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Don Giovanni’s terrifying descent into Hell inspired Ignatius Spencer to become a Catholic: but without faith, a secular age doesn’t get Mozart, either

Go to Garsington this year for the music: the stage director hasn’t a clue what Don Giovanni is really about

By on Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Don Giovanni, here performed at Garsington, used to be seen as a moral drama

Don Giovanni, here performed at Garsington, used to be seen as a moral drama

Yesterday evening, I saw the Garsington Opera’s new production of Don Giovanni. If you have tickets (if you haven’t, don’t bother, it’s sold out) you can look forward to a musical performance of great distinction: Garsington over the years has worked steadily at its musical standards, and they are now very high. Musically, this Don Giovanni is ravishing.

But the production: well, it was only to be expected, I suppose. Opera directors these days, as a matter of course, go in for modernised costume and sets, usually of some wholly inappropriate period, and nearly always understand the dramatic action of the opera in some perverse way which goes entirely against the grain of the opera’s original intention. This production is set firmly in the sex-obsessed high tech here and now.

Thus, last night, the opera’s opening scenes, in which Leporello stands guard while Don Giovanni attempts to rape the Commendatore’s daughter Donna Anna, having broken into her house, were wholly distorted. This is what is supposed to happen: they both appear; Giovanni is masked but Donna Anna is holding his arm trying pluckily to detain him in order to find out who he is; she cries for help. The commendatore appears; Don Giovanni kills him and escapes.

This, if you please, is entirely transformed into a scene in which it is Donna Anna — dressed in the kind of raunchy clothing you can see if you inadvertently have a look in the window of an Ann Summers sexy gear shop —who is seducing Don Giovanni, not the other way round. Her detaining grip is transformed into the kind of handcuffs you can also no doubt acquire in an Ann Summers emporium, with which she fastens him to a table while preparing to work her wicked way (she has also blindfolded him). The commendatore (in dressing gown and pyjamas) just happens to stumble in and is understandably somewhat put out by what is going on on his dining room table. Leporello gets Don Giovanni out of his handcuffs, then Don Giovanni kills the Commendatore. Donna Anna, not pleased, changes out of her sexy gear and becomes all virtuous.

From that point on, I realised that this was going to be yet another in the growing list of travesties I have witnessed over the years committed by opera directors who show every sign of actually despising the operas they are directing (in Paris I once saw a production of La Sonnambula, in which the heroine’s perilous sleepwalking scene was made particularly dangerous for the singer by having to walk from the top of one of the huge wardrobes with which the stage was filled to the top of another, and so across the stage, singing the while with her eyes shut: the set designer and director, when they appeared on stage to take their bow, were roundly booed by a classic Parisian claque, the only time I have ever witnessed this splendid phenomenon).

The point about Don Giovanni, is that though usually classified as an opera buffa (comic opera), it is also intended to have a very powerful moral dimension. When I saw Donna Anna portrayed as a raunchy seductress, I had more than a suspicion that the director wouldn’t know what to do with that element of Don Giovanni at all, and I turned out to be right.

Not, mind you, that he is the first one just not to get it. The final scene, in which the seducer is dragged off to hellfire by demons, having refused the opportunity to express penitence for his life, is clearly intended to be in deadly earnest; Mozart underlines this with music of terrifying dramatic power (in the “supernatural” key of D minor): the idea of being dragged down to hell wasn’t an idea which he could take anything but very seriously.

This is how the opera was seen until modern times: as a moral drama. Its original title was Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni (The Rake punished or, Don Giovanni). The concluding ensemble delivers the moral of the opera – “Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life” (“Questo è il fin”). Its potential dramatic effect is illustrated most famously by the Hon George Spencer, who was so unnerved by this depiction of the effects of a dissolute life followed by final impenitence that it was one reason for him becoming a Catholic: his conversion to the Catholic faith was gradual, but one of the key moments undoubtedly came while he was watching Don Giovanni in Paris in 1870. He later said the terrifying scene of Don Giovanni’s being dragged below by demons, surrounded by flames, caused him to reflect seriously on his own spiritual condition. He is now, of course, the Blessed Ignatius Spencer, a candidate for canonisation.

