Don Juan, the arrogant, chronic seducer of women, is a myth that’s been around forever. Some Don Juan stories, plays, movies and operas conclude with an odd, tacked-on, happy ending. Not so for Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte back in 1787. Their interpretation of the archetype explores the dark side of the womanizer-without-a-conscience. The famous opera, “Don Giovanni,” ends in bitter defiance and death.
That said, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” has been deemed a brilliant tragicomedy and near-perfect opera. You can see a livestreamed performance at 11 a.m. Saturday at Fort Lewis College in The MET Live in HD series.
The legend of Don Juan grew out of persistent, observed behaviors by entitled aristocrats with too much time on their hands. With an insatiable libido and an obsessive-compulsive tendency to keep track of conquests, the classic womanizer known as Don Juan eventually became a type. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Don Juans of literature and opera usually had a servant, a go-to guy who could make and break appointments and escape the wrath of an angry father or husband. Leporello is Mozart and Da Ponte’s particular invention, and it is Leporello that brings the comedy and conscience to this opera.
If you go
WHAT: The MET: Live in HD will present Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”
WHEN: 10:55 a.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Vallecito Room, Student Union, Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim.
TICKETS: $28 general admission, $25 for seniors, $24 Met members, $12 students, available at the door.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangoconcerts.com or call 247-7657.
NOTE: Sung in Italian with English subtitles. Running time: four hours.
“Don Giovanni” begins with a seduction in progress and turns ink black almost immediately Within minutes, Giovanni woos Donna Anna, hears her father coming, tries to escape, then engages in a struggle with the Commendatore, and kills him. A high-voltage opening scene like that had never been seen before 1787. The early conflict propels all the action to come. Everything that happens in Act I reverberates through to the spectacular conclusion.
“Giovanni” followed another Mozart-da Ponte success, “The Marriage of Figaro.” The creamy wit of that comic opera made Mozart a hero of sorts, the entertainment celebrity of the hour, the gossip magnet of Prague. Music lovers eagerly awaited the next production. A documented and delicious historical tidbit places Casanova himself at the premiere of “Giovanni.”
In the Met’s new production, Director Ivo van Hove’s contemporary staging delivers massive concrete buildings that turn and rotate so silently the spaces seem ominous. The modern brutalist design calls up Mussolini’s fascist Rome. And into this harsh world, threatening from the start, ambles a virile, middle-aged Giovanni (Swedish baritone Peter Mattei) still on the prowl.
Mattei may be a different Don Juan than a younger singer. Polish-born baritone Mariusz Kwiecien sang the role in the Met’s 2011 iteration with the swagger and smarty-pants confidence he also brought to the Santa Fe Opera. In 2016, Simon Keenlyside, 57, reminded us that Don Juans never die, they just keep on womanizing.
Do we need any more obvious reminders that the type persists and often brings an entourage? In 2016, I wrote in these pages that Billy Bush was currently playing the Leporello role in an “Access Hollywood” version. Today, in real time, Leporello might find his counterpart in the aging, comic persona of Rudy Giuliani. “Watch this space,” as Rachel Maddow says.
To round the curve on the 2023 production, it’s a delight to note that Nathalie Stutzmann, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, is making her Met debut conducting “Don Giovanni.” We’ll see her again soon as she will conduct another Mozart masterpiece, “Die Zauberflote” on June 3.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.