Don Giovanni

Gazzaniga

Information

Libretto by Giovanni Bertati; first performed in Venice 5th February 1787.
English translation by Jeremy Gray and Gilly French

The Orangery terrace, Westonbirt School 28 August 2004
St John's Smith Square, 16 September 2004

Cast

Cast 2004

Don Giovanni Daniel Norman
Pasquariello Mark Saberton
Commendatore Nicholas Merryweather
Donna Anna Helen Semple
Duca Ottavio Huw Rhys-Evans
Donna Elvira Sarah Redgwick
Maturina Rebecca Bottone
Biagio Nicholas Merryweather
Donna Ximena Cheryl Enever
Lanterna Christopher Bowen
   
Conductor Jason Lai
Director Jeremy Gray
Orchestra The London Mozart Players

Cast 1997

Don Giovanni Ashley Catling
Pasquariello Henry Herford
Commendatore Nicholas Merryweather
Donna Anna Amanda Pitt
Duca Ottavio Benjamin Regan
Donna Elvira Sarah-Jane Dale
Maturina Anne-Marie Keaney
Biagio Justin Harmer
Donna Ximena Gillian French
Lanterna Ben Linton
Chorus of peasants Morag Crowther, Jennifer French, Wendy Guest, Annabel Molyneaux, David Hackett, Andrew Hichens, Ben Linton, Damian Riddle. Dancers Felicity Cormack, Joan Monks

Orchestra Simon Fischer (leader), Paul Buxton, Alison Strange, Adrian Dunn, Lawrence Whitfield, Gill Brightwell violin; Luciano Iorio, Cathy McCracken viola; Christina Shillito (continuo), Eve Harris cello; Ken Knussen double bass; Jonathan Katz harpsichord; Caroline Marwood, Neil Black oboe; Derek Taylor, Richard Wainwright horn.
Conductor Guy Hopkins
Director Jeremy Gray

 

Synopsis

Part I
Don Giovanni attempts to seduce Donna Anna whilst his manservant Pasquariello keeps lonely watch outside. Giovanni is challenged to a duel by Anna's father, the Commendatore; the Commendatore is killed and Anna's fiancé, Duca Ottavio, swears vengeance. In his search for new adventures Giovanni encounters his forsaken love Donna Elvira. Pasquariello delights in telling Elvira every detail of his master's many conquests whilst the Don is busy wooing Donna Ximena. A party of peasants enters: Maturina and Biagio are about to celebrate their wedding. Giovanni relishes the opportunity of yet another conquest, and sees off an angry Biagio. He skilfully manoeuvres his way out of a simultaneous collision with all three women, leaving Maturina and Elvira to fight it out between themselves.

Part II
Ottavio visits the Commendatore's mausoleum, followed by the Don and his servant. To Pasquariello's terror, the statue visibly and audibly accepts an invitation to supper: Giovanni however is unconvinced. Back at Giovanni's house, Elvira arrives and makes an impassioned but unsuccessful final plea for the Don to mend his ways. As the evening progresses Giovanni and Pasquariello share the pleasures of good food and wine, singing the praises of life's delights, the beauties of Venice, and Venetian women in particular. The statue arrives to keep its appointment and drags an unrepentant Giovanni to his death. Ottavio and the women enter, aroused by the noise; Pasquariello and the cook Lanterna describe Giovanni's downfall and the opera ends with final rejoicing.

Reviews

Financial Times
Financial Times 20 September 2004

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Financial Times

Financial Times 20 September 2004

It has a bigger cast, a quarter of the humour and a tiny fraction of the inspiration. Throughout Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni you cannot help making comparisons with another opera of the same name, written in the same year. And of course Mozart wins hands-down. The only possible point in Gazzaniga's favour is the way he pours a near-identical plot into a smaller pot and even then, his one-acter feels longer than Mozart. None of this has deterred Bampton Classical Opera from disinterring Gazzaniga's dramma giocoso. The Oxfordshire company visited London last week to show off its summer staging.

Giuseppe Gazzaniga (1743-1818) is the poor man's classicist. Educated in Venice and Naples, he followed all the rules of late eighteenth century buffa style, without the heart of Paisiello or the wit of Cimarosa. the only value in hearing his work is to remind ourselves just how huge the gap is between Mozart and his contemporaries. In Gazzaniga's version, Donna Anna barely registers, Don Ottavio is a blank sheet and you end up wishing more had been made of minor characters like Donna Ximena, ignored by Da Ponte and Mozart but treated here to some winsome music.