At Garsington, it was difficult to know what was supposed to be going on. The commendatore turned up for the opera’s denouement dressed as a military officer covered in medals. You didn’t know if he was dead or not (throughout the opera, you were shown him in a kind of tableau, surrounded by medical attendants, in intensive care); in the end, Don Giovanni, far from being dragged away by demons, simply collapses into the commendatore’s wheelchair, where he appears to have expired of a heart attack: when everyone starts to ask where he is (real answer, Hell, actually) they just turn the wheelchair round so you can’t see his face. That was it: a sudden death, but not exactly a frightening one; just one of those unexplained fatal heart attacks that young men sometimes suffer.

And yet you could see the real message of the opera in the surtitles; “Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life”. But you weren’t supposed to be paying any attention to that: the message of the performance was look at this, what a gas; hey, and listen to the music too, not bad, huh?

The moral of the production (as distinct from the moral of the opera) is that we are living in an age in which moral seriousness of any kind is seen as practically the only unforgivable sin; an age in which those in a position to do it will engage in almost any stratagem to avoid it. Catholics, of course, can see all that clearly enough, as long as we are not actually drawn into it (and with the spectacle before a man of the beautiful Natasha Jouhl as Donna Anna, all got up in her Ann Summers gear, one easily could be): but it’s comparatively easy for Catholics, as long as we remember always, like a mantra, that we are called on (JPII) to be “signs of contradiction” to all that. But what if you don’t know that?

Well, then, life can get complicated. The moral is: Just keep your eyes on the surtitles: then you’ll know what’s really going on.

  • kentgeordie

    What has always struck me about Don G is that we never actually see him getting his evil way. When he tries, he fails, and anyway the women seem just as keen on him as t’other way about. It’s definitely not about evil seducer v. innocent victims. Like life, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

  • Romulus

    One production of Don Giovanni I’ve seen was in period costume and played it pretty much straight down the middle until “Questo è il fin”, which was delivered with unmistakeable irony.  I thought that quite effective actually, and can easily imagine Mozart winking at this point.  As with the  near-revolutionary Le Nozze (quoted in DG’s final scene), Mozart was quite ready to advance the subversive suggestion that powerful aristocratic men expect to get away with it and often succeed.   Though the pieties had to be observed to please the Viennese censors, “Viva la libertà” is surely closer to what our favorite freemason had in mind.

  • W Oddie

    Nonsense. The women who are keen on him think he loves them, that’s how he seduces them. Then he dumps them, the swine. It’s not complicated at all.

  • paulpriest

    It’s the modern way : change the telos and you can alter the meaning of moral principles aimed towards it…

    Using contraception gets distorted into ‘contraceptive mentality’ and you end up with certain Catholic representatives calling condoms ‘normative catholic pastoral practice’ against hiv and arguing for rhonheimer’s ‘prophylactic intention’ ; saying ‘the Church is not against condoms’…
    …and further it turns into justification for GIFT, the perverted quasi-sanctification of Natural family Planning as a ‘minor good’ [In 'Faith' Magazine of all places!!] – thus distorting the very nature of children as a gift and an additional grace – thus scandalously imposing a non-existent moral disorder upon lovemaking infertile & menopausal couples! And if you think this is hyperbole only a few months ago Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith spoke on here of the awkwardness of marrying infertile couples in the same-sex marriage debate!!! A total misunderstanding of the telos of the act, the very nature of the unified nature of the persons in a marriage and prospective or limited family…

    Distorting the very notion of Personhood has allowed ludicrous propositions by supposed Catholic ethicists like  the Anscombe centre’s Dr Helen Watts on implantation being a necessary criterion – and thus we enter the nightmare territory of ANT & OVA where the production of anencephalic or unimplantable embryos is justified for experimentation – you think i’m being ludicrous – we have major Vatican-based Dominicans and top Catholic ‘ethicists’ and ‘moral’ theologians arguing that very case!!

    Distorting the telos of marriage – changing the AIM of marriage as the unifying love overflowing into being graced by God to conceive, bear and rear children – into becoming ITS VERY PURPOSE… i.e. we enter Richard Dawkins territory of the selfish gene where the purpose of chickens is merely to produce more eggs – GKC’s analogy of the hammer’s purpose only being to make more hammers…and if you think this is exaggeration did you see the travesty of Catholic Voices Austen Ivereigh trying to argue this Utiliporn – Utilitarian pornography – as if it were a natural [secular] ancient human cultural phenomenon?!!!

