"A greater talent than mine is not in this world!"
Don Giovanni, or the Rake Punish'd is one of the most famous versions of the Don Juan legend and the second joint venture of the composer-librettist team of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte. As a dramma giocoso (a genre-busting mix of comedy and drama), the opera tells the story everyone has heard of and no one actually can narrate beyond saying that the protagonist is The Casanova, while the Don Juan legend is in fact much older.In short, the plot covers a single day where everything that can go wrong does go wrong for the hero and can most easily be presented through its characters:
Don Giovanni — A young nobleman whose philosophy is that being constant to one woman means being cruel to all the others — and since he loves them all, how could he do that? Silly women, interpreting his good nature as infidelity.
Leporello — Don Giovanni's cowardly and bullied servant. He's always trying to leave his master, but is a bit on the greedy side. Tries to emulate Giovanni with little success at times. Is the author of a lengthy list of all his master's conquests (640 in Italy, 231 in Germany, 100 in France, 91 in Turkey, and 1,003 in Spain)
Donna Anna — Daughter of the neighboring Commander who almost gets raped or seduced by Don Giovanni (depending on one's interpretation of the events) when he sneaks into her bedroom in the guise of her fiance. When the masked man kills her father, she makes her actual fiance swear revenge.
Don Ottavio — The obligatory noble fiance of Anna to balance out the Don. He's either completely clueless or a completely flat character or simply considers Anna a Purity Sue; he doesn't doubt her for a second and does practically everything she wants. Always asking Anna to marry him, but she always brings up her period of mourning. Why Giovanni seems to respect him is never explained.
Donna Elvira — A lady from Burgos, one of the 1,003 on the list. She came to hunt down the Don and kill him or get him back; she can never decide which. Always falls for every speech of love the Don gives her, except when there's obviously another woman in his sights. She's the only person who believes that he can still be redeemed, though she's very aware of his nature.
Zerlina — A peasant girl to be married to Masetto. She gets annoyed with her beau being so jealous. She falls for Giovanni at first, but eventually sobers up when she realizes that she was right and he does indeed only want to have fun with her.
Interestingly, in the Viennese version of the piece, Zerlina exhibits a sadistic streak as well, when she ties Leporello to a chair and slaps him around in Act 2.
Masetto — Zerlina's extremely jealous fiance. He gets suckered by Giovanni all the time, and has only one aria in the opera, which makes him the odd one out among the ensemble cast — except for the Commander, but he gets the big scene in the end.
The Commander (Don Pedro in most versions of the story, unnamed in the opera) — Anna's father, who comes out to defend her honor. Giovanni doesn't want to fight at first, then skewers him easily. He gets a nifty statue built within the span of a day, but is apparently not-yet-fully-dead, as he accepts the joking invitation to dinner by the Don (made to scare Leporello, who was afraid of the statue) and promptly drags him off to hell after he refuses to repent.
A good way to tell when the plot is going to get dramatic is to watch for whenever Ottavio, Anna or the Commander appear; the other supporting characters are mostly comical. The plot itself is full of twists, so go to our synopsis to read it.
Don Giovanni contains examples of:
Actor Allusion: During the dinner scene, Giovanni's musicians play the melody of Non piu andrai, Figaro's most enduring tune. Leporello remarks "I know this one all too well". The actor playing Leporello when the opera debuted in Prague had also played Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro (which had been well-received in Prague).
An Aesop: The final chorus, "Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life."
Although the idea of aristocrats and peasants dancing at a party together seems like a flight of fancy nowadays; parties of a similar manner are depicted in not one but several paintings from the eighteenth century.
The idea of people invited to a party just to see Don Giovanni eat seems fantastic and utterly absurd until you see a portrait from the eighteenth century depicting a bunch of commoners invited to watch half a dozen aristocrats eat.
Attempted Rape: Played straight or subverted, depending on the interpretation. Though Giovanni himself makes a point of saying that there's no talent beyond his (charming women), Anna is quite adamant that he covered her mouth and tried to embrace her by force and that she fought him off. Of course, she also says that she thought it was Ottavio, who, being a Purity Sue, would hardly have come into her bedroom in the middle of a night in a mask and cape. On the other hand, Giovanni never denies trying to rape Anna, and later attempts to take advantage of Leoporello's girlfriend offstage; this sort of thing certainly isn't beneath him; what we do know is that Anna is all but bodily throwing him out of her room in scene one, and there's no reason for her to believe anyone's watching.
