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DON GIOVANNI: HERO? ANTI-HERO? NO SORT OF HERO?
Written by Ken Cazan February 9, 2009

Let me preface this by saying that I have directed this opera a number of times, always in the period it was written. While I can appreciate that period (I have performed as an actor in a number of Restoration comedies and directed many Mozart operas as well as working with Edward Greer considered an expert in the style and content of the period), I have to look at the character of Don Giovanni through the eyes of a contemporary man because that is my strongest frame of reference. Beyond that, even in the period it was written, this man was a walking advertisement for all that is indicative of a violent sexual predator.

“Don Giovanni loves women” is usually the moniker used to describe this man. According to his “biographer” Leporello, he has slept with 2065 women in his lifetime. This leads me to think that this is not a particularly young man. I don’t care how well one’s sexually regenerative powers work, there is a time limit to the capability of one man to sleep with that many women. I think the Don is somewhere in his thirties if not older.

That said, there is a physical burnout factor involved with all of this. It is very worth noting that Don Giovanni doesn’t fulfill his sexual desires on this particular night. He is thwarted at every turn, either by fellow upper class people or by well-intentioned lower class people. Even Leporello seems to be standing in his way. I personally feel that Leporello is so frustrated by Don Giovanni’s hedonism and lack of concern for the consequences of his actions that Leporello actually tries to help Donna Elvira and cares for her deeply. Leporello, in a sense, discovers his morality, indeed, becomes a voice of morality in the piece. Sadly, Leporello is as addicted to the Don as the Don is sexually addicted.

Beyond the burnout factor, there is also the matter of how many diseases the Don has contracted and shared. We live in an era of heightened awareness of social diseases, one of which is most certainly deadly. Surely Don Giovanni is well aware of his potential for illness and must know the probability of his sharing the illnesses he has contracted. And what of the side effects of these diseases? What of the brain lesions, the spinal deterioration, the physically debilitating consequences of any social disease including, ironically, impotency? Is this a possible reason that Don Giovanni is escalating the violence in his attacks (the murder of the Commendatore and the attack on Zerlina at the wedding party at his house)?

What this all boils down to is that Don Giovanni is not a person to be emulated, admired, giggled at, or idolized. He is a rapist and a murderer, and most certainly he pays the consequences. Whether one believes in divine retribution or that both the Don and Leporello feel so much guilt at the acts they have committed that they have a collective psychotic moment at the end, the Don ultimately pays for his hedonism, his lack of concern for the health of all of the women and families he has harmed over the years. We do know that Jacques Casanova (on whom the character of Don Juan is based) was very elderly and living on the outskirts of Prague during the creation of Don Giovanni. The stories have it that Mozart and DaPonte met often with Casanova who was feeling tremendous guilt at what he had done during his lifetime of moral ambivalence. Perhaps this was his way of beginning to atone for all of the destruction he had caused. The bottom line is that despite the elegance of Mozart’s music, there is an underlying drive and
desperation to it as well. His reckless abandon in attacking Zerlina at her wedding party, the escape music at the end of Act I, the amazing final scene when his hedonism literally cannot be sated and his hurling himself at the dead Commendatore all suggest a man who has run out of earthly thrills and lost all sense of reason and mental well-being. This is not someone to be extolled or pitied, this is someone to learn from, no matter how negative the lesson may be.

--Ken Cazan

Ken Cazan is the Resident Stage Director at the USC Thornton School of Music.

Brent McMunn, Music Director

Masanori Takahashi as Nick Shadow
in the USC Thornton Opera Production of
Stravinsky's The Rakes Progress.
Barry Werger- Photographer