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Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro was cheered at its first performance in Prague in 1786 more enthusiastically than any other opera up to that time. "No one here talks about anything but—Figaro," Mozart wrote from Prague to Baron von Jaquin. "Nothing is played, tooted, sung or whistled but—Figaro. No opera is attended but—Figaro and always Figaro—certainly a great honor for me." Mozart had to be present at a performance on January 17, 1787; on January 20 he had to conduct the work personally and give a concert as well. The director of the theater, Pasquale Bondini, gave him a contract for a new opera for Prague at the usual fee of 100 ducats. Mozart discussed the assignment with the librettist of Figaro, Lorenzo da Ponte. Their choice fell on the theme of Don Giovanni, which had frequently been treated in literary works. The figure of the Don had been seen on the stage in Spain, France, Italy and Germany in tragedy, comedy, farce, spectacle and even opera. The most successful opera, Gazzaniga's Convitato di pietra (The Stone Guest), with text by Bertati, had come from Venice to Vienna. It was the direct model for Da Ponte's version. Da Ponte retained the characters and even the principal scenes, but he compressed the action and lifted it above the routine level of opera buffa. Mozart's influence made itself strongly felt in the drafting of the libretto. The music informs us to what an extent he swept the poet into his own world of profound humanity and dramatic truth.
There was little time left for the task of composition: Mozart could not begin to sketch the music until June 1787, when the libretto was finished. The score was completed in Prague on October 28, 1787. The opera was performed on the following day, October 29. Il Dissoluto Punito o sia il Don Giovanni Dramma giocoso in due atti—this is the full title of the work—was greeted "with the loudest acclaim," as Mozart reported. The audience already began to respond eagerly while the overture was being played, and the enthusiasm increased from one scene to the next. Mozart conducted four performances himself, then returned to Vienna.
The playbill of the first performance is lost. According to contemporary reports, the cast was as follows:
Don Giovanni.......Luigi Bassi
Donna Anna.........Teresa Saporiti
Don Ottavio.........Antonio Baglioni
Donna Elvira........Caterina Micelli
Leporello ...........Felice Ponziani
Commendatore Masetto .....Giuseppe Lolli
Zerlina .............Caterina Bondini
The opera was not performed in Vienna until May 7, 1788. For this performance Mozart wrote several new numbers, which he entered in his thematic catalogue on April 24, 28 and 30. These pieces, the tenor aria "Dalla sua pace," Elvira's aria "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" and the duet between Zerlina and Leporello "Per queste tue manine," with the corresponding recitatives, do not significantly intensify or supplement the plot, however beautiful the music may be and however superbly Mozart captured the words and the scenes in his recitatives and arias. The tenor was merely supplied with an additional aria, a humorous duet was provided for the spectators, and Elvira's entrance was explained. The Vienna performance was not a success. The singers were:
Don Giovanni.......Francesco Albertarelli
Donna Anna.........Aloisia Lange
Don Ottavio.........Francesco Morelia
Donna Elvira........Caterina Cavalieri
Leporello ...........Francesco Benucci
Commendatore Masetto .......Francesco Bussani
Zerlina .............Luisa Mombelli
Only gradually did the Viennese come to appreciate the new work, which then began its triumphant career on the world's stages.
After the Prague performance it became necessary to translate the opera into German. Christian Gottlieb Neefe, the well-known composer of Singspiele and art songs and a teacher of Beethoven, wrote to his friend Grossmann: "Once more I have translated an opera, Don Giovanni, with its excellent music by Mozart, and my work is perhaps not without felicity" (May 23, 1789). At almost the same time Heinrich Gottlieb Schmieder did a translation for Mainz and Friedrich Ludwig Schroeder did one for Hamburg. Stage performances followed at short intervals, not only using the old translations but trying out new ones by Girzik and Spiess and, above all, revisions of the text. A new libretto was prepared in 1801 by Johann Friedrich Rochlitz. Despite all his liberties, he had done such a thorough job on the opera that his revision became the standard version for decades. Many turns of phrase of these older German texts, such as "Keine Ruh bei Tag und Nacht" or "Gib mir die Hand, mein Leben" (Schroeder), had become so firmly established that they held their own in stage performances and, sung everywhere, became as popular as folksongs.
Toward the middle of last century a new era in editing Mozart began. In 1850 Richard Wagner undertook a new version (unfortunately lost) for the Zurich theater. Eduard Devrient (1853), W. Viol (1858), Ludwig Bischoff (1860), B. v. Gugler (1869), Alfred von Wolzogen (1869) and C. H. Bitter (1871) attempted new solutions until in 1871 Franz Grandaur supplied the most felicitous version so far. Nevertheless many problems still remained unsolved, especially in the recitatives. After the score was published in the complete edition of Mozart's works with a translation by Karl Niese (1872), further editions once more began to appear. Max Staegemann, Max Kalbeck (1886), Ernst Heinemann (1906), Karl Scheidemantel (1914) and many others, up to Siegfried Anheisser (1935) and Herman Roth (1936), undertook translations, of which some were accurate in meaning, others close to the sound of the Italian and still others more or less free. None of these attempts offered a definitive solution.
The present German translation is based on the view that, in so far as the original Italian words and stage practice allow, the old texts, with their pleasing and popularly accepted phraseology that has been sung in German-speaking countries for a century, must be retained. They are much closer to Mozart's music than even the most accurate translation, to the extent that the latter neglects dramatic values and the nature of Mozart's music for the sake of the text. Therefore all available piano scores, librettos and full scores, beginning with the very earliest, were consulted and examined. Every passage and every expression in all the varied German revisions were compared against the Italian original. Only those passages have been newly translated in which the old versions are inadequate or in which an exact translation of the text set by Mozart is absolutely necessary. No excuse is offered for the deletion of the childish moralities that often used to be inserted. Numerous alterations in notation and other "improvements" that had become embedded in the arias and recitatives since Hermann Levi's revision, have been eliminated. Throughout, Mozart's notation and libretto have been restored with the greatest accuracy, and many errors that have persisted in piano and orchestral scores since Mozart's time have been rectified.
The present edition was prepared in very close collaboration with the conductor Kurt Soldan, whose rich experience and painstaking editorship were of great benefit to the project. For details, see the Editors' Commentary at the end of the volume.
Berlin, Summer 1941
Excerpted from DON GIOVANNI by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted August 22, 2013