Again possibly subverted with Zerlina, whose jealous fiance was onto the scheme by that point and she could hardly have progressed even if she wanted to.
Author Appeal: Mozart loved to write parts for baritones and basses. It shows up in all of his operas, but is most apparent in this one, which features only one tenor in the main cast — Satellite Love Interest Don Ottavio. Leporello and Giovanni are both singable by a bass or bass-baritone (though Giovanni is more flexible, and can even be sung by a low tenor), and the Commendatore and Masetto are both basses.
Not really Author Appeal so much as Enforced Method Writing. At the time, tenors were a weak voice type, leading them to be written as comic foil characters. The modern tenor technique of blending the various ranges into a strong whole wasn't developed until the 1820s or 30s in Rossini's troupe. The tenor in question thought he'd ruined everything forever and committed suicide.
Also, let's not forget how much Mozart loved sopranos. All three of the female parts are written as sopranos, though Donna Elvira is sometimes cast as a mezzo-soprano.
During the time period especially in Germany the performance practice was that first a nobleman would decide he wanted to see a new opera. Then he'd get an underling (the impresario) to see to that. The impresario would commission the composer, the librettist, and the singers. The composer and librettist would then set to writing around the specific talents of the commissioned singers. So it wasn't so much that Mozart loved sopranos as whoever commissioned the work loved sopranos. Also they're all different types of sopranos: Donna Elvira is a lyric soprano or mezzo (like the countess, she's assumed to require a slightly older actress than the other two), Zerlina is a soubrette, and Donna Anna is a coloratura soprano.
Badass Baritone: Despite not being the lowest voice by far - a low tenor can manage the role, though it's never cast that way - Giovanni manages to outwit and out-badass everyone in the opera. Out of the other men, only the the Commendatore's basso profondo can be considered badass - bases Masetto and Leporello are mostly comic characters and Don Ottavio is a tenor.
Bed Trick: To seduce Elvira's maid, Giovanni switches clothes with Leporello. Partly to make sure the already-seduced Elvira wouldn't cause any trouble, partly because he guessed correctly that a servant girl wouldn't consider a noble's intentions with her very noble. It doesn't work out simply due to the arrival of a Masetto-led mob coming to lynch him. It does work on an unseen conquest, though.
Might have been what he was attempting with Anna, disguised as Ottavio, though it seems a little implausible.
Big "NO!": Don Giovanni as he's dragged to hell. May very well be the trope originator.
Book Ends: That awesome overture music? It gets reprised in the final scene.
Brick Joke: The music that the Commendatore sings as he drags Giovanni to hell is a reprise of the overture which began the opera. These days, overtures usually contain the "highlights" of the rest of the show (everymusical does it), but in Mozart's time, it was practically unheard of to repeat material from the overture in the actual opera.
BSOD Song: A BSOD sextet, once the Don takes off his Wig, Dress, Accent and and turns out to be Leporello in disguise. Cue everyone else going "WTF?!" Afterwards, Anna leaves and everyone else promptly blames everything on Leporello.
Butt Monkey: Leporello, inevitably. With such a boss...
The Casanova: Trope Maker; the legend of Don Juan predates Casanova himself by a few centuries. Just to confirm, here's his list: "In Italy, 640; in Germany, 231; 100 in France, 91 in Turkey; but in Spain, already 1,003."
The actual Casanova was a friend of Da Ponte's, and may have contributed suggestions to the libretto.
Casanova Wannabe / possibly Handsome Lech: Leporello is an interesting variation; it seems he has no problems when on his own (as the Don himself suggests after encountering "one of your beauties"), but whenever his master shows up, the conquest is either thwarted (Masetto and Zerlina's wedding party), forced upon him because the Don already has said lady on his list and doesn't want to waste time with her now (Elvira) or stolen from him by his ever-noble master.
Chekhov's Gunman: The Commander is killed off within ten minutes after the overture and shows up ten minutes before the finale... as a statue.
