Don Giovanni ( 2 )


Don Giovanni: Subtle Social Commentary


(Student Essay)


(c) Jan Croft

Lbst 401

October 10, 1996.


opera Don Giovanni, composed by Wolfgang 

Mozart with the libretto written
by Lorenzo da Ponte,  was first

performed in Prague
in 1787 as the political and economic forces leading

up to the French Revolution were
building in force.  The rebellious

personality of the composer and
the timing of the work are an integral

part of seeing the opera as a
brilliant piece of social commentary. 

Overtly, the bad guy, Don Giovanni,
gets what he deserves and the social

order is preserved.  However, the problems of the moral decay of

the vulnerability of those
without power (women and the poor) and the

illegitimacy of the class
structure are all exposed.  In addition
the issues

of personal freedom and choice
are introduced.  These are serious issues

and serve the didactic, covert
purpose of the work in a way that allows

the production to be as relevant
today as it was in its time.  Justice

be seen to be done but the larger
challenge is left to the survivors and to

the audience to examine their own
complicity in the wrongs of society.


himself was a child prodigy who thrilled the courts of

Europe but
as an adult rebelled against the confines of society,  often

alienating the very people who
could be financial supporters of his work. 

Mozart personally suffered the
consequences of being outside the

mainstream of society.  Stafford quotes Brigid
Brophy’s opinion that:




_Mozart was a rebel_   His scatological humour was

a manifestation of his reputation
of taboo, and he

was frankly asensual man,
enjoying a fulfilled erotic

relationship with his
Contanze.  He turned from

Christianity to Freemasonry, and
freed himself from bondage

to his father and to his
Christian-princely patron at the

same moment.  His rebellion was also on behalf of

Opera lent itself to this;  it gave central role to the

soprano, female voice_




comes down through history as a figure of many myths but his

interest in issues concerning
women and the underprivileged are very

obvious in this opera.


musical score is an incredibly powerful means of

immediately announcing the
importance of what is about to happen. 

demands our attention
intellectually as well as grabbing us emotionally. 

The audience’s involvement takes
place on both levels as the opening

scene reveals many of the issues
of the work;  Leporello sings of the

plight of the servant, the
seduction and fight occur between Don Giovanni

and Donna Anna, and the
Commendatore seeks justice and is murdered, 

triggering revenge.  A great momentum is established in the first

Additional complicating factors
are introduced as the story develops but 

these only serve to reinforce the
exposure of the moral breakdown of a

society in which a character such
as Don Giovanni can exist with nothing

hindering his ability to do just
as he pleases.  He is beyond trust and

and the swath of damage that the
unchecked villain creates sweeps

throughout the opera.


humor of Leporello acts as a foil to the dastardly Don

Giovanni which entertains the
audience but also includes us as a part of

the action.  We laugh at the idea but when we think about
the number of

lives that have been
affected_especially the very young_it is horrifying

in its consequences.  We laugh, 
but then there is an element of guilt

which is part of why we are so
cheered by the fiery ending of Don

Giovanni.  We have been caught in the web of the music,
the action, the

humor and the story line and our
response is assured.


"list",  as compiled by the
accomplice Leporello, reveals 1003

women conquests of Don
Giovanni.  The question that must be
asked is

whether they were willing
participants,  victims of either their

emotional susceptability or
recipients of Don Giovanni’s physical, sexual 

and hierarchical powers.


Wollstonecraft  pointed out that women at
the time had only

their own physical beauty and
sexual allure to use to access security

within the bounds of marriage and
it seems that Don Giovanni preyed on

that with his promises.  Wollstonecraft also pointed out that women’s

lack of education prevented them
from rational judgment in many areas.

Rousseau went further to doubt
that women were even capable of

rational thought and to claim
that they were ruled by their emotions. 

Even if Don Giovanni was the most
accomplished lover in history these

societal forces would influence
women’s participation in his seductions. 

The obvious hurt that the three
women that we get to know in the opera

feel indicates to me that they
were not fairly dealt with by the powerful

charmer.  It is open to interpretation by the director
and the audience to

decide the degree to which they
are complicit in their seduction.