    There is nothing more farcical than seeing hundreds of so-called defenders of marriage flooding the media when they themselves don’t have a bloody clue what marriage is – they’ve forgotten what Christ & St Paul & 2000 years of Church teaching has said about the very nature of marriage – and ergo lost the plot!!

    Yet our Catholic commentators have little reticence in denouncing same-sex marriage advocates for arguing along the same lines regarding marriage being only about narcissistic mutual masturbatory love…dare we shout ‘abject hypocrisy’ and a plague upon all their houses?!!
    They’re supposed to be defending the natural and supernatural wonder of marriage and instead they’re denying and destroying the very principle behind it!!

    It’s like Castii Connubii, Pius XII’s allocutios and Humanae Vitae never happened!!!

    Do we need to go on to end of life scenarios with the diabolically reckless Liverpool care pathway abrogating its responsibilities to those Living but dying who deserve the utmost dignity? Change the telos of Living until a natural death and you enter into subversively evil utilitarian sentimentality…

    We were warned generations ago in CS Lewis’s “The abolition of man” that the evil will come not by the ostensible changing of the principle – but by the perversion of its entelechy which will axiomatically violate and bastardise the understanding, motivation, justification and actuation of the principle!!

    And it hapened in the Post Vatican II Church.
    We may claim like Father Z  that we need to “Save the Liturgy:Save the World” but I’m afraid he’s missing the fundamental error that’s occurred – he wishes to defend the principles while it’s the telos that’s being demonically assauted all around us!

    The Sacraments are being violated at every turn – by the systemic ideological corruption and peversion of what they truly are…their nature, their substance, their dignity, their efficacy, their entelechy and the consummate overwhleming complementary & supplementary graces they bestow…

    The assault on original sin, the scandalous diminution/homogenisation of Priesthood & the apostolic commission, the endemic violation of marriage, the donatistic/pelagian scourges against the confessional, the abrogation of the dignity, authenticity and mandate of Confirmation and…what’s almost the worst of them all…our negligence when it comes to wondrous Divine Mercy within extreme unction and consequently our disenfranchising,dispossessing and abandoning those who have died and the souls in the Church Penitant…

    …and when it comes to the Blessed Sacrament? Where can we begin?
    Little wonder Mother Theresa said the most terrible thing in the world was Communion in the hand…
    When we’ve turned the manifestion of of the Real Presence – our return to calvary to witness and become one with the sacrificial Christ in toto…
     - into a communal meal !!!????
    Even the diabolical bastardisation by the Tabletista when they announce it’s ‘ourselves becoming eucharist’ – yes we all think we’re God’s gift and we have no greater pleasure than giving ourselves to ourselves…as is exemplified by the ‘liturgical shenanigans’ of half the congregation prancing round the raised platform ‘sanctuary’ round the orange box ‘table of the Lord’ in bri-nylon as self-appointed minister of this, that and the other…

    God made man dying and giving His entire Being for our salvation is turned into what?
    Yes…the telos was perverted..and thereby the very purpose and nature and underlying motives were destroyed in the process…and little wonder millions became incredulous and refused to attend such delusional scandalous mockery….

    Many Catholics are very mistaken if they think the Devil works by attacking or preventing them from performing what they’re doing…Satan is much more productive and victorious when he destroys the reasons why we’re doing it. We’re no longer seeing through a glass darkly…if we listen to our modernistic cohorts in academe and professional administrative inculcation who promote lay empowerment and desacralised ‘new humanism’ – we’re blindfolded!!!

  • kentgeordie

     Thank you for your courteous and thoughtful comment.

  • JByrne24

    It’s a modern production W Oddie, and you disliked it. Perhaps that is all? From the little I know of your thinking, through your writings, I could easily have predicted this before you went. I note you have found modern productions of other works to be also distasteful (at best) and lacking any moral message. 

    If, in your day, you had been a student of history, you would now know that in every age many (i.e. most people) have thought that they were living in a time of crisis and moral decadence. You, I believe, are one of the many of our day.

    Modern productions have a wealth of new insight and interest to offer, but they need to be approached in an open-minded way. There are some: “who see in the pearl only the disease of the oyster”. This is a pity.

  • Recusant

    Could you give me an example of a modern production of Mozart that had anything enlightening to say? I can think of only one – Jonathan Miller’s Cosi Fan Tutte at Covent Garden. The rest are grim, grim, grim. Mozart suffers especially, I think. The most recent Figaro and Don Giovanni at ENO were ghastly and died quick deaths, fortunately.

