"Mozart and Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni" - the premier of Don Giovanni in Prague in 1787

29 October 1787, Mozart’s opera Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni “Don Giovanni” was premiered at the Teatro di Praga, now the Estates Theatre, in Prague.
“In Don Giovanni, however, desire is absolutely qualified as desire; intensively and extensively it is the immediate unity of the two previous stages. The first stage ideally desired the one; the second desired the particular in the category of multiplicity; the third stage is the unity of the two. In the particular, desire has its absolute object; it desires the particular absolutely. In this resides the seductiveness that we shall discuss later. In this stage, therefore, desire is absolutely genuine, victorious, triumphant, irresistible, and demonic. Therefore, of course, it must not be overlooked that the issue here is not desire in a particular individual but desire as a principle, qualified by spirit as that which spirit excludes. This is the idea of the elemental originality of the sensuous, as suggested above. The expression for this idea is Don Juan, and the expression for Don Juan, in turn, is simply and solely music.” (Søren Kierkegaard, “Either/Or“)

Ilya Repin: “The Stone Guest. Don Juan and Doña Ana“, 1885 

Actually, “Don Giovanni should have been an “opera buffa”, a comic opera. Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, responsible for the libretti of "Le nozze di Figaro" and "Così fan tutte" as well, did his best to keep the subject matter in the tradition of the 18th century’s view of the character of Don Juan that succeeded Tierso de Molina’s original, preachy treatment of the motif. Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni is no longer de Molina’s Don Juan, an irresistible seducer, he is ageing, none of his attempts to hustle somebody succeeds, his attributed lust for living is confined to guzzling champagne and his only claim for greatness is his assessment that there would be no more repentance for him and his inimical “No!”. Shallow, if it were not for Mozart’s sinister, dramatic and fierce fundamental tone in D minor and an extraordinaire instrumentation E.T.A. Hoffmann described as an orchestral tempest with notes shining forth like lightning bolts of ethereally moulded metal.

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard:
"Don Juan and the statue of the Commander“
(1830 – 1835)

The original Spanish legend of Don Juan is quickly told – he was the son of a war hero who used his family ties and closeness to King Pedro the Cruel to get away with all kinds of misdeeds until he tried to seduce the daughter of the governor of Seville. The Grande called the rake out and was skewered for his pains. Don Juan mockingly invited the governor’s statue to dine with him afterwards and the stone guest came indeed and dragged the miscreant to hell with him. The adaptions of the story followed Tierso de Molina’s sanctimonious reading, sometimes indulged in the rather juicy elements but only Moliere managed to give the topic at least a bit of thoughtfulness – until Mozart and “Don Giovanni” and the musical event in D-minor that made room for poets’ and philosophers’ musings about Don Juan that linked him even with Faust.

Max Slevogt:  "Don Juans Begegnung mit dem steinernen Gast"
(Don Juan's Meeting with the Stone Guest, 1906)

The paradigm change of the motif culminated in Kierkegaard’s tongue-in-cheek idea to bring a sect into being that would solely worship Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and the German poet Christian Grabbe coupled the two damned archetypes Don Juan and Faust in a struggle for the affection of Donna Anna, paraphrasing the conflict between Apollonian and Dionysian concepts while other great ones from Pushkin to Shaw and Camus, to name but a few, versified their own variations of the subject matter until author Max Frisch formulated hell as petty bourgeois married life in Switzerland. Legend has it that one actual living counterdraft of Don Juan sat in the audience during the premier of “Don Giovanni”, Giacomo Casanova, eponymous in common belief but characters that could not have been more diverse, in behaviour and the appreciation of women and the philosophical approach on life itself.

And more on:



And E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novella "Don Juan" can be found here in translation: