Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical – #18 Mozart Don Giovanni, K. 527

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart appears once again on my list of Top 50 Favorite/Best Classical with his opera, Don Giovanni. This is where I have real beef with Peter Shaffer’s play turned movie, Amadeus. Aside from listening to Mozart’s symphonies, or piano music as I grew up, I never got into his operas until later in life. But I did watch the movie in the late 80s and early 90s. The film misrepresents the opera in a terrible way. Peter Shaffer’s version of Mozart writing the music of Don Giovanni implies that Mozart wrote the libretto as well. It doesn’t mention at all Lorenzo da Ponte. And he indicates Mozart wrote the opera in some way as a result of his domineering father dying just earlier in the year. The Commendatore, for Shaffer, was a representation of Mozart’s father casting down upon the poor boy. This interpretation of Don Giovanni made me want to avoid the opera, and for the longest time, I did. 

When I finally got over the impression from Shaffer’s Amadeus, I found that this opera is amazing in its construction and design. It’s an opera so full of life and playfulness, of joy and comedy and of terror and death. I’m not going to quote everything from conductor Daniel Barenboim’s excellent commentary on the opera (https://danielbarenboim.com/don-giovanni/), but I do want to highlight one particular aspect of his analysis of Don Giovanni. 

“The introduction to the overture of Don Giovanni begins with the music which later announces the arrival of the Commendatore’s statue in the second act, which culminates in the hero’s demise. The end of the introduction follows uninterruptedly into the main Allegro; the repeated notes in the strings remain constant, yet transform the character of the music. In the introduction, they may seem to represent agitation or anguish, but as soon as they move from the violas and second violins to the celli, marking the end of the Andante, the gravity of the introduction is instantly transformed into an open Allegro. Although the speed of the repeated notes remains unchanged, the tempo is quadrupled and the harmony moves into major.

Don Giovanni is the perfect example of how a dramma giocoso embodies the very essence of music. Throughout the opera, the more the subjective situation of a character becomes tragic, the more comic is the objective situation and vice versa.”

It’s really impressive how well Mozart can weave between terror and joy, anguish and pleasure so deftly with each character or each scene. I do recommend reading the rest of Daniel Barenboim’s analysis, particularly to describe how Mozart and da Ponte develop the characters. There’s almost a Kafka Metamorphosis level of character development, where the climax for Don Giovanni might just be when he murders the Commendatore in the very first minutes of the opera, and the remainder is the eventual consequence of the climactic moment. Certainly Don Giovanni does not grow as a character, and is impulsive and obstinate to his demise.  One could even say the opera begins precisely with the climax right in its overture, the full D minor fanfare of death. 

Another aspect I find impressive with this opera is just how fast paced the scenes and music are, highlighting the quick-footed scoundrel staying one step ahead of captivity, all the way to the very end. It also lends to expressing how Don Giovanni’s world is collapsing around him. 

As for what to recommend for viewing pleasure, this opera is performed quite frequently, but there are two I think worth your time. One is a more traditional version, but it includes English subtitles for the English audience. 

The other is a more recent rendering with French subtitles for the Italian singing. Its stage setting is quite unique, but it also features a pretty amazing cast of singers, so it’s worth watching it as well. 

#18 – Mozart Don Giovanni, K. 527

#19 – Liszt Les Preludes, S. 97

#20 – Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro, K. 492

#21 – Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Op. 20 

#22 – Mahler Symphony No. 2 in C minor

#23 – Tchaikovsky String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11

#24 – Williams Empire Strikes Back

#25 – Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb major, Op. 73

#26 – Bernstein West Side Story

#27 – Enescu – Octet for Strings in C major, Op. 7

#28 – Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110

#29 – Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain

#30 – Webber Phantom of the Opera

#31 – Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky

#32 – Chopin Nocturne in Bb minor, Op. 9, No. 1

#33 – Debussy Images, Book 1, L110

#34 – Debussy Pour Le Piano, L. 95

#35 – Chaminade Guitare, Op. 32

#36 – Chopin Berceuse in Db major, Op. 57

#37 – Boulanger Nocturne pour violon et piano

#38 – Schönberg Les Miserables

#39 – Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18

#40 – Miranda Hamilton

#41 – Strauss Salomé

#42 – Britten Peter Grimes

#43 – Loewe My Fair Lady

#44 – Liszt Mephisto Waltzes

#45 – Webber Evita

#46 – Poledouris Conan The Barbarian

#47 – Bernstein Trouble in Tahiti

#48 – Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

#49 – Chaminade La Lisonjera, Op. 50

#50 – Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

Honorable Mention

Desmond Take Five

Wagner Die Walküre 

Puccini Tosca

Davis So What

Stravinsky Petroushka 

Wagner Tristan Und Isolde

Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings

Williams Raiders of the Lost Ark

Verdi Aïda

Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht

Grisey Les espaces acoustiques

Gade – Octet for 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 violoncellos in F major, Op. 17

Schubert – Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759

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