes of the struggle between these two anticipate the course of the opera, wherein the majority of the characters are banded against the licentious Don Giovanni. Towards the end of this magnificent overture, the uproar dies away and calm succeeds. The curtain rises and reveals Leporello (bass), with a lantern outside the Commandante’s house in Castile, awaiting his master, who has entered to carry off the daughter, Donna Anna. His song, Notte e giorni faticar,is in keeping with his nature as a servile, impertinent, idle, cunning, and cowardly lackey. He is tired of getting into scrapes with his master and expresses his intention of becoming a gentleman in a phrase as remarkable for the elegance of its melody as for the brio of its accompaniment. An explosion in the orchestra introduces Don Giovanni (baritone), putting on his mask and pursued by the furious Donna Anna (soprano), summoning help and reproaching him in a vigorous trio, Non sperar se non m’ucciude, in which the desperation of an outraged woman, the anxiety of the seducer, and the poltroonery of the servant are finely displayed in turn. The Commandante (bass) responds, sword in hand, to her cries, while a servant goes for the watch and Anna’s lover, Don Ottavio ; and she re-enters the house for further help. Her father provokes Don Giovanni and a duel follows. The orchestra marks the thrusts with alternate scales on the first violins and basses. The end is announced by a suspension on a cord of the diminished seventh. The bass recoils three notes and falls with the Commandante. There is a rapid modulation from D-minor to F-major and long triplets groan with the dying man. This short trio of only eighteen bars is of extreme beauty. Don Giovanni covers the body with a cloak and is about to escape, Leporello ove se, when Anna returns with servants and Doctor, and Don Ottavio (tenor) arrives with the watch, all bearing lights. The Don and Leporello conceal themselves in the colonnade on one side, while Anna is horrified at the sight of her father’s corpse. At her despairing recitative, Ma quai mai, the violas respond in terror, and to the rest of her tragic lament succeeds a sublime duet with her lover who tries to comfort her, and is forced to swear to avenge the deed. She swoons, and Don Giovanni and Leporello take advantage of the confusion to make their escape. The corpse is borne into the palace.
The next scene shows us the Don and his servant in the street outside the garden of the residence of Donna Elvira (soprano) who enters in travelling dress. They are plotting fresh conquests and do not recognise her at first. Her beautiful aria, 11h ! chi mi dice mai, tells us how she still loves her faithless husband. The concluding phrase, composed of syncopated notes, is an explosion of the heart in which rage and tenderness are combined. Don Giovanni, who hears a grieving woman, is only too ready to console her, since she is evidently young and beautiful. ” Certainly,” mutters Leporello, ” console eighteen hundred of them ! ” At the Don’s hail of ” Signorina r’ the orchestra’s sudden halt of dismay marks the recognition, ” Stelle, che vedo ! ” She upbraids him for his perfidy, and he flees, leaving Leporello to explain matters. The latter ironically exhibits the gallery of his master’s conquests, Madamina, il catalogo. In the first bars, we hear his comic humour sparkle in the accompaniment. The basses and first violins stamp over the notes of the chord of D-major, while second violins and altos fill the gaps with the perfect chord of the same key. A lyrical phrase follows, the melody is developed, and the orchestra gains colour and is filled with delightful and mysterious harmonies. Now Leporello begins to enumerate the victims. ” In Italy, one hundred and forty ! ” Here the violins are scandalised, the flutes exclaim, and the horn and oboes laugh over the enormity of the sum. Note the pause at ” But in Spain ! ” (Ala in Ispagna !) The entire orchestra awaits the number breathlessly, and then the instruments keep calling it across to each other ” A thousand and three ! A thousand and three !” Suddenly the time and key change, Leporello is going to describe the ladies, not even sparing their defects, and so he begins to sing a cantabile in three time, as the various classes from princesses to peasants defile through the orchestra. Humour and sentiment combine to make this aria one of the gems of the opera. As her tormentor leaves her, Elvira sings In questa forma dunque, in indignation, and enters her garden.
A rustic wedding-party next comes on the scene. Mazetto (bass) and Zerlina (soprano) are going to be married, and sing their lively little duet, Giovinetti che fati, of idyllic joys while their companions chorus Tralala; and Don Giovanni and his slave enter. Zerlina is too pretty to be wasted on a boor like Mazetto. (Recit.: Manco mate.) She must serve to swell the catalogue, so, after awaking her coquetry and Mazetto’s jealously by his gallantry, he orders Leporello to get the husband out of the way by taking the whole party into his palace. Leporello understands (aria : Ho capito) and obeys.
