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Long live Don Giovanni
What is it about the story of a narcissistic libertine that’s consistently captivated audiences for more than 200 years? Since its debut more than two centuries ago, the story of Don Giovanni, one of Mozart’s most famous works, has yet to fade. We spoke with local Music Director Leslie Dala on Don Giovanni's staying power.Read More
Long live Don Giovanni
What is it about the story of a narcissistic libertine that’s consistently captivated audiences for more than 200 years?
Since its debut more than two centuries ago, the story of Don Giovanni, one of Mozart’s most famous works, has yet to fade as it remains one of the most-performed operas around the globe.
But what of the story behind the womanizer that is Don Giovanni? What led Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte to craft such a work? The documentary Mozart in Prague: Rolando Villazon on Don Giovanni answers that very question.
In the film, we follow tenor Rolando Villazon as he attempts to retrace Mozart’s steps in Prague leading up to the debut of Don Giovanni in 1787.
We spoke with someone from Vancouver’s bustling arts scene to get their take on Don Giovanni. On top of being the Associate Conductor of Vancouver Opera, Les Dala is also the Music Director of the Vancouver Bach Choir, as well as Music Director of the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra. Having devoted his life to the arts, Dala spoke to us about the everlasting popularity of Don Giovanni.
“I think the reason that (Don Giovanni) is so popular is that you can’t poke holes in it. The story and music are so seamlessly woven together, it’s one of Mozart’s most inspired scores,” explained Dala. “The work is called Don Giovanni and he is the principal character, but all of the other characters play a huge role in the story and that’s what makes it a wonderful ensemble show.”
For Dala, his first exposure to the piece came about in the late 1990s when Vancouver Opera put on a production of Don Giovanni. More than 15 years later, Dala said the piece continues to warrant its position as one of the greatest works of all time.
“I was working as a rehearsal pianist at the time and I don’t know where to begin praising the work,” he recalled. “The overture is completely unforgettable, unprecedented and it’s one of the most amazingly dramatic pieces of music I know. Its musical resonance is huge and as a piece of theatre, it amazingly does what I think is the most difficult thing to pull off and that’s the blending of the serious with comedic elements. Comedy is the hardest thing to pull off and this work, with its overtones of violence and dramatic tension, mixes the two so well.”
While there’s certainly been a wide-range of changes made to Don Giovanni in terms of setting and period over its many, many reproductions, Dala also noted there have been instances where the actual story itself has been altered.
“Apparently throughout the 19th century when the piece was performed, particularly in England, the very last scene after Don Giovanni is dragged off to hell is cut because they wanted to send a message that this is what happened to bad people,” he explained, noting that the edit shifts the tone of the entire opera. “It completely destroyed the joke behind it because the very last scene is supposed to be when all the characters rush in to be told that Don Giovanni was taken to hell and we are then taken back into their world of trivial problems. So that’s one of the biggest things that was changed, is that people would end it in a very dramatic place.”
Today, most productions tend to include the original ending.
As for the timelessness of the piece, Dala remarked that when it came to opera composition, Mozart’s genius is one that has yet to be replicated, ensuring the continued relevancy of Don Giovanni.
“I think it’s one of the landmark operas of all time. One of the things I marvel at is the fact that Mozart completed that overture the day before the premiere was to take place in Prague — he wrote it in incredible haste. Such is the creative mind," said Dala. "The genius of Mozart and that partnership between Mozart and Da Ponte is truly one of the greatest collaborations in the history of opera and I would support that. It’s sheer genius from start to finish.”