becomes a theme in the opera.  The
Commendatore dies

seeking to avenge his daughter’s
offense.  Donna Anna’s quest, aided by

her fiancee Don Ottavio becomes
one with that of Donna Elvira and that

of the countryman, Masetto.  The supernatural also becomes a part of the

action when the statue of the
murdered Commendatore comes to life and

takes Don Giovanni into the fires
of the damned.  Not only have personal

wrongs been committed but the
order that regulates society has been

broken.  Don Giovanni’s actions have crossed all class
barriers and this

was commonly acknowledged as a
major sin and a threat to the stability

of society.  Dante’s well-known hierarchy of sins would
have assured that

Don Giovanni was taken to a very
low level in the underworld.  The

chorus at the finale takes
comfort in the idea that "sinners end as they

begin" (Don Giovanni, page
106),  but the audience isn’t one from

middle ages and knows that the
order of the world isn’t so ideally

arranged.  It would be comforting, but it is no longer
an option for an

enlightened society who believe
in personal responsibility to accept divine



the film by Joseph Losey which we viewed 
in class, the

aristocracy of which Don Giovanni
was a member, was shown to be a

useless group with nothing to do
but drift about attending masked balls

and existing parasitically within
society. The opening scene where they

stand by dressed in their finery
and watch the skilled craftsmen make glass

is a strong statement of Losey’s
interpretation of Mozart’s meaning.  The

Mozart biography by Stafford  asserts that "Don Giovanni could be

regarded as a satire on the
dissolute manners of the aristocracy, and it

was at first banned in Munich_Masetto’s
aria is an explicit protest

against aristocratic privilege;
he is a peasant ready for armed revolt."

(page 190)  Total disregard of the servants in the room
as fellow human

being allows Don Giovanni to
comment to Leprello that they "are alone." 

Losey emphasized the depravity of
the upper class even to the point of

intimating that Donna Anna and
Donna Elvira were complicit in their

seduction with no moral
compunction about their actions.


film version of Don Giovanni by Peter Sellars goes even

further in its characterization
of  Don Giovanni, depicting him as a thug

who exists outside the bounds of
a sick society and who has resorted to

brute force and the power of his
gun to get what he wants. The opening

scenes are of an urban wasteland
in which even the dogs are searching for

scraps in order to survive.  The fun is gone from Mozart’s work as we are

made to witness the rape of Anna
and suffer with the hooker, Elvira for

her deception.  Sellars images of a dysfunctional society are
even more

obvious than Losey has pictured


Giovanni has refused to be bound by the moral rules of

society, living only to satisfy
his own physical desires.  He resorts to

disguises, trickery and the power
of his position in the community to get

what he wants.  There is no rule of reason here, only
selfish, animal

instinct.  For a person of Mozart’s "enlightened,

humanitarian" beliefs (Stafford,
page 188),  such a character would be an

anathema.  Though Don Giovanni may seem noble when he
refuses to

repent in order to be saved from
his fiery death,  I believe that Mozart

was making more of a point.  The type of character who lives only for

himself has no place in the
progressively enlightened world of  the

intellectuals of the 18th
century.  Don Giovanni is a throw back to

older world  and a type of person who needed to be
eradicated if society

was to move forward. 


Giovanni can be viewed as a clear call for change in a society

fraught with  problems. 
Stafford comments that Mozart was

in Viennese aristocracy’s eyes
with the rising and potentially

revolutionary bourgeoisie"
(page 198) but he also states that there 

absolutely no documented
reference by Mozart to the French Revolution"

(page 206), implying that Mozart
was writing from his own personally

held beliefs, not just  responding to the politics of the times. The

middle class would have had
access to performances of the opera and it

seems to me that this was
Mozart’s intended audience, not the private

audiences of select aristocrats
of previous times.  It was this class

had the budding economic clout
and the numbers to make changes in

society and needed to be warned
of the problems associated with the old

ways in order not just to repeat
mistakes of the past.  The intervention

the supernatural undercuts the
seriousness of the message but it also

allows the audience to feel a
satisfying sense of conclusion. Wrongs have

not been righted but they have
been exposed and the perpetrator is no

longer able to carry on and may
even be suffering for his sins.  The

didactic purpose of exposing the
imbalance of power is achieved and the

audience is both moved and
entertained. The emotions generated by the

music carry the work to a height
that the story alone could never reach

and the impact makes the opera
unforgettable.  The audience is as

involved today as it would have
been at the first performances.



Works Cited


John, Nicholas.  Opera
Guide Series Editor.  Don Giovanni;

Amadeus Mozart. English National Opera and The Royal Opera
House. John Calder

Publishing. London,


Stafford, William. 
The Mozart Myths; A Critical Reassessment.  Stanford

University Press.Stanford, California.


Films:  Don Giovanni;  Joseph Losey

Giovanni;  Peter Sellars





– * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – * – *



Aparente calma en la República Mexicana, más
se percibe la tensión en todo el ambiente. Es posible que allá arriba, esos que
les fascinan las entregas palaciegas, no alcancen a percibir los inevitables
cambios que se aproximan.  Me recuerdan
los prolegómenos de la Revolución Francesa, cuando la corte insensatamente
aplicaba la máxima: “Ni los veo ni los oigo”. Por cierto, ya que hablamos
involuntariamente de este “ex – presi” y sus afirmaciones sobre los masones.
Les comparto lo que se especula sobre la ópera “Don Giovanni” de Mozart y su
inmensa influencia sobre los disturbios sociales que finalizaron en la Toma de
la Bastilla. Noten ustedes lo que es capaz de desencadenar la creatividad
fuertemente enlazada con el compromiso social.