    Funnily enough, this doesn’t seem to affect Beethoven : I saw a magnificent Fidelio at Holland Park two years ago that specifically tied the opera’s themes of love and courage to Catholic virtues.

  • AnnieB

    I saw a production, not operatic, some years ago and the final scene was truly terrifying and silenced the audience. It was a “traditional” production and I certainly went home in a reflective mood. It was during my “resting” phase. Don’t under estimate the power of the story well told.

  • John

    A similar instance to the one in Paris happened in NewYork at the Met. It was a production of Lohengrin. The Opera deals with the transition from Paganism to Christianity, but in the production all Christian symbolism, and all stagecraft was reduced to neon/laser effect lights. The singers were given thunderous applause but the production director was booed off the stage. 

  • jorchard2

    I wrote a paper on this opera several years ago–mainly on the character (or
    lack of character) of Don Giovanni–citing his general lack of identity, and
    lack of any sort of self-reflection. His solo numbers never take account of who
    he is, and he never fully reveals himself to others in ensembles. Only Leporello
    knows what he is up to.

    I was amazed to see how people (men and women) were in love with Don
    Giovanni, and how effectively Mozart portrays him as a seducer. He even seduces
    the audience. Apparently, he has done so to the point that directors think that
    Mozart believed in Don Giovanni’s perverted vision of the world: that all women
    want to have him make love to them. That is all they want, and that is all they
    are worth.

    To the contrary, Mozart and Da Ponte, in the tradition of the morality play,
    balance weakness and virtue to great effect. But this is lost on the modern
    mind. Alas.

  • theroadmaster

    It seems that modern day productions of stage or television,whether in relation to Classic Opera or iconic romantic novels, have to discard the original intended plot-lines of the composer or author, and resort to  “sexed-up” versions instead.  Some critics favor this approach, stating that this approach would make much more sense to modern audiences, who would not be attracted to the more restrained, conservative approach to stage or television productions.  But this would be to insult the intelligence of today’s Opera-goers or fans of televised drama, who 
    generally appreciate  works which are faithful to the original Opera, play or novel.

  • W Oddie

    Oh, but I was indeed a student of history; that’s how I know  superficial this is. 

  • Parasum

    “He later said the terrifying scene of Don Giovanni’s being dragged below
    by demons, surrounded by flames, caused him to reflect seriously on his
    own spiritual condition. He is now, of course, the Blessed Ignatius
    Spencer, a candidate for canonisation.”

    ## One wonders what the very numerous theologians who (in continuity with the Fathers – sort of) regarded the stage as immoral, would have thought of *that*. 

    “…it’s comparatively easy for Catholics, as long as we remember always,
    like a mantra, that we are called on (JPII) to be “signs of
    contradiction” to all that.”

    ## The pity is that this can easily be mistaken for an exhortation to behave like jerks.

  • Parasum

    If people can’t see that Milton undermines Satan, in “Paradise Lost”, and takes care to show how utterly despicable he is, no wonder a similar blunder is made here. If it glisters, it must be gold.

  • Parasum

    What about Christian virtues ? What about virtues ?

  • Parasum

    “We were warned generations ago in CS Lewis’s “The abolition of man” that the evil will come not by the ostensible changing of the principle – but by the perversion of its entelechy which will axiomatically violate and bastardise the understanding, motivation, justification and actuation of the principle!!”

    ## Every Vatican-dweller, the Pope included, should be required to read that book. It’s better than almost anything any Catholic has produced in the last 50 years. The V-Ds should also read “The Good Pagan’s Failure”, by Rosalind Murray, published in 1939. Then they should read all the essays of Dorothy Sayers. There is more sense, and more Christianity, and more Christian wisdom, and more goodness, in those three authors (only one of whom was a Catholic), than in all the deluge of polysyllabic Roman verbiage unloosed on the Church in the last 50 years.

    One of the worst books perpetrated by the Vatican Press is the “General Directory for Catechesis” – it is an inexhaustible treasury of badly-written English & jargon, a jungle of intertwined and sesquipedalian polysyllabic monstrosities that would delight the heart of any Whitehall bureaucrat, since it is the work of bureaucrats. Like many bad books it is unconscionably long. Its authors are to Catholic theology what Gloria Tesch is to “young adult” fantasy.

  • Parasum

    His Freemasonry seems to have been rather good for him: would he have been able to write “The Magic Flute” if he had complied with the Papal condemnation of Masonry of 1738 ?

