We’ve discussed Don Giovanni and the abuse of power in these pages in the past. At the time I thought we’d seen perhaps the worst of it with Donald Trump’s comments about where to “grab" women. Now we have several situations to which Don Giovanni and it’s warnings are even more relevant.
The New York Times has published a list of 50 men accused of sexual misconduct since the story broke about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Not all of them are of Don Giovanni quality but they are all men in positions of influence who are being accused of abusing their power.
Don Giovanni at La Scala
Mozart’s Don Giovanni starts with an attempted rape of Donna Anna by Giovanni. Anna’s father, The Commandatore, interrupts the scene. Giovanni ends up killing the old man and flees the scene.
I have seen this scene staged, in a 2011 La Scala production, as though Donna Anna were wanting Giovanni to rape her. There is no way to change the text which has Anna repelling Giovanni. In this case the staging was more like Br'er Rabbit saying, “Please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”
This of course means she wants Giovanni to rape her.
The idea of a rape fantasy, while confusing to some, is a real thing. Yet the overriding message of Don Giovanni is that of a man abusing his position of authority. For a director to have the audacity to stage this as anything but a rape attempt reveals either an ingrained male perspective, or the tiresome tendency (common to opera producers) to re-imagine frequently performed pieces..
Later in the opera, Giovanni’s valet, Leporello, sings the “Catalog Aria” in which he recounts just how many women Giovanni has seduced. The number is 2065. Whether or not these were all consenting seductions instead of rape is up for interpretation. From the opening scene we do know that Giovanni isn’t opposed to rape.
According to the text of Leporello's aria, the 2065 are, “peasant girls, maidservants, city girls, countesses, baronesses, marchionesses, princesses, women of every rank, every shape, every age.”
Donna Anna is a noblewoman and therefore she fights back. How many weren’t of the nobility and therefore were not allowed to resist a chevalier such as Giovanni? What does “every age” mean? How young were these women?
The horrific text of the aria is covered with some of Mozart’s most charming music. If Mozart were trying to make a villain of Giovanni and his lechery then why give this aria such fantastic music? A quote from Wolfgang himself can give us some guidance.
Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The character of Don Giovanni is one of the most repulsive in the entire operatic repertoire. Mozart’s music softens the ragged edge of Giovanni’s brutality by flattering and charming our ears at almost every moment.
I would not be surprised to see a production of Don Giovanni in 2018 which is updated to present Giovanni as a Hollywood producer. It fits too well. Imagine Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer singing the “Catalog Aria”.
To politicize Giovanni in this way would be more than appropriate given the fact that Mozart and the librettist, Da Ponte, intended Don Giovanni to political from the very start.