The Eleven O'Clock Number: Anna's second aria, Non mi dir. Somewhat an Enforced Trope; this aria was not present in the original staging in Prague, but added in to make it more appealing for its run in Vienna. It adds nothing to the plot, but is very pretty, so it is usually left in.
Also possibly added for the sake of Aloysia Weber, who was singing the part — Mozart had been in love with her and wanted to marry her, but she rejected him. He ended up marrying her sister Constanze, but continued writing spectacular arias for the famous soprano.
Evil Laugh: When the protagonist is feeling particularly hammy.
Four-Temperament Ensemble: Masetto (choleric), Commendatore/Don Pedro (melancholic), Leporello (leukine), Ottavio (sanguine), Donna Anna (choleric/melancholic), Zerlina (melancholic/leukine), and Donna Elvira (leukine/sanguine).
Happily Ever After: Averted, sort of. The two main couples do (allegedly) get together and Elvira and Leporello are no longer bound to the Don... but there is a reason why the final chorus citing the moral of the opera was often cut for sounding empty.
Enforced: Mozart didn't want to write it. He omitted it from the Vienna production, and it wasn't performed again for nearly 200 years.
There is also the possiblity that Mozart and da Ponte deliberately played with this trope. 'Ah! Dov'e il perfido' seems to at least hint at hypocrisy of the survivors and the falsehood of their 'moral to the story'; most notable example being the dissonance between the archaic and somewhat sepulchral music accompanying the characters' evocation of pagan chthonic deities ('Resti dunque quel birbon/Con Proserpina e Pluton').
Homage: The "live" band at Giovanni's dinner party plays then-contemporary snippets of music, including Non piu andrai from The Marriage of Figaro, by Mozart himself. ("I know this one only too well!")
The same band begins with a musical quote from Soler's 'Una cosa rara, ossia Bellezza ed onesta'; Leporello lampshades the obscure reference by exclaiming: 'Bravi, cosa rara!', seemingly complimenting the musicians' skill. Lorenzo Da Ponte was the librettist for both operas.
"I Am" Song: Subverted as it's in fact sung by Leporello, first about the list of the Don's conquests and then about his usual methods for getting them.
Insane Forgiveness: Donna Elvira is willing to forgive everything if Giovanni just loves her. Also, surprisingly, despite all his scariness, the commander. What do you do if someone tries to rape your daughter, kills you and mocks your grave and you know this man has just a few more ours to live? Gloat back, just wait to really enjoy just seeing him go to hell? Of course not, you come back from the grave in a desparate attempt to save his soul from hell...
"I Want" Song: Leporello really wants to be a nobleman and not have to keep watch for other noblemen while they go off seducing ladies.
List Song: "My dear lady! Here's a list of the beauties my master loves; a list I have filed myself. Have a look; come and read with me!" (Madamina, il catalogo è questo.) This could be classed as a Long List gag, although the list is somewhat summarised.
Love You and Everybody: "I love them all! Who to one is devoted, to the rest must be faithless; mine is a heart of such infinite affection, there is not one I love not. And yet the women, dear unreas'ning creatures, my happy disposition call deceiving."
Manipulative Bastard: Getting Masetto to leave his bride on their wedding day, playing Anna and Ottavio against Elvira (initially), getting Leporello to stay even after such mistreatment... he isn't always successfull, but he tries.
Meaningful Name: One of the possible roots of Leporello's name is the Italian word for rabbit, which might explain his tendency to run away from the scene whenever possible. It can also stem from a word meaning "joke". Both meanings fit the character.
Mood Whiplash: The opera switches from comic to serious whenever Anna and Ottavio or (especially) the Commendatore appear.
Motor Mouth: Mozart wrote 'Finch'han dal vino' to be sung 'as fast as possible'... and halfway through, 'faster'. Leporello also has his many moments.
Neutral Female: Averted with Anna; once her father arrives to confront her attacker, she runs off to return with her fiance and servants in tow.
Obligatory Bondage Song: In "Batti, Batti, o bel Masetto," Zerlina begs Masetto to beat her up, saying that she'll kiss his hands no matter how much he slaps her. Though subverted as well, when she takes his refusal as proof that he really loves her after all.
