Week 2: Don Giovanni: A comical and serious opera
This week we watched Don Giovanni, an opera buffa collaboration arranged by the well-known Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Venetian poet Lorenzo Da Ponte. Although Don Giovanni is categorized as an opera buffa because of its copious amounts of comedy, it is also accompanied by several somber and serious themes. The elements of humor integrated throughout the opera include the jests made by Don Giovanni’s servant, but the serious aspects pertain to the larger scheme of the characters. For example, the persona of Don Giovanni is portrayed as the ultimate womanizer who seeks to impart his love to all women as it would be a crime for those who do not receive it. He can be easily viewed as the charming villain. Another perspective, however, could consider him a man ahead of his time. Unlike the other characters present in the opera, the Don is not veered by religious dogma or the confines of society. In fact, he challenges others to abandon their life dictated by religion and convention.
The serious elements of the opera are also noted in Mozart’s novel use of different melodies to depict the various emotional states of the characters. In this way, he captured the character’s essence and state of emotion.
For instance, the duet between Don Giovanni and Zerlina reveals the masterful techniques developed by Mozart. In this scene, the Don attempts to woo Zerlina although she is to be wedded to Masetto. The music accompanying her part of the duet reveals Zerlina’s state of mind while the text suggests otherwise. Zerlina’s melody follows a melodic contour inflected with chromatic accents and non-harmonic tones that disrupt the emotional direction of her melody. In other words, the music exposes her indecision and covet for Don Giovanni. She is, therefore, not the innocent peasant girl but rather, a cunning woman who is willing to violate social rules for the Don. Accordingly, this is a theme that may be viewed as serious because it represents the surreptitious desires to stray away from the traditional conventions during Mozart’s time.
In summary, I believe that Mozart blurred the distinction between an opera buffa and seria. It was his inclusion of comedy, drama, and tragedy made Don Giovanni a success that continues to secure audiences even today.