Mozart: Don Giovanni

I’d argue that some of the most significant musical moments of Mozart’s Don Giovanni are moments that are not sung by the title character, but moments sung about the title character. There’s the “Catalogue Aria” in which Giovanni’s manservant tells another of his master’s former lovers how many women he’s bedded around the world, not to mention the manifold arias sung by the women he’s seduced and abandoned about their own psychological state after their encounters (#MeToo meets “Mi tradi”).

Comparatively, Giovanni’s musical moments are fairly sparse. He gets a few great hits in the Champagne Aria, the seductive “Deh vieni alla finestra,” and the insidiously innocent duet “La ci darem la mano.” But all of this is fairly non-revelatory. Mozart and his librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, allow Giovanni’s actions to speak for themselves without much psychology.

This all goes with Atisha’s mind-training slogan #20, “Of the two witnesses, hold the principal one.”

Malin Byström sings Donna Anna's first aria, "Or sai chi l'onore"

Malin Byström sings Donna Anna's second aria, "Non mi dir"

Don Giovanni is a murderer, a rapist, and someone who abuses his social standing to flaunt his power over the powerless (contributing to the opera’s revolutionary theme of challenging power). And yet, his role within the opera never involves him worrying about how others perceive his actions. Other characters try to define their own states of mind against his actions, but more often than not they are holding his view of them as more principal over their own insight.

This changes over the course of the opera: Donna Anna’s first aria is about Giovanni, the man who stole her honor and murdered her father. Her second, later in the work, flips the script as she tells her fiancé not to call her cruel just because she needs time to grieve her father’s death. She claims her personal, principal view. For better or for worse, Don Giovanni’s actions (done while he continually holds himself as principal witness — perhaps for others as well as himself) serve as a catalyst. A moment for us to wake up. This, too, is an act of revolution.

Today’s Contemplation

Think about a time that you prioritized someone else’s view of you over your own view of yourself. What did they not know about you? What would you have said to give them the full context (as only you can)? Consider the flip side of this: When was the last time you let your opinion of someone — good or bad — eclipse the very real notion that they have multitudes in their life that are unknown to you?