MOZART'S DON GIOVANNI OPENS IN PRAGUE
The Marriage of Figaro was a great success in Prague and Bondini, the impresario of the Prague National Theatre, wished to have another opera from Mozart for the next season. Mozart agreed. He read a number of plays and came to the conclusion that he could do an opera based on the story of Don Juan, or Don Giovanni. He made the suggestion to the poet Da Ponte who had already written the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro.
All Mozart's genius was now turned to the creating of Don Gid-vanni. The text, by the poet Da Ponte, began to take shape. It had in it a touch of Moliere and Goldoni and something of Tirso de Molina, the Spanish monk who first made the legend into a play, but it also included some of the poet's own ideas. '
Mozart saw the opera as the tragedy of the Don who, had to fol: low his nature to its destruction, while Da Ponte was determined to write a comedy of intrigue. The poet complicated the Don's efforts at seduction, and Wolfgang developed his clash with the Commandant. Da Ponte felt the plot should come first, but Wolfgang stressed the characters and their emotions.
Gradually he convinced Da Ponte that they should create flesh-and-blood people rather than the stock figures of melodrama, and the poet, who was carried away by the subject, now that he considered it his own, built effective scenes.
As Wolfgang received the text, he composed the music for it, music which would fit any reasonable range of voice. The more he became involved with the drama of the Don, the more it fired his imagination. The story opened a treasure house of music in him. All that he had learned in a life-time of music he used to the full in this score. There were luminous moments in the music, and demonic, primal instincts. Da Ponte continued to insist that Don Giovanni must be a comedy, but tragedy kept creeping in. Wolfgang felt the irony of the story, and that had a predominant effect, though he did not fail to realize the comic character of some of the scenes. For tragic situations he wrote tragic music, and for comic situations he wrote comic music, and he was unconcerned about what kind of an opera it was supposed to be. He concentrated on breathing musical life into the characters. However, Da Ponte declared their new work must have a style.
He titled it Don Giovanni - // dissoluto punito - Dramma gios-coso* in two acts, and Wolfgang accepted this. Vet while the surface of the music appeared gay, there was somberness underneath.
By October 1, 1787 when Wolfgang left for Prague with Constanze, he had put down half the score on paper and much of the rest was finished in his head. Da Ponte arrived a week later to attend the casting and adjust the text to the singers, and took a room in an inn opposite Wolfgang's so that they could consult with each other from window to window.
Bondini cast Don Giovanni without considering the composer or poet, and when they questioned several of his decisions, the kn-presario stated, "That is all I have. Our National Theatre does not have the resources of Vienna. Besides, this is the same company that sang Figaro so well."
"But this is not Figaro" said Da Ponte. "This is more difficult."
"I cannot hire anyone else," Bondini stressed. "We cannot afford it. As it is, this opera is a great risk. It is so different from Figaro. It is very serious, more tragic than I expected."
* * *
Mozart directed the rehearsals. He made changes in the arias to suit the demands of the performers and actually wrote the duet between Don Giovanni and Zerlina five times before the singers were satisfied.
Everything seemed ready but the overture was still not done. Bondini was very anxious, there was not a note of the overture on paper and the premiere was the next day, October 29, 1787.
After the dress rehearsal he informed the composer that the opening would have to be cancelled - how dare Mozart wait until the last moment!
"It has been in my head for weeks, but I wanted to hear the entire score before I put it on paper. The overture must contain the essential themes. Don't worry, it will be done in time. I will write it tonight."
"But it is almost midnight now. And even if you stay up all night, when can it be copied for the orchestra?"
"Have the copyists come to the inn at seven in the morning. It will be ready for them." Bondini was so apprehensive that Wolfgang had to be calm and unexcited.
Wolfgang and Constanze had returned to the inn and when they reached their living-room he asked her to prepare some punch to keep him awake while he wrote the overture. He had no doubt that he would finish by morning. The overture had been finished in his head for days, except for a few alterations; he had wanted to hear how the Commandant's scenes sounded before introducing his music thematically into the overture. And now he knew. As he sat at his writing desk he wrote quickly. But the punch made him drowsy and he began to nod, and he could only go on while Constanze was speaking. So, to stay awake, he asked her to tell him stories. This went on for several hours, but the efforts to keep himself awake, the strain of nodding and dozing, then abruptly awakening at the sound of her voice was exhausting, and he began to blot the score.
She said, "Take a nap on the sofa, I will arouse you in an hour."
He slept so deeply she didn't have the heart to disturb him and suddenly at five in the morning he awoke himself, after two hours of sleep.
He did not scold her, but returned to the score refreshed. When the copyists came at seven the overture was ready for them.
They were not as quick as Wolfgang and at seven that evening when the opera was supposed to start, the orchestra still didn't have the overture, which they had not seen or rehearsed. Bondini was frantic; the crowded theatre was restive; only the sight of Herr Kapellmeister Mozart, the composer of Figaro, entering the orchestra, quieted them. He had come to say that the parts were on their way, that he was sure the men were capable of playing the overture without a rehearsal. He made it sound like a great compliment, but he was
not that positive. A few minutes later the parts of the overture were hastily brought to the orchestra and distributed and the unrehearsed overture commenced.
During the performance, the audience listened intently and at the end applauded loudly. The curtain rose, and as the first scene of Don Giovanni moved smoothly, Wolfgang whispered to several of the musicians near him, "The overture went off very well on the whole, although a good many notes certainly must have fallen under the desk."
Once the overture started, dark, spirited, dramatic, it set the mood for the opera. With Wolfgang conducting, the cast outdid itself. At the final curtain there was an ovation. The audience didn't want to let the company go. Then the leading singers took Wolfgang by the hand and led him before the great curtains, where he stood all alone while wave after wave of applause greeted him. And Con-stanze sat in her box and wanted to cry. Wolfgang looked so tiny on the vast stage. How could so much have come from his frail self? How could anyone conceive what immense effort had gone into this opera? He had been so exhausted today.
Despite all his optimism, he had been unable to sleep during the afternoon as he should have. Instead, he had been pessimistic, which was rare for him. He had sat up on the couch and had said abruptly, "Stanzi, I am afraid. I have tried things in Don Giovanni 1 have never attempted before. That is why I waited with the overture. I couldn't decide what should dominate, the dark or the light colours, until I heard the entire score. Then finally, neither did really. What do you think? Do you think I have attempted too much? Will Don Giovanni please Prague as much as Figaro? It is such a different kind of an opera. I couldn't make the Don an unmitigated rogue. I want to be proud of Don Giovanni, whatever mistakes I made."
"You did it the way you wanted," she had answered. "That is enough."
"Yet, if it is a success they will say I wrote it quickly, easily, almost carelessly. They should know how many times I erase a pas: sage in my mind. But I hate to blot paper. It is simple enough for the musicians to make mistakes as it is. Composing doesn't become easier with time, but harder. I want more from it, I have to have more. There is no one, Stanzi, who has studied composition harder than I have. I have studied all the good composers, Haydn, Handel, Sebastian Bach, his sons, Gluck, oh, I could give you a list as long as the Don's. Do you think they will like it? I've tried to put so much into it."
And now Wolfgang was bowing and the audience was shouting, "Evvivia Mozart! Evvivia Da Pontel Bravo! Bravissimo!"
(From "Sacred and Profane" .by David Weiss)
*Don Juan - the Reprobate Punished - a light drama ("Дон Жуан, или Наказанный развратник, веселая драма")