The one blot on Bampton's English language production was its decision to preface each half with instrumental music by Gluck: it may have helped pass off Don Giovanni as an evening-filling work, but it's dishonest to do so. Jeremy Gray's modern dress staging was tight but effortful, profiling the seducer (Daniel Norman) as a shaven-headed clubber. Rebecca Bottone's Maturina caught the ear, Cheryl Enever's Ximena the eye, but the most polished performance came from the orchestra.

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Andrew Clark

 

Opera magazine
Opera magazine November 2004

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Opera magazine

Opera magazine November 2004

Giuseppe Gazzaniga's one-act dramma giocoso has had a surprising number of productions and recordings since the 1974 publication of Stefan Kunze's new edition. First performed in Venice in 1787, eight months before Mozart's and Da Ponte's version in Prague, Gazzaniga's opera has a plot that, in Giovanni Bertati's libretto, is almost identical to Da Ponte's. The main differences are that Donna Anna goes into a convent striaght after the murder of the Commendatore, and that there are two subsidiary characters, Donna Ximena, an amorous lady to add to Giovanni's catalogue, and Lanterna, a comic manservant who features prominently in the supper scene.

The opera was sung in a translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray, the artistic directors of Bampton opera, and had already been performed in August at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire. Even in the sometimes difficult acoustics of St John's the words came across clearly - it helps, of course, when the story is so familiar. Daniel Norman was a suave, tenor Giovanni. The costumes were vaguely 1970s, Giovanni in a white suit, Pasquariello (Mark Saberton), the Leporello character, in a black shirt and braces. His catalogue aria, sung with the aid of a plastic globe, develops into a duet with Donna Elvira (Sarah Redgwick), who becomes very much the leading lady; one of the highlights of the evening was her duet with Maturina, the Zerlina figure, when they exchange insults, having been brought together by Giovanni, each supposing the other to be a madwoman in pursuit of him. Rebecca Bottone as Maturina also did well in her seduction aria - in this case it is she who goes after Giovanni. Apart from a couple of slightly piercing high notes, this was a performance of considerable confidence. Nicholas Merryweather doubled as the Commendatore and Biagio (i.e. Masetto). His big aria, the equivalent of 'Ho capito', brought the most effective singing of the evening. Huw Rhys-Evans made Ottavio a positive character. Helen Semple was a Donna Anna obviously not quite sure which she regretted most, her father's death or the fact that Giovanni escaped from her. Cheryl Enever as Ximena and Christopher Bowen as Lanterna made the most of their brief contributions.

Jason Lai led a spirited performance , with the London Mozart Players producing a fine sound in the suites from Gluck's incidental music for Don Juan which served as curtain-raisers. The best of Gazzaniga's opera comes in the scenes that are furthest from Mozart's version: the two-soprano duet; the drinking trio for Giovanni and his servants in which they toast Venice, and then the jolly finale, after the Stone Guest has done his work. Gazzaniga composed more than 50 other operas, but it is his fate to be for ever associated with this one - and all because Da Ponte lifted most of Bertati's libretto for his own, admittedly lofty purpose.

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Patrick O'Connor

 

Opera Japonica
Opera Japonica website, October 2004

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Opera Japonica

Opera Japonica website, October 2004

A more obscure rendering of the story of Don Giovanni, by Giuseppe Gazzaniga, provided a contrast of sorts when Bampton Classical Opera paid their annual visit to St John’s, Smith Square. Written in 1787, the same year as Mozart’s opera, the work is full of startling parallels with the better-known work. At the beginning and at various points throughout, Giovanni Bertati’s libretto mirrors da Ponte’s almost line for line; there has been much speculation that da Ponte may have had sight of Bertati’s libretto at some point.

Musically there are also parallels. The entrance of the peasants for their wedding party seems only too familiar, as does the voice of the Commendatore’s statue and the wind band during the supper scene. Nevertheless, this opera has nothing even approaching the complexity or depth of Mozart’s, and its running time (less than two hours, including an interval) is testament to the fact that Gazzaniga and Bertati deal with a far simpler plot.