    “Viva la libertà” indeed !

  • Anna B

    Michael Grandage’s new production of Don Giovanni at the Met last year was faithful to the libretto, morally serious and carefully thought through. The dinner scene was particularly gripping. It was clear even before the Commendatore’s entrance how Don Giovanni was unravelling morally and becoming increasingly brutal as a result of his crimes (whereas in many, even traditional-minded interpretations Giovanni is seen as a bit of a hero for refusing to repent and ‘remaining true to himself’). I saw the opera broadcast live in HD, something which I highly recommend.

  • Guest


  • W Oddie

    It’s the MUSIC that tells you he wasn’t “winking”: this is deadly serious

  • charlesx

    I don’t think one can complain about a production of Don Giovanni being sex-obsessed. Much of the opera is – 1003 and all that.  

  • Recusant

    His lodge was not condemned – he very specifically chose it for tis reason.

  • Atwomey

    What about them? This production finished with the freed prisoners takg bread and wine, a very Catholic reference.

  • awkwardcustomer

    How can a secular age take on board the concept of Hell if the men of the Church make comments like this?

    ‘We’re Not Bound To Believe That There’s Anyone In Hell’.

    So claimed Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, when being interviewed by Luke Coppen for the Catholic Herald, 7th January, 2005. 

  • Daclamat

    You seem to have spent a lot of time looking around Ann Summers.  In advertantly, of course. raunchy clothing;handcuffs you can also no doubt acquire in an Ann Summers emporium;sex-obsessed high tech here and now;.goings on on his dining room table. I’m not sure whether to congratulate Dr Oddie for arousing our curiosity, let alone our baser instincts. Is this the place for a “leading journalist” on the Catholic Herald. Still, what with the convicted embezzler on your board of directors we should be prepared for anything.

  • Don Jose

    Dr. Oddie forgets to mention that Don Giovanni has masonic thoughts more than roman catholic thoughts (perhaps there is not difference between them at all?!) and that Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte were fervently masonic. 

    Don Giovanni is among the others characters the most honest because he does not disguise what he thinks, but rather says what he thinks without any ties to morality, friendship or honour. 

    I am amazed that people distort things such as this to suit what they want to think. Of course there is a sense of punishment when Don Giovanni is dragged to Hell, but the point is that if you do not want to go to Hell you must not be yourself, but what Society wants you to be.

    Donna Anna uses Don Ottavio. Don Ottavio is jealous and stupid. Leoporello sells himself for any money, however small. Masseto e Zerlina are shepherds who are attracted by the wealth of Don Giovanni.  Forgetting their honour to enjoy a good meal in Don Giovanni’s palazzo, Don Elvira, a hysterical woman, wants to punish Don Giovanni, but falls in his arms (Leporello’s disguise) when he sings a ballade. Are they more pious than Don Giovanni? on contrary!
    Don Giovanni is the only one who does whatever he wants – he is free, remember when they sing “Viva la Liberta”, he is the only from the Dons.. (Don Anna, Don Octavio and Donna Elvira ) that does not wear a mask when he sings it. and he is not afraid of Hell and has the guts to shake the cold hand of the commendatore.
    I like that freedom, but unfortunately the society and its norms do not like and it can takes one to Hell. But there is always a rebirth like phenix! It is like the debate of Gay marriage now the pious (they think they are, but at the end they are avoiding taxes or betraying their wives and husbands) wants to impose their norms to everyone else and the ones are not in are the Don Giovannis rotten in hell!A religious opera that would turn me to go to monastery is, for example, Parsifal.  But Don Giovanni just tells me go on enjoying life as I please.

  • Lazarus

    Rather missing the message, methinks. Don Giovanni and phoenixes may both burn, but phoenixes recover whilst men do not.

  • Cestius

    Theologically the cardinal was correct in that the Church has never declared anyone to be in hell, such a pronouncement would be usurping God’s authority and mercy as the Judge of all.  So therefore it is a theoretical possibility that hell is empty. But the warnings in the Bible are quite clear – repent and turn to Christ or you could well end up there. Hell is an eternity without God. If your stubborn will and pride will not allow you to submit to Him and let Him into your life as your friend and Savior, then you may well remain a prisoner of your own pride for all eternity. Just like Don Giovanni.