Left alone at last with Zerlina (recit. : Alfin Siam liberati), he woos her in the famous La ci darem la mano, the Allegro of which is intentionally weak and frivolous to match the situation, and she yields ; but Donna Elvira has been watching ; she now enters and unmasks the traitor. (Recit. : Fermat; scelerator.) He tries to reassure Zerlina, but finally feigns to retire, while Elvira sings 21h, fugi il traditor, in an aria Handelian in character. She then turns to Zerlina and gives her some wholesome advice.
Accompanied by Don Ottavio and servants, Donna Anna enters on her way to lay wreaths on her father’s tomb. Don Giovanni, still in the background, expresses his annoyance at the contretemps. (Recit. Mi par ch’oggi.) Elvira enlists their interest and sympathy with a recital of her wrongs, while the Don comes forward and tells them not to believe her, that she is demented. Her indignant denial, Non ti fidar, o misera, di _quel ribaldo cor, is. developed into a magnificent quartette which ends with her phrase, te vuol tradir, ancor, on the flute and clarinet. She then retires, and the cunning Don says he must follow her to see that she does not do herself an in-jury. His parting manner and accents awake a reminiscence in Anna’s heart, and she recognises her father’s slayer in a poignant recitative, Don Ottavio, son morta ! Her following aria, Or sal chi l’onore, describes the outrage and calls upon the invisible powers for vengeance, and all their terrors are depicted in the orchestra.
While his fate is preparing, Don Giovanni is gaily making ready a festival of all the pleasures. He issues his orders to Leporello in an aria, Fin’ ch’ han dal vino. Here his wild spirits, in anticipation of dance, wine, and women, are communicated to the instruments. Even the double bass capers. It would not be easy to find more warmth and movement than in the instrumentation of this Presto.
The next scene shows us the seductive Zerlina trying to soothe the jealous Mazetto with her Batti, batti. The ‘cello obbligato, accompanied by the other strings muted, winds itself around the poor dupe till the Allegro, ” Presto, presto,” announces the complete triumph of the woman. The ” Pace, pace, O vita mia,” is accompanied by ascending and descending scales that produce a most harmonious effect, like a river of happiness promising these two lovers ” content and joy, night and day.” From this moment, the art and artificiality that have been developed in the Andante are superfluous ; the violoncello gives up its serpentine movement and hastens away in descending scales and unquiet arpeggios; the orchestra merely accompanies. Zerlina abandons herself to unrestrained joy, and the aria ends with the strokes of the bass, which outlast the voice for a few bars and murmur with a distant sneering pianissimo.
” Presto, presto ! ” begins the finale of Act I, which is considered one of the masterpieces of dramatic music. Don Giovanni returns to invite the company to enter his palace, and give themselves up to good cheer and gaiety. The echo of the ball music is heard within (Allegretto 2/4). The chorus goes in. This brilliant introduction in C-major, the final bars of which fade away in several melancholy chords, is resolved into the key of F-major by the prolongation of a simple note held by the second violins. Then Don Giovanni, perceiving Zerlina trying to hide behind a clump of trees, gently approaches and tries to draw her into a neighbouring kiosk. She resists and the little duet in 3/4 resulting from their contest is springlike in its freshness (Traquest’ arbori celata). Mazetto has been spying, and a passing modulation in D-minor and a trembling on the first violins, producing a most piquant effect, announce the jealous husband’s inopportune arrival. Don Giovanni at first receives him with astonishment, then, recovering himself, he says amicably : “The beautiful Zerlina is very unhappy when away from you ! ” ” I believe you, my lord ! ” is the bantering reply. The Don then signs to an orchestra at the back of the stage, and it immediately attacks a pretty rustic air in a new rhythm in 2/4 ; and in combination with the voices of Zerlina, Mazetto, and Don Giovanni, and the big orchestra in a crescendo full of gaiety, the third episode ends.
They enter the palace and the musicians follow. Some notes in the orchestra modulating into the related key of D-minor announce the coming of Elvira, Anna, and Ottavio, masked, on their errand of protection and vengeance. They know the danger of dealing with such a reckless character as Don Giovanni. Their trio expresses their varied feelings. Anna is uneasy at the danger Ottavio runs, he encourages her, and Elvira breathes fury. They are accompanied by an incessant shudder of the first and second violins, broken into by sombre chords; and this continuous form, which so well expresses the religious emotion of these noble characters, will be reproduced almost intact in the finale of the second Act when the Commandante knocks at the door. Leporello opens the window for ventilation and we hear a Minuet being played within. “See those fine masks, Sir,” he cries. “Make them come in,” answers the Don, with an eye to fresh conquests. In a delightful musical phrase Leporello does so, and they accept, after anxious consultation, and enter after invoking Heaven in beautiful strains of a religious character, the famous Mask Trio.