Other than Don Giovanni himself, the voice types are much the same as for the Mozart opera. The Don is a tenor, and was sung here by Daniel Norman, who was possibly not as vocally charismatic as one might have hoped. A strong collection of bright-voiced young sopranos made up the Don’s lovers and conquests; Sarah Redgwick was secure in Donna Elvira’s demanding arias, while Rebecca Bottone displayed some dazzling vocal acrobatics as Maturina, the Zerlina character. Donna Anna - a small role - was ably sung by Helen Semple, and Cheryl Enever was sweet-toned in the ‘additional’ role of Donna Ximena. Mark Saberton sang securely and supplied most of the laughs as Pasquariello (a k a Leporello) while Nicholas Merryweather proved perfectly capable of doubling as Biagio (a k a Masetto) and the Commendatore.

As the piece lacks an overture, some music from Gluck’s ballet, Don Juan, was used at the start of each act. The style was slightly incongruous but I suspect it would have been stranger without it. Conductor Jason Lai paced the performance well. The lasting impression was that this is a somewhat simplistic work, very well performed.

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Ruth Elleson

 

Musical Opinion
Musical Opinion November 2004

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Musical Opinion

Musical Opinion November 2004

Giuseppe Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni is an intriguing musicological curiosity, a kind of trailer to the greater opera that Mozart created from the same source material. It was an imaginative choice for Bampton Classical Opera whose production was first seen at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire, before being staged at St John's, Smith Square, on 16 September.

Composed in one act, it is a more compact score that Mozart's, which it predated by eight months, but substantially the same in its dramaturgical structure. The libretto by Giovanni Bertati, a frequent collaborator of Gazzaniga's, incorporates Giovanni's attack on Anna and the murder of her father, after which she enters a convent; the arrival of Elvira, followed by another of the Don's conquests, Ximena, and the eruption of the wedding party, bride and groom here named Maturina and Biagio. At this half-way point it moves to the Commendatore's mausoleum which is visited by the abandoned Ottavio; then comes the invitation to supper, a digression in which Giovanni and his servant Pasquariello, a name harking back to the story's commedia dell'arte origins, sing the praises of food, wine and the beauties of Venice, before the arrival of the Stone Guest and Giovanni's dispatch to Hell.

Gazzaniga's music has pace, vitality and atmosphere and though it lacks the character development at which Mozart excelled, it propels the action along via effective solos and ensembles, a tenor Giovanni lending brightness to the vocal palette, with a small chorus and an orchestra of strings, oboe, horn and trumpet.

There is an interesting twist to Pasquariello's catalogue aria, delivered with zest by the baritone Mark Saberton, in that Elvira joins in to turn it into a lively duet. She is the principal female character and Sarah Redgwick infused her singing with fiery personality. She was strongly partnered in a jealousy duet with Maturina, each accusing the other of madness, byt the personable Rebecca Bottone, who was equally striking in the aria in which she turns the table on the Don by pursuing him. She exudes sexual allure and projected notes and words clearly. Nicholas Merryweather did double duty playing both the offended Biagio, whose aria of outrage he delivered powerfully, and the avenging Commendatore. Daniel Norman sang Giovanni with demonic energy, while Huw Rhys-Evans in the other role of Ottavio, provided vocal contrast with his smooth, measured tones. Helen Semple's Anna, Cheryl Enever's Ximena and Christopher Bowen as the servant Lanterna made positive contributions.

In the absence of scenery the production by Jeremy Gray, who was also responsible with Gilly French for the English translation, relied on lighting effects, though in the second half the top level of the stage was dominated by the Commendatore's mausoleum. The costumes were late 20th-century.

The conductor, Jason Lai, captured the spirit of the piece with his small band of London Mozart Players, who also gave polished accounts of extracts from Gluck's Don Juan ballet played as short overtures to the two parts.

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Margaret Davies

 

Articles

Don Juan transformed
Jeremy Gray

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Don Juan transformed

Busoni's Turandot, Paisiello's Barber of Seville, Grétry's William Tell, Leoncavallo's La Bohème: the history of opera is full of narratives and libretti which, although often successful enough in their day, have sunk into obscurity once eclipsed by a more illustrious rival. Don Giovanni as both title and character has long been enshrined as the rightful property of Mozart, and to append an alternative composer - especially one as obscure as Giuseppe Gazzaniga - might seem to be an illegal usurpation of entitlement. Yet in choosing the theme of the lascivious Don for his Prague commission of 1787, Mozart was adopting a hackneyed and blatantly commercial theme, already made popular in that city through at least three earlier operas of 1723, 1730 and 1776. In fact Mozart's was the fourth opera on the subject composed in 1787 alone: Gazzaniga's version for the Teatro San Moisè in Venice was premiered in February and quickly followed by one by Gardi, written for a rival Venetian company and with many obvious derivations. Goethe commented on the impressive success of the one act version by Vicenzo Fabrizi, given at the Teatro Valle in Rome in the autumn, which "was performed every night for four weeks and so excited the city that the whole family of every last shopkeeper filled the stalls and boxes, and no one could go on living who had not seen Don Juan roasted in Hell". Notwithstanding the fact that the story offended the rationality of the age of enlightenment and raised the hackles of the polite litterati, there was no doubting the likelihood of box-office success for any dramatic or musical rendering of the theme.

