Copyright

Don Giovanni: Synopsis, Characters & Composer

Don Giovanni: Synopsis, Characters & Composer
Coming up next: Lute: Definition & History

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Introduction: A Dark Comedy
  • 0:42 Mozart and the Enlightenment
  • 1:46 ''Don Giovanni'':…
  • 3:22 Synopsis of ''Don Giovanni''
  • 6:34 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emma Riggle

Emma has taught college Music courses and holds a master's degree in Music History and Literature.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the characters and story in Mozart's darkly comic opera, 'Don Giovanni'. You'll also learn how the story of philandering nobleman Don Giovanni expresses ideas connected to a philosophical movement called the Enlightenment.

Introduction: A Dark Comedy

If you've ever seen movies like Fargo or O Brother, Where Art Thou?, you'll have an idea what a dark comedy is. We call a movie a dark comedy when it deals with tragic themes, like murder or crime, in a surprisingly funny way. Mozart's opera Don Giovanni is unusual because it too is something of a dark comedy. Most operas in Mozart's time were purely comic or tragic, but Don Giovanni is a hilarious show that delves into darkness, complete with seduction, murder, and a statue from beyond the grave.

Mozart and the Enlightenment

Don Giovanni was composed in 1787 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a composer from music's Classical period who lived from 1756 to 1791. Classical is a label for music from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a period roughly corresponding to a philosophical movement called the Enlightenment. During the Enlightenment, European thinkers celebrated the idea of social justice and the value of common people, as opposed to the powerful aristocrats who ruled the roost at the time.

Mozart came from a working-class background. In fact, he earned his living as a musician from the tender age of six. Like many Classical composers, Mozart wrote a lot of music designed for middle-class audiences, drawing on ideas from the Enlightenment. His compositions include symphonies, piano works, and many other pieces, as well as operas like Don Giovanni, one of several that he wrote to words by Italian author Lorenzo da Ponte.

Don Giovanni: Concept and Characters

Don Giovanni is an example of opera buffa, or comic opera, a genre that was popular during the Enlightenment. Middle-class audiences loved opera buffa, because it was entertaining, full of slapstick humor, and often poked fun at the aristocracy.

Don Giovanni retells the dubious adventures of legendary nobleman Don Giovanni, who travels throughout Spain seducing countless women. His wealth and power protect him from facing the consequences of his deeds, until one day he goes too far, committing a murder which eventually leads to his downfall.

There are eight main characters in Don Giovanni. Note that 'Don' and 'Donna' are not names, but aristocratic titles corresponding to 'Lord' and 'Lady'. Imagine a risqué Spanish version of Downton Abbey and you'll have the right idea.

  • Don Giovanni is a powerful young nobleman, and a sociopathic womanizer.
  • Leporello is the Don's sarcastic servant, a sidekick who is both entertained and troubled by his boss's philandering.
  • Donna Anna is an aristocratic lady, one of Don Giovanni's conquests.
  • Don Ottavio is Donna Anna's somewhat wimpy fiancé.
  • The Commandant is Donna Anna's father, an elderly military officer.
  • Donna Elvira is one of Don Giovanni's bitter ex-girlfriends.
  • Zerlina is a beautiful, sassy peasant girl.
  • Masetto is Zerlina's passionate but bumbling fiancé.

Synopsis of Don Giovanni

Mozart gives us some dark foreshadowing before the curtain rises. The orchestra plays two loud, terrifying chords, followed by quiet, creepy music that creates a tense atmosphere. This music will return at a climactic moment in the opera. Though cheerful music follows, the opening warns that this comic opera has tragic undertones.

In Act One, Leporello is waiting outside Donna Anna's house when a masked man rushes out, pursued by Anna. When she screams for help, her father the Commandant appears, but the masked man kills him in a saber duel. The audience learns that the masked man is Don Giovanni because he runs away with Leporello, but Anna remains unaware of her seducer's identity.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account
Support