Imagining Don Giovanni

Imagining Don Giovanni

5.0 1
by Anthony J. Rudel

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"Set in Prague in 1787, Imagining Don Giovanni is the rich, sweeping story of three of history's most seductive artists - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Leonardo Da Ponte, the poet and librettist; and Giacomo Casanova, the notorious lover - working against the clock to create one of the world's most powerful masterpieces: the opera Don Giovanni." In the eleventh hour of Don… See more details below


"Set in Prague in 1787, Imagining Don Giovanni is the rich, sweeping story of three of history's most seductive artists - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Leonardo Da Ponte, the poet and librettist; and Giacomo Casanova, the notorious lover - working against the clock to create one of the world's most powerful masterpieces: the opera Don Giovanni." In the eleventh hour of Don Giovanni's production, Mozart and Da Ponte have halted all work in fundamental disagreement about its themes. Tempers flare but neither strong-willed man will back down, and no consensus can be wrought as the royally decreed date for the premiere looms. When all hope seems lost, the infamous Casanova appears on the scene with a flourish, full of salacious stories and surprising wisdom. The ideas he introduces into the conversation - dangerous notions about personal liberty - stir his collaborators' democratic enthusiasm, but also their fear. As he begins to influence the shape of the opera itself, professional and romantic jealousies between the men complicate matters even more as Da Ponte and Mozart anxiously jockey to protect their mandates in the rehearsal hall and in their respective bedrooms. Mozart's wife, Constanze, for one, with a devoted heart but a feisty spirit, is unabashedly fascinated by the elegant and understanding Casanova.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In heritage and career choice (his father is the legendary conductor; he himself is a producer of classical recordings and the author of Tales from the Opera), Rudel would seem just the fellow to embroider on a bit of historical musical trivia. But his debut novel, drawing on a purported meeting in 1777 Prague between Mozart and romantic adventurer Casanova, does not develop into a successful dramatic narrative. Rudel imagines a secret collaboration between the composer of sublime music and the notorious libertine, aided by librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, a creative symbiosis that significantly influences the final version of Don Giovanni. In addition to describing the logistic and artistic complications of writing and staging the opera, Rudel attempts a plot that seems straight out of a morality play: Mozart jeopardizes his marriage by dallying with other women; Casanova takes it upon himself to show Mozart the folly of his ways. ("Give me your hand," Casanova ordered. "We'll make a pact. I'll lead you to the love you need to compose.... You'll turn Don Giovanni into a legend; it will be your payment to me.") Descriptions are often labored, with all the musicality of a pulp fiction bodice ripper. At times, characters seem to deliver history lessons rather than think, feel and speak for themselves. (During a walk in the Prague ghetto, Casanova provides some historical facts about the edicts against Jews.) When the Marquis de Sade sends exhortations from an asylum, the narrative hits its lowest notes. Those attempting to understand what made Don Giovanni such a revolutionary opera may enjoy this fanciful account, but most will feel that even The Magic Flute contains more reality than thislackluster production. Agent, Eric Simonoff at Janklow Nesbit. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Mozart puts the finishing touches on Don Giovanni with a little help from his friends-an idea that outshines the execution of it in a historical from the son of opera conductor Julius Rudel. In the autumn of 1787, fresh off the success of The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart is in Prague and rehearsing his still-unfinished version of the Don Juan legend. It's a frustrating time for the young composer as he grieves for his dead father, has doubts about his marriage to Constanze, and wrangles with his egomaniacal librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte. Coming to Mozart's rescue is the Chevalier de Seingalt, the great rake and memoirist better known as Casanova. Rudel notes that Casanova, a middle-aged man by 1787, did in fact offer his Don Juan-like expertise to Mozart; and in this imagined version of events, he not only provides valuable insight into the mind of a seducer but also cures Mozart's personal frustrations and rejuvenates his marriage. Added to this auspicious pairing of 18th-century figures is the advice-in letters written from the Bastille-of Casanova's pal, the Marquis de Sade. Certainly it would be hard to invent a more colorful gallery of characters. But in the hands of first-timer Rudel (Classical Music Top 40, a music guide, not reviewed), these larger-than-life men become mere caricatures endowed with little beyond their trademark quirks: Mozart composes an overture in an hour, Casanova seduces sets of twins, and so on. The treatment of history is also clunky ("I've heard the trouble in Paris is getting worse. Some say there may be a revolution." "Ridiculous. It could never happen"), and Mozart's and Casanova's speeches about the egalitarian potential of opera and the liberatingenergies of coitus, respectively, are repetitive and uninspired. "They liked it," Mozart notes as the audience applauds at the end of Don Giovanni. "But did they understand?" An interesting speculation done clumsily in broad strokes.

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Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.66(h) x 0.98(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


    When the orchestra's final notes had sounded and the last reverberations had faded into the farthest corners of the opera house, an eerie silence remained. No one coughed; no one talked; it seemed as if no one even breathed. The silence lasted no more than a second or two, but at that moment, in that theater, it seemed longer. The liveried guards stood motionless in front of the curtained, arched stone exits.

    Suddenly, from the back of the upper gallery, a lone voice pierced the stillness.


    That cry opened the floodgates. In one swift motion, in unison, the audience rose, applauding in uncontrolled excitement. The opera house seemed to tremble in agreement. The sustained applause and cheering never decreased in volume or intensity as the singers moved to the foot of the stage, smiling and waving. When they had each had their moments of glory, one of the sopranos stepped forward to the edge of the stage and pointed her hand toward the small man standing at the harpsichord. His head was bent forward.

    The musicians in the orchestra cheered, tapping their bows on the music stands and stomping their feet. Slowly, the man lifted his head, as if waking from a deep sleep, and looked around. A quirky, self-contented smile came to his lips. Taking a folded handkerchief from his cuff, he dabbed the perspiration from his forehead and stood, looking at the musicians around him and the singers onstage, who clapped louder than anyone else. Whenhe turned to face the audience, the cheering became wilder. His body seemed to be pushed back from the noise's force, and he steadied himself by resting his right hand behind him on the harpsichord.

    Those resounding cheers were not meant for the harpsichordist or the conductor. They were for him. The composer. He stood there, bowing slightly, exhausted and relieved. For half an hour the audience released the tension that had built up during the three hours of the world premiere of his newest opera.

    They loved him—his music, his genius. In a box near the front of the first balcony his wife and friends watched him watch the audience as he slowly emerged from the haze that had seemed to envelop him during the performance.

    "It was a good performance," he thought. "Despite the difficult rehearsals and the mistakes the singers made, it worked and they liked it."

    But he had doubts. He wondered if the audience understood what they had heard. As they thought about the drama, did they shiver with fear, or did they simply laugh at the comedy? Riding home in their horse-drawn carriages, would they experience some new sense of freedom? When they walked past their servants, would they now realize the importance of human liberty? Did they even know they had been part of a revolution? Or would they go home to their small palaces, undress, and go to bed, anonymous mortals? Would Don Giovanni haunt their dreams?

    "It's only entertainment to them," he thought, accepting it as he slowly looked around the full opera house, savoring instead the applause and the cheers, remembering ...

Excerpted from Imagining Don Giovanni by Anthony Rudel. Copyright © 2001 by Anthony Rudel. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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