The origins of the story which thus came to possess almost mythological status lie in the 'Golden Age' of Spanish literature, with the earliest surviving edition being El Burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de piedra of 1637 by Tirso de Molina, a monk whose dramatic activities were condemned by the Council of Castille's Committee for Reform. Many aspects of the story and characters familiar from subsequent paraphrases are already found in Tirso's original - the long-suffering servant aware of his atheistical master's moral outrages, the Don's seductions of aristocrats and peasants alike, the rape (or at least attempt) in the darkness of the Duke Ottavio's fiancée, the murder of her father whose tomb-statue is bizarrely invited to dinner, and the ultimate penalty which the unrepentant Don pays. Subsequent versions adapted and moulded this material to their own ends and cultures, amongst which the greatest are undoubtedly by Molière (Don Juan, ou le festin de pierre, 1665) and the Venetian comic writer Carlo Goldini (Don Giovanni Tenorio, ossia il dissoluto, 1738), as well as an English version, The Libertine, by Shadwell (1676). Around this core of literary masterpieces grew a mass of more popular versions, including fairground pantomimes, the Commedia dell'arte, and puppet-shows. Indeed, in the libretto of the Capriccio with which Bertati and Gazzaniga prefaced their Don Giovanni (the music is now lost), the singers are heard complaining that they are required to perform such a clichéd drama.

Giovanni Bertati (1735-1815), who provided the texts to most of Gazzaniga's operas, was the leading librettist of his day in Venice, and consequently became the victim of disparagement in the memoirs of his compatriot rival the Abbate da Ponte. In fact he was to briefly succeed da Ponte as Court dramatist in Vienna (1791-1794), where he wrote the text for what has become the most enduring Italian work of the period, Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto. He returned to Venice in 1794 and retired as Archivist at the Arsenale (the statue photographed for the publicity for tonight's performance stands outside that remarkable building). Bertati's libretto for Don Giovanni maintains many links with the popular tradition but also draws extensively from Molière, with lesser borrowings from Goldoni. The name of the Don's servant, Pasquariello, who occupies much of the centre-stage and provides most of the comic content whilst also acting as a more serious voice of moral conscience, is drawn from the Commedia dell'arte, as is his catalogue of conquest, the 'list' aria which da Ponte was also to make use of. Many passages and details of the text are taken from Molière: the Don's play-off of the rivalling Donna Elvira and the peasant Maturina (which Gazzaniga sets to a brilliantly caustic duet, reminiscent of that of Marcellina and Susanna in Figaro) comes from the French playwright's scene of the two peasant rivals Charlotte and Mathurine; Pasquariello's lavish description of his master as the "Alexander the Great of women", his account of the Don's vices which suddenly changes to a fulsome list of his virtues when the Don walks into sight, and the farcical incident of his stealing a meatball from the dinner table as well as the under-servant changing the plates as soon as his head is turned are closely paralleled. Bertati can thus hardly be credited with originality, and his characters may be little more than ciphers: yet he was undoubtedly an accomplished and successful librettist and his text provided the basis for an opera of effective movement and contrast. The action unfolds at breathtaking speed, from the opening rape of Donna Anna and the murder of the Commendatore, to the horrifying appearance of the stone guest at Giovanni's supper. These sections convey the tone of opera seria, as do a number of the solo arias: yet there can be no doubting that the overall mood - in keeping with its origins during the Venetian carnival season - is that of opera buffa, with plenty of potential for comedy and farce.