  • stevhep

    Just keep your eyes on the surtitles: then you’ll know what’s really going on.”
    In psalm 118/9 the psalmist prays “Avert my eyes from pointless images, by your word give me life”. Which in this context very much means read the word don’t bother about the pictures. On my blog I wrote anent this-

    “. It may be a metaphor for the things which blind the eyes of the heart, but, there are too very many actual images, pointless and aimless, which attract and hold the eyes in our head. It is an often used cliché, sometimes employed even by the fiercest of those partisans of absolute individual autonomy, that we are “bombarded with images”. And it is true but not the whole truth. Frequently, daily, hourly, we choose many of those images with which to bombard ourselves. We choose what pictures will distract us. We choose what images will strengthen our resolve to commit actual sin and give us new and varied pleasures of selfish gain. It is not a wholly free choice but a choice it certainly is. Whether it be the Shopping Channel or the Pornography Channel it is a means to reinforce the inclinations we wish to reinforce and drown out the heart voice that calls for us to gaze upon that beyond images which contains all images as realities.” 

  • paulpriest

     sorry – was just a cathartic distraction – relation ill

  • JByrne24

    A breath of fresh air Don Jose.
    As you suggest, moralisers (mostly Catholic, but always Christian) seized on this work at an early date, and moulded it to suit their purposes (I mean it has sexual connotations after all!) and made hay while their Sun shone.  
    Today the moralisers’ Sun has dimmed and we are seeing the work in a truer light – to the displeasure of conservative traditionalists and others (reminiscent of Communists) who believe that art, with music high on the list, should reflect an ideological agenda.

  • JByrne24

    Yes, there seems to be some confusion on this point. A former German Chancellor is often deemed (by those ignorant of the Church’s teaching) to reside in hell.
    However, due to our (self & spouse) Catholic Grammar school educations we know this opinion to be false.
    Hitler is in Heaven – because he really thought that he was bringing great benefits to his nation and to the world.

  • Romulus

    I have to admit I find “The Magic Flute” unbearably turgid and earnest.  The music is lovely but the plot starts silly and gets only worse.  If the Vatican itself had secretly commissioned the work to make Freemasonry look ridiculous, it could not have succeeded more brilliantly.

  • Jfi

    On Contrary! God forgives our sins, we all recover before God! 
    Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Cosi fan Tutte are not only operas but philosophical essays about the human being and the society.

  • Don Jose

    Don Giovanni is an individualist he is the only one does not have bonds to anyone, like Mozart who wanted to be independent and free as an artist.

    Unfortunately, the religion came and “rewrite” the plot as they pleased to the basic and naif approach that Don Giovanni has to go to the hell and pays for his sins. I am sure Mozart/Da Ponte has something different and more complex in their mind than this middle age approach to the opera that catholics want to give us.

  • EndTimes101

     Is anyone still surprised by Mr Oddies schizophrenia? On one hand he ‘appears’ to champion common sense orthodoxy and leads the fight against the ‘soho masses crowd’, therefore retaining the trust and respect of the average Catholic Herald reader. On the other he frequently spends this kudos on championing contradictory causes like his homosexual campaigner and CofE Bishop friend (‘and man of integrity’) Jeffrey John. I don’t think im the only one to notice that Mr Oddie is, at the very least, compromised…..

  • Recusant

    You’ll have to expand on the idea that Don Giovanni has masonic connotations. I have never heard this before and don’t see it myself. But the fact that you don’t realise that Mozart was a mason because he was a Catholic, and that the two were not in opposition makes me doubt you are onto anything. And saying that ”
     if you do not want to go to Hell you must not be yourself, but what Society wants you to be” is drivel, and nothing close to what Mozart believed. Mozart clearly sees the Don as someone who shreds society’s conventions, whose broken promises (such as the promise to marry Zerlina) wreck havoc, and sends him to hell for it.

  • Recusant

    Moulded it to suit their purpose? What garbage. The correct title of the opera is “Il dissiluto punito”, and it is quite clear that Mozart meant it. The commendatore is quite clear why he pulls the Don to hell, and the cast sing “such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life”. As Nicholas Till says in his magnificent book Mozart and the Enlightenment, “everything about the music for Don Giovanni’s damnation tells us that Mozart intended his audience to be shattered by it. Very simply : the punishment fits the crime and, for Mozart, so serious are Don Giovanni’s crimes that only the ultimate punishment will serve.”