We are now introduced into the splendid ball-room. Three orchestras at various points are awaiting the lord’s signal to strike up. He is walking about among his guests, hospitably entertaining and encouraging them to eat, drink, and be merry. His theme in 6/8, in E-flat-major, is fresh and elegant. Zerlina’s replies, Leporello’s dialogue with the jealous and watchful Mazetto, and the noise of the throng, form an ensemble in which the ” asides” of the various personages are harmoniously designed. A change of time and key introduces the three new guests. Leporello and Don Giovanni courteously do the honours of reception, and the Don’s ” Viva la liberta” is the signal for the orgy. At his order, the ball commences with a delightful Minuet with an undulous rhythm in 3/8 confined to the chief orchestra on the stage, and this continues all through as the fundamental idea. In succession, the two smaller orchestras play a contredanse and a valse, the different rhythms of which, in 2/4 and 3/4, superimposed upon the original rhythm of the Minuet, are very striking, while the libertine says a thousand sweet things to Zerlina, and Leporello tries to distract Mazetto’s attention, and the three masks keep indignant watch. As the dance brings them to a side door, Don Giovanni suddenly pushes it open and drags his partner into an adjoining room. The smaller orchestras cease ‘ and disperse at her cries for help, while the dramatic orchestra impetuously attacks an Allegro assai in 4/4. The victim’s cries mingle in admirable modulations with the menacing chorus. The tumult increases with blows on the violins (D-minor) and the door yields. F-major Andante maestoso : Zerlina is saved. Don Giovanni comes in with drawn sword, dragging the trembling Leporello by the hair. He is doubtful of the efficacy of the trick, for he has put pistols in his belt, and indeed nobody is deceived. The masked unmask to his confusion, and denounce the monster : Tutto gia si sa. We hear fine phrases in canon imitation, words trembling with anger, syllables falling one by one to weigh upon the conscience of the delinquent. Thunder is heard, and general execration breaks forth in a sublime choral and instrumental tempest, at first stunning even the daring host. But he recovers his assurance, faces and defies them all. The throng gives way before his threatening sword ; he reaches the door, fires his pistols in the air in bravado, and disappears with a burst of infernal laughter. Nine bars are allowed for his and Leporello’s escape.
AcT II. A moonlight night. Vistas of trees with Elvira’s house with a balcony on the right. She is sitting before her door in melancholy. Love and vengeance are warring in her heart, and she rises and gives vent to her feelings in a sublime recitative. ” The theme, almost without interruption, diversely reproduced and imitated, dominates in the vocal part and the orchestra, in major and minor, and in all the related keys of the tonic. It is treated in the form of an instrumental piece.” She enters the house.
The Don, baffled with Zerlina, has already formed other schemes. Before he arrives on the scene we hear his first notes, ” Eh’ via bufone,” to the grumbling Leporello. The latter does not like the risks he runs. It’s too hot for him, and he wants to leave such dangerous service. His master finds him too useful to allow that, and the music reproduces every gesture and expression of the dispute, especially Leporello’s stubborn “No, no ! ” However, four pistoles mollify him, even though his master refuses his request to give up the pursuit of the ladies. Now to lure Donna Elvira’s pretty chambermaid ! At that moment, Elvira appears on the balcony ; and the Don’s plans _are quickly made. He and Leporello exchange cloaks and hats, and Leporello impersonates him as he sings. This divine trio is the broadest farce. Giovanni is most con-trite, and almost dislocates Leporello’s limbs to give expression and distinction to his representative’s pantomime. Elvira, whose love renders her only too willing to be deceived, comes down at his entreaties. He sings sometimes in irony and sometimes in earnest. The tender phrase in C-major, ” Discendi o gioja bella,” is in reality addressed to the maid instead of to the mistress, as we find that the same notes begin the song with which he calls her to the window when Elvira has been led away happily by the disguised Leporello. Having now got the mistress out of the way, he tunes his mandolin and improvises a serenade, Deb ! vieni alla finestra. It is full of languor, southern warmth, and impatient longing. It is short, but the twenty-two bars are full of the most effective melody, sustained by a pizzicato accompaniment in the orchestra. The serenader’s hopes are frustrated by the entrance of Mazetto and his friends, armed, in search of the ravisher, who, disguised as Leporello, boldly joins them and offers to lead them against himself in an aria, Meta da voi qua vadano, the melodies and figures of which are all given to the orchestra. Having sent away all but Mazetto, he disarms him and gives him a terrible beating for presuming to meddle with a gentleman’s private affairs, and leaves him half dead. Zerlina finds him in this condition, and is seized with pity and compunction. The baseness of the Don’s conduct has opened her eyes, and her heart has returned to Mazetto. Her aria, Vedrai carino, is full of tenderness; it has no marked rhythm, nor dissonant harmonies. After the fermata all the nightingales of the orchestra begin to sing in chorus as she murmurs on in monotone of her beating heart. This is their real nuptial chant.
