Don Giovanni - Opera's greatest chameleon

9 May 2022

Welsh National Opera’s Spring 2022 Season features one of opera’s most notorious characters, the libertine and seducer, Don Giovanni. Based on the Spanish folk legend of Don Juan, he is the focal point in Mozart’s acclaimed opera, which premiered at the original National Theatre in Prague in October 1787. He is a sociopath with a weakness for women, but there’s more to this man than meets the eye.

Described by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘a person who changes their opinions or behaviour according to the situation’, our notorious Don Giovanni is the perfect example of a chameleon. His fearlessness and his courage portray a hero, his refusal to repent and acknowledge the chaos he has caused makes him a coward. Some would certainly relate these characteristics with Don Giovanni’s character, as a disrespectful womaniser who very much seeks to dominate his subjects. It can be said that his character may be perceived in some contexts as brave and heroic, and that he certainly displays some good qualities such as his fearlessness and his firm beliefs.

Throughout the opera, Don Giovanni uses his power to seduce and exploit the woman he encounters. From his list of 2,065 lovers, which include peasant girls, maidservants, city girls, countesses, baronesses, marchionesses, princesses, using his wealth and power to protect him from the consequences of his actions. Nothing stands in his way, not even a protective father.

We witness in the opera he attempts to seduce Donna Anna, the daughter of Commendatore and eventually kills him leaving Anna devastated. A character as powerful as Don Giovanni uses his capabilities leaving disastrous pain to his lovers and ones who surround him, and shows at the beginning how incapable he is of changing his ways and his inability to be a better person. Mozart very skilfully represents the emotion of each character throughout the opera with his astounding musical elements enhancing their of the conflict through his compositions. Don Giovanni often gives each woman what they want musically if not romantically as he reinvents himself between worlds, as he lacks in morals and has near to no reservations. Mozart skilfully uses harsh musical motifs at the beginning of the opera which exposes the more aggressive side to Don Giovanni as he is unwilling to walk away from the conflict.

Though described originally as an opera buffa, the opera is very much a dark comedy with tragic themes of death and heartache but with the humorous elements portrayed by how Don Giovanni delves into his darkness.

There is still time to experience the conflicting adventures of this young, arrogant, and persuasive nobleman this Spring so decide for yourself whether he is he opera’s greatest chameleon.