    By ignoring the libretto and the music (in other words, the facts), it is obvious that it is in fact YOU who are moulding the work to suit your ideological agenda. You are free to like or dislike Don Giovanni, but please don’t claim it means the opposite of what it says.

  • Recusant

    Oh please. Only someone who completely ignores the work of art as it is could write such nonsense. 

    The Don Giovanni in the score is a cheap sensualist and rapist, who tries to consume women like wine – a destroyer of individuality. He has only one tune, and one that never develops or modulates at that. He is a shell of a man who causes havoc and is condemned for his sins. Believe me, Mozart meant it. The Don Giovanni of freedom and artistry exists in your head.

  • Lazarus

    Fair enough! The phoenix is indeed a symbol of the possibility of human rebirth through Christ. But Don Giovanni ain’t no phoenix…

  • awkwardcustomer

    If Hell is empty, then where is Judas Iscariot, the ‘son of perdition’, according to St John’s Gospel 17:12.  The full verse has Christ addressing God the Father thus.

    ‘While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.’

    Reply to Cestius

  • Daclamat

    I think you’re a sirty old man.

  • Daclamat


  • Daclamat

    As I said, dirty old man

  • Don Jose

    I do not want to take this into account but I have seen a lot of Don Giovanni productions around the world and even I had the opportunity to meet with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf who sung plenty of Donna Elviras and told me, “That woman is emotional instable! she is neurotic! and has one of the most difficult arias I had ever sung in my career” the aria was “Mi tardi”.

    Don Giovanni is not a freemasonry opera (I did not say that), what I said was “maconic Thoughts” and you can see this by Don Giovanni’s freedom and individuality or when they sing “Viva la Liberta” (and this was a challenge on that time and when if it is well conducted, as I saw in la Scala with Barenboim last December, you feel jumping from your seat and sing along), the moral of Don Giovanni is he must carry the weight of his own fatality and he does this giving the hand to il commendatore like saying “I am what I am and I am not afraid”.

    “THE COMMANDANT Turn thee, ere heav’n hath doom’d thee, There’s time yet for repentance. DON GIOVANNI vainly tries to free himself For me there’s no repentance, Vanish thou from my sight! ”

    He has the choice but he, as freeman, never regrets his actions even the same dragged him to the hell.

    Indirectly we can recall when Pamina say to Papageno: “The truth, even if it were a crime!”

    He is a hero a free and individual man, we know everything about the characters who are round him but we do not know who is Don Giovanni.

    Mozart made such beautiful music for every character that but we do not have an aria that express the feelings of Don Giovanni from his heart.

    But if you would like to see Don Giovanni like a middle age farce, the bad ones go to the hell with demons with horns! Fine for me, but do not forget the Don Giovanni was written during the Enlightenment period and this is an opera about an individual with the most precious thing that human being can have FREEDOM even it takes to the hell.

  • JByrne24

    Well that’s Till’s interpretation. The interpretation of many others today about this work (and others) is changing, and has changed. 
    That is exactly what W Oddie’s fuss is all about.

  • Recusant

    Well, at least Till bases his opinion on the score and doesn’t bring in spurious arguments about Restoration comedy. I suspect that you don’t know the first thing about Don Giovanni, which is why you have to change the subject. 

    By the way, could you give me the name of one of these “many other” interpreters and their reasons? An interpretation that ignores the constraints of the actual score weakens the artistic impact of the score (as Oddie says) and no amount of thinking about prostitutes can change that.

  • Daclamat

    You’re being unkind.  The man has to make a living, and he’ s obviously taken over from the much lamented St John Stevas as a leading Catholic layman. He is not schizophrenic, just worldly wise.

  • EndTimes101

     I suppose Christ was unkind when he rebuked the hypocrites? Certainly he was ‘unkind’ when he whipped the moneychangers. In this new church of nice and lukewarm i am certainly unwelcome, but im not on earth to win a popularity contest, we have the vacuous celeb’s for that. No, im afraid im here to follow Christ, come what may, in or out of season, and regardless of false human respect.
    Any genuine and committed Christian would understand and welcome tough love……

    ‘But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.’

  • JByrne24

    I haven’t changed the subject. I used an illustration from another art form to underline the fact that there are widely different interpretations of works of art.
    It is a fact too that these often change with time.

    W Oddies experienced exactly that at Garsington – and gave his opinion about it in a way that must be familiar to his readers.