The next scene shows a lonely court outside the cemetery, overlooked by the statue of the Commandante. Leporello has led Elvira hither, and is groping for the door in the darkness to make his escape. She begs him not to leave her, and begins the phrase that becomes the great sextet on the arrival of the others. Her tremors are heard in chromatic passages on the strings, while Leporello’s anxieties also respond on the violins and clarinets. A beautiful harmonic transition from B-flat to D-major solemnly salutes a cortége, and the muffled drums sound. Anna and Don Ottavio, attended, are going to the chapel to pray for her father’s soul. Her sorrow overflows the orchestra, and Ottavio is powerless to console. Mazetto and Zerlina enter on their way home, and the supposed Don is now in the toils. He is about to be slain, in spite of Elvira’s en-treaties for his life, when Leporello reveals his identity. A cry of general surprise, expressed by an admirable modulation, groups the various voices, and commences the long peroration of this beautiful piece. Leporello’s appeal for his life, his cowardice and howling for pity, his grovelling and kissing the feet of his captors are all told in the orchestra. The semitones weep and intercede for him. When he explains the situation, the Allegro molto expresses the rage of all at this new example of Don Giovanni’s iniquity. Leporello’s part here is detached and thematic. He opens with a simple and vigorous theme like a fugue-subject, Mille torbide pensieri, which in the chorus is reduced from five bars to three. At his words, ” Se mi salvo in tal tempesta,” the wind is heard in two instrumental figures alternating on every instrument. ” Ah pieta ! ” is helped by all the subtleties of fugue and counterpoint. The orchestra displays all his laughable tribulations and trickery. It is a canon for two voices, divided between Leporello and the instruments, at the end of which he suddenly upsets Mazetto and his two other guards and makes his escape. The devoted Ottavio then sings Il mio tesoro, the most famous tenor aria in existence.
The scene now changes to the interior of the cemetery. The equestrian statue of Don Pedro is flooded with moonlight. Don Giovanni, in flight after some fresh escapade, lightly scales the wall at the back, followed by Leporello. He tells the latter of his adventure, and bursts into a fit of laughter that is interrupted by the glacial words from the .tomb, Di rider finirai pria dell’ aurora (” You will have ceased to laugh before dawn “). The notes are almost identical with those of ” Malheureuse ! ou vas-tu ? ” in Gluck’s Alceste. The startled Don challenges the speaker, and is again warned. He says it must be somebody having sport with them, and orders Leporello to read the inscription on the tomb. The latter is horrified on reading that the Commandante lies there awaiting vengeance on his slayer. Ashamed of his momentary fear, Don Giovanni in bravado orders the trembling Leporello to invite Don Pedro to supper, and, when he hesitates, threatens to stab and bury him there. The fantastic duet, O statua gentilissima, owes its power to the marvellous instrumentation. Leporello’s terror makes him sing mechanically, while his master’s notes are ironical. The supernatural force of the music is terrific when the Commandante accepts.
