OPERA IN TWO ACTS
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. First produced at Prague, October 29, 1787, and at Vienna, May 7, 1788. First London production April 12, 1817; produced in New York May 29, 1826.
Scene and Period: Seville, in the middle of the seventeenth century.
The first scene takes place at night in the courtyard of the Commendatore's palace. The wicked Don Giovanni, ever pursuing his conquests, attempts to enter Donna Anna's apartments. She cries for help and he tries to escape, but is pursued by the angry girl, who endeavors to penetrate his disguise. Her father the Commendatore comes to the rescue and is mortally wounded by Giovanni, who makes his escape, followed by Leporello, his servant. Donna Anna is overcome with grief, and charges her betrothed, Don Ottavio, to avenge her father's death.
In the second scene, an inn in a deserted spot outside Seville, Don Giovanni and Leporello enter and conceal themselves as a lady approaches in a carriage. Hoping for a new conquest, Giovanni comes forward, hat in hand, but is surprised to find that it is Donna Elvira, a young woman whom he has lately deceived and deserted. She denounces him for his baseness and he makes his escape, leaving Leporello to explain as best he can. Leporello rather enjoys the situation, produces his diary and adds to the lady's anger by reading a list of the mistresses of the Don. This list is recited by Leporello in the famous Catalogue Aria. Donna Elvira is horrified and drives off, swearing vengeance.
In the third scene, in the suburbs of Seville with Don Giovanni's palace visible on the right, a rustic wedding party comprising Zerlina, Masetto and a company of peasants are enjoying an outing. Don Giovanni and Leporello appear, and Giovanni is charmed at the sight of so much youthful beauty. He bids Leporello conduct the party to his palace and give them refreshments, contriving, however, to detain Zerlina. Masetto protests, but Giovanni points significantly to his sword and the bridegroom follows the peasants. Giovanni then proceeds to flatter the young girl and tells her she is too beautiful for such a clown as Masetto. She is impressed and flirts with him in the melodious duet "Là ci darem la mano."
Giovanni is about to lead Zerlina away, when Donna Elvira, who has been watching, rescues the young girl and carries her off, to the chagrin Giovanni. Donna Anna now enters with Ottavio, who asks the help of his friend Don Giovanni in tracing the murderer of Donna Anna's father. Giovanni assures them of his devotion, and goes to his palace, while Donna Anna tells her lover that she recognizes by his voice that Don Giovanni is the one who slew her father. They depart, and Leporello and Giovanni enter. The servant tells his master that when Donna Elvira and Zerlina arrived at the palace, and Elvira attempted to tell the peasants the truth about the Giovanni, he led her gently outside the gate and then locked it. He is complimented by his master, who bids him prepare for the feast of the evening. Left alone, Giovanni sings his brilliant Champagne Aria.
The scene changes to Don Giovanni's garden. Zerlina is endeavoring to make her peace with Masetto, but he is sulky. She then sings her lovely “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto (Scold (or literally “beat”) Me, dear Masetto).” Masetto is only half appeased, but goes in to dance with his bride. Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Don Ottavio, disguised and masked, enter and sing a trio, in which they pledge themselves to have revenge on the traitor.
The scene changes to the interior of the palace, where the ball is in progress. Don Giovanni continues his efforts to get Zerlina away from her jealous and watchful lover, and finally succeeds, but Zerlina calls for help and Masetto and the three conspirators rush to her assistance. They denounce Don Giovanni, who defies them with drawn sword, and makes his escape from the palace.
Don Giovanni, followed by his servant, enters, wrapped in a mantle and carrying a mandolin. He has heard of a pretty servant whom Donna Elvira employs, and is plotting to get the mistress out of the way. As Elvira sits at her window, he addresses her, pretending to be repentant, but when she comes out he pushes Leporello forward to impersonate him. While they are conversing, Giovanni makes a great outcry and the pair run off in fright. The coast clear, Giovanni sings his famous Serenade to the fair waiting maid.
He is rudely interrupted by Masetto, who appears with a company of villagers, all armed with muskets, seeking the villain. Giovanni, pretending to be Leporello, offers to put them on the right track, but gives them false directions. Giovanni then beats up Masetto. Zerlina arrives and tenderly consoles her betrothed.
In a passageway, Elvira and Leporello are surprised by Anna, Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto, who, mistaking servant for master, threaten Leporello. Frightened, he unmasks and escapes. When Anna leaves, Ottavio affirms his confidence in their love. Elvira, frustrated at her second betrayal by Giovanni, expresses her rage.
The next scene shows the Cathedral Square, with the statue of the murdered Commendatore in the center. Giovanni and Leporello enter, and are discussing the events of the evening, when the statue speaks to them. Leporello is terrified, but Giovanni defies all spirits and boldly invites the statue to supper.
At home, Anna, still in mourning, puts off Ottavio's proposal of marriage until her father has been avenged.
The scene changes to the banquet hall in Giovanni's palace. Leporello is serving Giovanni's dinner when Elvira rushes in, begging Giovanni, whom she still loves, to reform. But he waves her out contemptuously. At the door, her screams announce the arrival of the Commendatore's statue. Leporello cowers in terror under the table, but Don Giovanni is defiant until the ghost seizes his hand, when he feels for the first time a terrible fear. The statue sinks, flames appear on all sides, and demons rise and seize the guilty libertine who falls dead into the flames of hell.
The pursuers enter, still seeking vengeance. Leporello tells them of his master’s end. Donna Anna calms Don Ottavio, who is eager to marry her. Donna Elvira expresses a wish to end her days in a convent. Zerlina and Masetto are a couple once more, and Leporello wants to find a new employer. All sing the moral: such is the fate of a wrongdoer.
The above summary is based closely on that in The Victor Book of the Opera by Samuel Holland Rous, copyright 1912 in the United States. I have made some editorial changes to comply with contemporary usage and have added a few sentences where it seemed to me that information was lacking.