El actual grupo en el poder, inmaduro en las
arenas políticas, ha sido incapaz de desactivar el affaire Ye Gon. Tropiezo
tras tropiezo es su accionar, cada vez que pretenden limpiar un poco el
desbarajuste del financiamiento oscuro (una vez más, recuerden “amigos de FoX”)
de la campaña del “presidente electo”. Su ineptitud diplomática es cada vez más
latente. Baste como ejemplo la última declaración de Medina Mora que, si no es
porque es demasiado serio, debería provocar que nos matara de risa. No han
podido derrumbar una solo de las afirmaciones del chino-mexicano (sic).

Quisiera poner en su justa dimensión este
enredo. Cuando Ye Gon afirma que, contra su voluntad se le involucró en el
financiamiento de la campaña del partido en el poder, está hablando de la
comisión de un delito grave que llevó a tomar el poder al presidente Mexicano
actual, de esa magnitud es lo que hoy sucede en nuestro país. Y sin embargo,
sin el ánimo de reducir en modo alguno la culpabilidad de uno u otro de los
actores; no es la primera vez que un primer mandatario se encuentra en
problemas por una “filtración”.  Lo que realmente
es inédito, es la ola de ataques contra el actual presidente en funciones desde
el  país vecino. Mucha atención con ello,
desde que se publicó la entrevista en la AP (la propia CIA según el maestro
Jalife),  el chino sigue sin mostrar
respeto alguno por la investidura presidencial. Repito,  ninguno de los arquetípicos presidentes
corruptos de la era tricolor fue tan atacado desde el “extranjero” como el
presidente más repudiado que haya tenido la historia contemporánea.


Si nos tomamos la molestia de atar cabos,
desde mi muy particular punto de vista, son excesivas las filtraciones que
vienen más allá de la frontera norte. Rápidamente, a modo de ejemplo,
recordemos la filtración de la petición de aplicar un plan Colombia en
territorio nacional, el financiamiento de Ye Gon a la campaña del partido azul,
y la última la confirmación de lo que nos habían compartido a cuentagotas, la
adquisición de sofisticado equipo de espionaje, que en lenguaje de la Castilla,
significa endurecer el hostigamiento a los luchadores sociales que siguen en
resistencia en México.


Quisiera insistir, a riesgo de parecer
obstinado, que todas estas estrategias mediáticas tienen un solo objetivo:
probar el temple del movimiento pacífico en el país. Y no es gratuito lo que
afirmo, también se los dijo el maestro Jalife; lo que ustedes están realizando
todos los días allá abajo es histórico y novedoso. Son ustedes el primer
laboratorio de un movimiento social de esa magnitud en este siglo, de ese nivel
estamos hablando. De tal manera que es importante que no dejemos escapar la
oportunidad que nos brinda el affaire Ye-Gon. ¿Notaron ustedes que, en cuanto
otra vez los reflectores apuntaron a los juniors Bibriesca, la ex “first lady”
fabricó otro cuento melcochón? Mántenganse alerta porque las cortinas de humo
son la especialidad de los mediocres en el poder, pero creo que esa táctica
comienza a agotarse, por más que algunos “analistas” insistan en comentar estas
notas de “sociales” en vez de dirigir nuestros esfuerzos a desentrañar la nota
del sexenio.


Bueno pues, sigamos observando si siguen “filtrando”
noticias desde el norte y su nivel de importancia, porque al parecer esto no
acaba. Y no ha terminado, por la simple y sencilla razón de su resistencia que
tiene casi paralizado al país. Mi pronóstico es que van a continuar, y los que
detentan “ilícitamente” el poder intentarás atomizar noticias señuelo para
desviar la atención, pero sobre todo para desgastar la resistencia. Al tiempo.





… El efecto MOZART.








too…" – Imagine (John Lennon).





P.D.MALORA. "…mientras tanto cuidate/y que te bendiga DIOS/no hagas
nada MALO/que no hiciera YO…" – Las Piedras rodando se encuentran (El





P.D.APOCALIPTICA. "…más se ENTREGA cual si hubiera SOLO UN DIA para
AMAR…" – El Breve Espacio (Pablo Milanés).







P.D.TELEVISIVA. "…muy grandes son su soberbia, su arrogancia y su
altivez; pero sus mentiras no serán firmes…" – Isaías 16:6 (Casiodoro de
Reina, 1569).

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