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What is Don Giovanni?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 23, 2024
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Don Giovanni is an dramma giocoso — a combination of serious dramatic action and joy — in two acts by the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The composer is also known for other operas such as The Magic Flute, Così fan tutte, and The Marriage of Figaro, as well as his many symphonies and other works. Don Giovanni was composed in 1787 with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, who also wrote the librettos for The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte.

One of 30 or more operas centered around Don Juan, Mozart’s version may have been written to improve another version in only one act. Da Ponte both added original material and drew ideas from Molière’s play Dom Juan, among others dramatic works. The premiere of Mozart’s opera took place in October 1787 in Prague.

The story is set in 17th century Seville. Don Giovanni, masked, is inside the home of the Commendatore, Don Pedro, either having seduced his daughter, Donna Anna, or in the process of doing so. His servant, Leporello, is stationed outside to stand guard. Nevertheless, Don Pedro returns and confronts the title character. They fight, and Don Pedro is killed. Don Giovanni and Leporello escape, and Donna Anna and her fiancé, Don Ottavio, discover the body and mourn Don Pedro.

On their way, Don Giovanni and Leporello come upon a woman, Donna Elvira, complaining of the lover who abandoned her. Don Giovanni takes it into his head to comfort her, until he recognizes her and realizes that he is the one she is complaining of. While he sneaks off, Leporello holds her attention.

Don Giovanni’s next move is attempting to seduce the bride, Zerlina, at a wedding in a nearby village. He has gotten the bridegroom, Masetto, out of the way, and is in the process of charming the bride, when Donna Elvira arrives and warns the bride, telling her whom she is dealing with. Donna Anna and Don Ottavio enter, greeting the title character as a friend, although Donna Elvira tells them not to trust him. When he sings at length, however, Donna Anna recognizes him as the seducer of the previous evening, and identifies him to Don Ottavio.

Next, he plans a party to which he will invite the villagers to increase his conquests, and leaves. Masetto returns, and Zerlina wins him back. Don Giovanni returns and issues his invitation. Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Don Ottavio, who are now masked, plan to attend the party and use the opportunity to trap Don Giovanni.

At the party, Don Giovanni dances with Zerlina, and then drags her out. She screams, and Masetto follows, but Don Giovanni blames Leporello and offers to kill him. The masked trio confronts him, removing their masks, but he stands up to them.

In Act II, Leporello attempts to resign, and Don Giovanni gives him a purse instead of accepting, and they move on to the next conquest. Donna Elvira stands on her balcony, fighting within herself over her love for Don Giovanni. He sings to her from below and regains her favor, but when she comes down, she sends him off with Leporello, with whom he has changed capes, so that he can seduce her maid. He is interrupted by Masetto and other villagers. As Leporello, he instructs them in finding their quarry, and then gives Masetto a beating; Zerlina comes to comfort him.

Leporello reaches Donna Anna’s courtyard, and attempts to get away from Donna Elvira, but is blocked by the entrance of Donna Anna and Don Ottavio on one side and Zerlina and Masetto on the other. He is forced to identify himself, and manages to escape. Meeting up with Don Giovanni again, this time in a graveyard, he is subjected to a tale of the seduction of his own girlfriend, when suddenly they are interrupted by Don Pedro, who speaks to them through a statue, on which the inscription reads, “I await revenge on the one who slew me.” Leporello is terrified, but Don Giovanni invites the statue to dinner, and it nods its acceptance.

Don Giovanni goes home to dine, and begins his meal without waiting for his guest. Donna Elvira enters, begging him to reform. She leaves, but screams from outside, and Leporello goes to check. He comes back speaking of a stone man.

There is a knocking, Don Giovanni responds, and the statue enters. Being invited to dine with the statue, Don Giovanni agrees, but when he takes the statue’s hand, he is engulfed in flames. Don Ottavio and Donna Anna plan to wed in a year’s time, Zerlina and Masetto at once, Donna Elvira will enter a convent, and Leporello will seek a new master.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth , Writer
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for Musical Expert, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.

Discussion Comments

By anon335451 — On May 20, 2013

Thank you. This was very helpful.

Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth


Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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