Kentucky Opera to Present DON GIOVANNI at Brown Theatre, 2/15 & 17

Kentucky Opera presents its final production of the 60th Anniversary Season with Mozart's Don Giovanni. Performances run Friday, February 15th at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, February 17th at 2:00 p.m. in the Brown Theatre. For tickets, call (502) 584-7777 or go online at

Thomson Smillie has graciously shared his insight and thinking about Don Giovanni.

For much of its history Don Giovanni has been considered by many to be the greatest opera ever written. The description is of course subjective because there can no more be a greatest opera than a greatest book or a greatest painting. But that has never stopped the wordsmiths and even a short exposure to the story of the last day in the life of the rake Don Juan (Italianised for the opera) shows why.

It is the work of probably the greatest combination of librettist (who wrote the words) and composer in history - Lorenzo da Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. If that sounds as wild a claim as the one about 'the world's greatest opera', consider that in a period of a few years they gave the world The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. Closest rivals are Arrigo Boito and Verdi (Otello and Falstaff) and the firm of Wagner and Wagner, (who wrote his own libretti.)

Like all great theatre works success starts with the plot. The story of Don Juan and his last adventures dates back maybe 200 years before Mozart to 16th century Spain. The dramatic device of having the Don kill a distinguished old soldier, encounter the dead man's statue and invite it to dinner is a fine one and gives rise to one of the great confrontations and most chilling denouements in opera.

Da Ponte had to pad out the legend somewhat and in doing so created a drama peopled with richly variegated characters: noble women like Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, grand characters like the too noble to be true Don Ottavio, a grumbling servant Leporello and some very truculent peasants.

Like all masterpieces Don Giovanni can be enjoyed on several levels. The story is exciting and titillating, it is action-packed and often very funny. Yet the undercurrents are invariably dark and the single most important fact to keep always in mind is that this is the last day in the life of Don Giovanni. Baritones may strut, woo Zerlina in sugared tones and toss off the Champagne aria, but nemesis approaches.

Take this idea of many levels of meaning. Then take just one aria, the so-called Catalogue aria in which the servant Leporello disabuses Donna Elvira of the notion that she is Don Giovanni's only love. On the surface it is funny to hear the servant list all those hundreds of conquests with the simply killing punch line: 'but in Spain already, 1,003', and he repeats: '1,003. 1,003'. Then try thinking yourself into the mind of the noble, very Catholic, immediate ex-virgin and Spanish provincial lady who believes he loved her alone. Then the aria takes on tones of deepest cruelty.

But it is - as ultimately it has to be - the music which defines the experience. Mozart was in the last decade of his short life and at the peak of his immense powers. From the first terrifying bars of the overture with their deeply menacing chords of D minor through numerous solos, duets and, especially those quintets and sextets of which Mozart was both creator and never-surpassed master, he builds an architectonic structure as impressive in scale and sheer 'rightness' as a mediaeval cathedral. The climactic scene when the Don is dragged down to hell is among the most famous in opera - those D minor chords again -- and proves that though opera would develop after Mozart it never got more sophisticated or more profoundly moving.

SOURCE: Louisville Culture Vulture

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