Obsession Song: Mi tradi quel'alma ingrata is a tragic variation; Elvira acknowledges that Giovanni brought her nothing but misfortune, but she still can't bring herself to forsake him.
The Ophelia: Subverted with Elvira; she isn't crazy at all, but Giovanni tries to convince Anna and Ottavio of this when they come to him seeking help. It doesn't help that Elvira goes through several stages of anger, desperation and grief in the scene.
Patter Song: "Fin ch'han dal vino calda la testa", sung by Don Giovanni organizing a party.
Playing Cyrano: Ironically, Giovanni himself. Subverted in the fact that this is part of the Bed Trick to get Elvira out of the way; Leporello is posing as the Don under her window while Giovanni supplies the correct melodrama. Afterwards, he gives his unwilling servant a brief pep talk and observes for a while to make sure everything works out. An example of the Unbuilt Trope, as Cyrano de Bergerac was written over a century after Mozart's opera.
The Power of Love: Zerlina's secret cure-it-all on a very beaten-up Masetto. Fixes broken bones and bleeding bruises within a matter of two scenes.
The Scapegoat: Leporello again. Even when the other characters discover that the man they thought was Giovanni was in fact his servant, they still blame him for most of what happened a few minutes ago.
Swapped Roles: On multiple levels. Giovanni and Leporello switch clothes in order to perform the Bed Trick listed up above, but it is also common for the actors playing Giovanni and Leporello to literally swap roles, as they are both within the same approximate voice range (if you're an operatic bass-baritone, it's a damn good idea to learn both roles).
In the 1987 Salzburg festival run, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Sam Ramey took turns singing both parts on alternating nights.
The film "Don Giovanni: Leporello's Revenge" features Dmitri Hvorostovsky as both Giovanni and Leporello simultaneously
Tsundere: Masetto accuses his fiancee of being a hussy before she's said more than two words to Don Giovanni but reverts into a loving husband whenever there's no pesky interested man within 500 yards of his girl.
Unrequited Love: Subverted with Giovanni, who loves all women and thus refuses to be cruel to them by being constant to a single one — or so he says. Played for laughs and tears as well with Elvira. "You seduced and abandoned me, told your servant to show me the gigantic list of women you scored with, proclaimed me insane, had me locked out in the garden, had your servant pretend to be you while you went off after my chambermaid... but I still pity and love you!"
Unresolved Sexual Tension: Elvira thinks this about herself and Giovanni; Giovanni would like Zerlina to think this about him and her. At least, until the end of the first act.
Villain Love Song: "There we will entwine our hands, there our yes we shall share... not far from here my home stands, my dearest, let us go there..." and "Oh, come to the window" (Deh, vieni alla finestra) which really is a serenade for Elvira's chambermaid, complete with a mandolin accompanying the Don, troubadour-style.
Villain Song: Giovanni gets one of the most famous baritone arias in existence, the fast-paced Champagne aria (which is more about his amorous plans for the evening than about drinking, really) and Meta di voi qua vadano to separate the peasants when they are out to get him and he's posing as Leporello.
The Villain Sucks Song: Repeatedly, from Leporello's Notte e giorno faticar (Giovanni has shortcomings as an employer), via Elvira's Ah! Chi mi dice mai (which at the same time goes into rather gruelling detail about what she'll do if he doesn't come back to her), through to the often omitted final chorus (by which time the point is getting a bit laboured). Maybe he should rethink his people-handling methods before it's too late... oh, wait.
Wig, Dress, Accent: A trio of mysterious maskers loitering outside of your house can't possibly be people you know! Oh, and Leporello seems to enjoy telling you guys to hit his master as hard as you can when you find him...
Woman Scorned: Elvira, naturally. Anna also, though mostly because her father gets killed (or so she says). Zerlina, a little bit...
You Killed My Father: Played straight with Anna. Ottavio as well, as she gets him to swear an oath to avenge them practically next to the dead body and swear it by the blood spilled. The Spanish take honor very, very seriously.
Leporello: Forsake this TV Tropes page!
Giovanni: Forsake TV Tropes?! Madman! I need them more than the air I breathe, the bread I eat!