When Your Comeuppance Comes Calling

October 11, 2016  Preview of Met Live in HD Broadcast

Mozart’s masterpiece Don Giovanni, one of the most enduring staples of the operatic stage, premiered in Prague in 1787. Don Giovanni combines romance, comedy, drama, horror; and of course, Mozart’s exquisite writing for the voice set to an exceptional libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. The tale is an old one; indeed, everyone knows what a Don Juan is. The story of the legendary libertine has been told and retold numerous times in numberless guises.

Its origin in print is most likely a seventeenth-century Spanish play by Tirso de Molina entitled The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest. In it, Don Juan, a despicable rogue and heartless libertine, takes great pleasure in seducing women (usually virgins) and killing their men with his expert sword play. Eventually, Don Juan meets his comeuppance, encountering in a graveyard a statue of Don Gonzalo, the dead father of a girl he has seduced and ruined, Doña Ana de Ulloa. Mockingly, the unrepentant sinner invites the statue to dine with him; surprisingly, the statue happily accepts the invitation. The “Stone Guest” of the title arrives for dinner at Don Juan’s house and in turn invites Don Juan to dine with him in the graveyard. Don Juan accepts and goes to the gravesite, where the statue grasps Don Juan’s hand and drags him down to Hell.

This essentially is the story as related by Da Ponte, with much additional sexual intrigue as well as some comic relief. Saturday’s broadcast features a traditional design. Simon Keenlyside stars as the appealing rakehell who forges his own doom. That he meets his retribution in the end provides a degree of satisfaction, although it may be that one is sad to see the entertaining rascal go, dragged down to hell by the weight of his sins.

Opera is the summation of all the theatrical arts; the word itself means “works,” as in the various arts that meld together to create the unified whole: music, poetry, costuming, setting, lighting, and on and on. A tale told in music, with high style and great virtuosity: what’s not to love?

John Deaderick is a theatre artist and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at Amazon.com.