Giuseppe Gazzaniga (1743-1818) was born in Verona and was originally intended by his father for the priesthood, before turning to music studies in Venice and at the conservatory in Naples, becoming a pupil of the successful operatic composer Piccinni. Although his first opera was for Naples, he returned to Venice and produced a number of works, mostly in the popular genre of opera buffa (a total of at least 40) for cities in northern and central Italy. He was also well-known in Dresden and Vienna where several of his operas were produced between 1774 and 1795, including Il finto cieco, (1786) to a libretto by da Ponte. Four years after the great success of his Don Giovanni, Gazzaniga became maestro di capella at Crema Cathedral, and turned mostly to the composition of sacred works. His works are now almost entirely forgotten (although Don Giovanni demonstrates the unjustness of this obscurity), as are those by his contemporaries Paisiello and Cimarosa, a group whose lyrical but straightforward classicism was to be eclipsed by the more complex work of Rossini and the subsequent bel canto tradition.

Gazzaniga's score may come nowhere near rivalling Mozart's in emotional depth and maturity, yet it by no means deserves to be dismissed. He uses his small orchestra of strings, oboes and horns with considerable skill and variety of effect and colour, and the music has a rhythmic vitality and incisiveness which generally compensates for its harmonic limitations. The extended opening trio is superbly expressed and shaped, moving from the evocative nocturnal mood of the introductory bars, through the fiery altercation between Giovanni and the assaulted Anna, to the callous murder of the Commendatore, whose expiring breaths are superbly captured in the fragmented phrases of the three protaganists. There are a number of poised lyrical arias (two for Elvira, one each for Ottavio, Maturina and Giovanni, the latter concluding with a sting in its tail). The comic music has a deft energy and wit, especially the boisterous 'catalogue' aria of Pasquariello, which turns into a malicious duet with Elvira, as well as the snarling duet of Maturina and Elvira which descends to cat-scratching rivalry. The extensive 'brindisi' or drinking song in the finale, with its lavish praise of Venetian women, must have been especially endearing to the opera's first audiences, but also provides an infectious sense of the mutual friendship between Don and his servant and creates a effective foil to the dramatic climax of the statue's appearance. Throughout, Gazzaniga maintains interest through swift contrasts of mood, and above all, an energy and freshness which render his Don Giovanni a work of delightful appeal.

The links between the Bertati/Gazzaniga and the Da Ponte/Mozart operas which have long intrigued musicologists remain unresolved. There can be no doubt that the Bertati libretto reached Prague and was available to Lorenzo da Ponte (himself a Venetian, and a sometime friend of Giacomo Casanova), who, many years later, stated that it was turned down by Mozart when offered to him by the manager of the Italian Opera in that city, Pasquale Bondini. In a different account, da Ponte claimed that he himself chose the theme of Don Giovanni, and suggested it to the composer, an almost certain untruth. Bertati's script undoubtedly lacked the depth of character development which intrigued Mozart and, as a one-act work, was inadequate for his needs. Nevertheless, da Ponte 'borrowed' extensively from his rival's text, so that the opening and much of Act I in the Mozart, and the climax from the cemetery scene onwards in Act II are barely veiled appropriations. Some of the characters are renamed by da Ponte: Bertati's comic yet philosophical servant Pasquariello became Leporello (da Ponte dropped the additional servant Lanterna), the peasant girl Maturina whom the Don takes a fancy to on her wedding-day was renamed Zerlina, and da Ponte did away with the minor rôle of Donna Ximena. Whether Mozart himself knew the Gazzaniga score is far more controversial. His Ottavio, Antonio Baglioni, had sung the part of the Don in Venice (Gazzaniga wrote the title rôle for a tenor), and was a very likely source of transmission. The knowledgeable listener will detect striking resonances between the two versions: in the opening trio, for example, in the peasant wedding-scene, the graveyard scene, the use of the wind band during the supper scene, and the concluding hectic ensemble.

Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni was performed successfully not only during the February carnival season in Venice, but also in Rome, Paris (1792), Lisbon (1792) and London (1794) and the opera appears to have continued in circulation until 1821. Not all of these performances may have been according to the authentic text and score: the London production, for example, at the King's Theatre in Haymarket, was rearranged by the poet in residence there, da Ponte, who interspersed Gazzaniga's score with music by other composers, including the catalogue aria from Mozart's version. In recent years and since the Bärenreiter edition was published in 1974, there have been performances in Italy and Germany, as well as at the Wexford Opera Festival in the Irish Republic in 1988. In London, the opera was performed by Opera Viva in 1980. Two excellent recordings were made in 1991: a full edition on the Orfeo label, and a version without the recitatives on Sony Classical. The opening scene was included in a South Bank concert by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in 1996. Bampton Summer Opera's production is the first to be given in an English translation.

Jeremy Gray
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