The next scene shows us the splendid supper-room in Don Giovanni’s palace. His musicians are on the stage, and candelabra brilliantly illuminate the table at which his female favourites are sitting. He takes his seat, singing that this world should not be a vale of tears, and that a man is right in amusing himself when he is rich. His musicians then play a little air in 6/8 that sparkles like the wine with which Leporello keeps filling his master’s cup. Leporello praises the supper and the music, steals a pheasant’s wing, and is made to whistle and sing while his . mouth is full. Here Mozart has the courage to dismember one of the most beautiful airs of his Marriage of Figaro. It is now the third watch, and the faithful Elvira enters in tears to make a last effort to reclaim him. The musicians discreetly withdraw. In the Allegro assai she appeals to him to repent. In this trio Leporello is affected by her words, but his master only grows gallant. Elvira repulses his advances with horror, and then, sermon for sermon, he imparts some of his Epicurean philosophy. Heartbroken at her failure, she departs. A kind of fog settles over the orchestra and the candles on the table go out one by one. Outside, Elvira utters a cry of terror that also shudders through the orchestra. Leporello is ordered to go and learn the cause. His steps are accompanied by the same daunting nebulous crescendo. The fair guests scatter like birds at an approaching tempest. Leporello recoils from the door, repeating Elvira’s cry on another chord of the diminished seventh. To his master’s impatient inquiry, he endeavours to explain that he has seen the figure of the Commandante, stammering with terror and imitating the statue’s heavy tread, heard , also on the basses. Notwithstanding Don Giovanni’s repeated angry orders, he cannot bring himself to open the door. During the dialogue, the instruments are in an intense state of feverish agitation. There is knocking at the door. Open ! The scene is now in almost complete darkness ; only two candles remain alight on the table. Don Giovanni seizes one, and sword in hand strides to the door and kicks it open. A luminous gust extinguishes his candle and a blue light faintly tinges the air. Lightnings flash through the windows and low thunder growls. The gigantic figure of the Commandante stands on the threshold, motionless. Then the orchestra crashes and rolls with all the terrors of judgment. The host recoils at first, but quickly recovers himself, slowly advances, throws away his sword and faces his guest, ready to brave all, a mighty impenitent. He orders Leporello to prepare a fresh supper, but the spectre stays him. Don Giovanni must now share the bread on which the Commandante is nourished. In this second duel with the Commandante, he knows he must lose, but at least he does not quail. We have already heard this sublime scene abridged in the Andante of the overture. Instead of the perfect chord of the minor third, however, we now have diminished sevenths that simultaneously attack twenty parts of the orchestra, after which comes a harmony of sublime plain-song. The octaves of the wind instruments are replaced by the voice of the spectre, which turns the dark and mystic horror into a thundering one, and the gloom of the marvellous into a nocturnal day brilliant with super-natural fires. The wisely economized use of the trombones has gained for the composer this precious advantage. These trombones, so prodigally used to-day, would not have sounded like the crack of doom if Mozart had not made them the special and exclusive accompaniment of death, and if, using their effect in advance, he had put them in requisition all through the opera. We hear the chords in even rhythm constantly growing more fatal and appalling at every return of the solemn words that fall from the spectre’s lips; and that strain from another world on unvocal intervals, dead to all affection; and that orchestral trembling upon the frightful dissonance of the minor second ; and those long moaning scales ascending and descending, crying and vainly struggling through despairing modulations against the note of fate that ruthlessly pursues, oppresses, and crushes them. That is the real speech of the phantom ; that is Death, Judgment, and Damnation; that is the end and the lesson of the entire work. Of two recitatives, that never unite in a duet, the first is supported by the whole force of the orchestra, the phantom with his retinue of terrors. The other is feebly accompanied, the man left defenceless and hopeless in the iron arms of necessity. Only his will supports him here, and that stands forth in sublime grandeur. In the first words of his reply, we hear the two violin figures presented at the beginning of the overture, one melodic and plaintive, the other accompanying, murmuring, like the breeze of the night in the long grass of the cemetery. But when the long period in which the terrible scales are unrolled comes to an end, Don Giovanni recovers his assurance. At his defiance, the fundamental note, continued like a deep, terrible knell, sounds alone amid a terrifying silence of the vocal parts. We divine that dreadful things are in preparation. Suddenly the thunders of the spectre breaking upon this monotonous knell, awaken a series of discords that would be hard to analyze : a series where the chromatic and enharmonic are so mingled and confounded that the ear is bewildered. This is the whole life of crime. It is all linked together like, a moving line of formidable arabesques sculptured in flame. Rising a semitone with each phrase, the spectre arrives at the highest tones of his compass and ends on the dominant of B-flat-minor. Then in this new key, the double figure of the violins reappears with a highly romantic, reminiscent character. Now ” Is he ready ? ” A shudder runs through the orchestra as he clasps the phantom’s hand, and the ice of death runs through his veins, and he utters a cry of agony. The tremolo reaches the very depths of the harmony ; the abyss heaves, awaiting its prey. Bass figures clearly reproduce the duel scene, but here it is only the Commandante’s arm that lunges, provoking no reply ; there are no imitations on the higher instruments. His summons to repent is firmly refused, and the irrevocable sentence falls in grave and slow notes of chorale. The harmony dies in unison: the spectre has disappeared. The chorus of spirits, manes, larvae, furies, and infernal deities, all of Pluto’s court in grand gala, follows. Don Giovanni now feels physical as well as mental pangs. He cries aloud in his agony. Forty-eight bars of effect-music follow the spectre’s exit. After this all must deplore the lost labour of the superb fugal chorus, sung by the other characters, which concludes the opera, but which is usually omitted.