Please note this opera is available at www.metopera.org.
Met Free Streaming – Week 10
Friday, May 22
Mozart’s Don Giovanni – Viewers’ Choice ~ 3Hrs and 2Mins
Conducted by Richard Bonynge, starring Joan Sutherland, James Morris, and Gabriel Bacquier. Transmitted live on March 16, 1978.
In March of 1977, the Met presented its inaugural performance of the Live from the Met TV series — the Peabody Award–winning program which ran on public television for more than 25 years. A very early performance in the series was this 1978 production of Mozart’s classic dark comedy, Don Giovanni, starring celebrated bass-baritone James Morris as the great seducer of the title, along with an exceptional cast featuring soprano Joan Sutherland as Donna Anna, baritone Gabriel Bacquier as Leporello, Julia Varady as Donna Elvira and bass John Macurdy as the Commendatore. On the podium, Richard Bonynge (Sutherland’s husband) led a buoyant performance of Herbert Graf’s classic production.
Imbuing the familiar Don Juan legend with a captivating combination of comedy, seductiveness, danger, and damnation, Mozart and his gifted librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, created a widely loved masterpiece. The opera, which unfolds in two (very long!) acts, takes eight extraordinary voices to carry off. It is truly an ensemble production. Morris was most definitely in his prime, and even in her 50’s, Sutherland was a vocal force majeure.
The curtain rises on Leporello’s humorous lament (he is Giovanni’s man servant) detailing how he works night and day with no rest, “Notte e giorno faticar.” Since at that particular moment, it is in fact late at night and he is keeping watch while the Don seduces yet another woman – Donna Anna – his complaints seem justified. This particular seduction does not go well, however, and Donna Anna escapes calling for help. When her father, the Commendatore comes to her aid, he is slain by Giovanni who escapes with Leporello. The distraught Donna Anna is comforted by her fiancé, Don Ottavio, and she extracts from him a pledge to avenge her father.
In the next scene we find the Don and Leporello in the town square – scouting new prospects – when who should arrive but the fiery Donna Elvira – searching for the cad who seduced her and ran. After a rather humorous scene in which the Don slips away and leaves Leporello to deal with the conflicted (angry, but still in love), Donna Elvira, Leporello counsels her to give up her hopeless quest. To bolster his case, he produces an (extremely thick) journal containing his list of the Don’s conquests all across Europe which he details for her in the wonderfully humorous ‘catalog aria’ – “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” (My dear lady, this is the list…of the beauties my master has loved). Elvira is certainly taken aback (“but …. in Spain, there are 1003!”) however, she is not dissuaded.
In the meantime, Giovanni has come upon a wedding party. The joyful peasants Zerlina and Masetto are about to wed and the Don, now turning his amorous attentions on Zerlina, invites the party to his palace – taking Zerlina aside and telling Leporello to distract Masetto. Giovanni’s next seduction attempt – with the famous and beautiful duet, “Là ci darem la mano” (There we will give each other our hands), in which he tells her she is destined for a better life and promises to marry her, is just about to produce the desired effect when who should reappear but the now incensed, Elvira, who drags Zerlina away to take her back to Masetto. As Giovanni wonders whether the stars are against him on this particular day, Donna Anna and Ottavio appear to enlist his help in finding the murderer of her father – which of course he offers – until Elvira once again appears and tries to warn Anna not to trust Giovanni, “Non ti fidar, o misera, Di quel ribaldo cor!” (Do not trust his duplicitous heart, miserable woman). Insisting Elvira is mad, Don Giovanni leads her away, but in bidding Ottavio and Anna adieu, it slowly dawns on Anna that she recognizes his voice as that of her father’s murderer and she again asks Ottavio to avenge her, “Or sai chi l’onore…” (Now you know who sought to steal my honor).
Alone, Ottavio has his big aria, “Dalla sua pace la mia dipende” (On her peace of mind depends mine too… what pleases her gives life to me). Meanwhile, the Don is back to his usual tricks, instructing Leporello to get everything ready for an evening of wine and dancing with the wonderful drinking song, – “Finch’han dal vino calda la testa,” (Till they have got enough wine and are hot-headed), and separately, Zerlina has been reunited with Masetto, begging him for forgiveness, “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” (Beat me, dear Masetto). The first act finally ends (I warned you they were long acts!) when Elvira, Anna and Ottavio attend the Don’s big party in disguise, save Zerlina from the Don yet again, and publicly accuse him of murder — he barely escapes (by pushing Leporello into accusers), and still wondering whether the stars have not turned against him.
The second act begins as Giovanni convinces (with coins, of course) a most reluctant Leporello not to resign and instead to help him with his next conquest – this time it is Elvira’s maid – whom he proceeds to serenade, but only after he has first switched clothes with Leporello, and Leporello, now disguised as Giovanni, has led the unsuspecting Elvira away from the new seduction attempt, “Deh, vieni alla finestra, o mio tesoro,” (O come to the window, beloved).
Once again, however, the seduction is interrupted, this time by Masetto with a band of peasants hunting Giovanni. Disguised as Leporello, they do not recognize Giovanni and he manages to send the mob off in other directions – except for Masetto, whom he attacks and leaves. Happily, Zerlina finds the battered Masetto and in “Vedrai, carino….” (Come, beloved, shall I tell thee how what befell thee, soon can be cured), kisses away his pain.
We have, however, yet to see the outcome of Leporello’s impersonation of the Don and attempted seduction of Elvira; Octavio’s last, lovely aria, “Il mio tesoro intanto Andate a consolar” (To my beloved, o hasten, To comfort, to comfort her sad heart) in which he re-dedicates himself to revenge; Elvira’s anger at yet another betrayal, “Mi tradì, quell’alma ingrata,” (Cruel heart, thou hast betray’d me); Giovanni and Leporello’s encounter with the (talking) statue of the Commendatore in a graveyard where they are hiding from the mob; their invitation to supper for the statue; and the supper that is, in fact, to be Giovanni’s last – “Don Giovanni! A cenar teco m’invitasti” – (Don Giovanni! You invited me to dine with you). The statue offers him one final opportunity to repent, but Don Giovanni adamantly refuses and is consequently dragged down to a fiery hell right before our eyes…. truly a fitting, and dazzling end to a brilliant – and beautiful – opera!
1. James Morris in the title role of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Photo: Met Opera Archives.
2. Joan Sutherland as Donna Anna in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Photo: Met Opera Archives.
3. Huguette Tourangeau as Zerlina and James Morris as Don Giovanni. Photo: Met Opera Archives.
4. John Macurdy as the Commendatore in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Met. Photo: Met Opera Archives.