Don Giovanni

by Andrea Elizabeth

Don Giovanni is considered the greatest opera by many great men, including Kierkegaard and Tchaikovsky. However, it ranks 10th of most performed operas. I would say that this is because women don’t like it as much. It’s not so much that it makes them look bad, but because their best and happiest choice isn’t their first choice. When the women submit to their proper lot, thankfully tension is relieved. The dogged devotion of the one available woman, Elvira, is pretty pitiful.

But Kierkegaard is about keeping the tension. I read a preview in another review of the opera that Kierkegaard tributes Don Juan with giving life to milktoast people, “The desperate Don’s comeuppance, though, strikes me as unfair. As Kierkegaard noted in Either/Or, Don Giovanni is the opera‘s erotically animating presence. “His passion resonates everywhere; it resonates in and supports the Commendatore’s earnestness, Elvira’s wrath, Anna’s hate, Ottavio’s pomposity, Zerlina’s anxiety, Mazetto’s indignation, Leporello’s confusion. As the hero in the opera, Don Giovanni is the denominator of the piece.” Take him away and you’re left with the bourgeois moralising of the opera’s epilogue – an epilogue that any director worth their salt would cut were it not for Mozart’s music.”

Further down in the same article, ” “I see this piece as a study of man’s fear of death,” said Guth, when asked what is modern about this opera about an 18th-century rake.”

Zerlina comes off pretty well since she protested before it was too late, even though she was initially tempted. She came to terms with her own thirst for fire, and through her fiance’s indignation and willingness to fight, she was convinced and found resolution. To her, being satisfied with her husband was not death. To Donna Anna, Don Juan had to die. To Elvira and Don Juan, her not having him, and his not having all women, was death. They were too far gone.

This attributing life-giving properties to Don Juan almost sounds like saying evil is necessary. It is true that conflict enlivens a story and that worthy opponents are the most satisfying. But Orthodox don’t go there. And we don’t know what the alternative could have been. But can we only enjoy heaven if we have to overcome the temptations of this fallen world? Is heaven really boring on its own? Surely not. I think boredom is also a product of the fall.