The work is sui generis, incomparable and enigmatic from the evening of its first performance to its present day.
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Don Giovanni was a collaborative work between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. They call this type of opera “drama giocoso,” or gay drama. It sure has generous measures of both tragic emotion and comedy. This opera was written as a commissioned work from the Italian opera company in Prague, where the composer and librettist experienced success with The Marriage Figaro in 1786.
Because of the diverse elements the collaborators poured into this, the form of this masterwork is almost undefinable. As Einstein says, “Where material like this is concerned, in which, as in Faust, such dark primeval, demonic forces are inextricable combined, analysis can never be complete. The work is sui generis, incomparable and enigmatic from the evening of its first performance to its present day.”
All these unique qualities can be found in the Overture, which opens with somber chords for the trombones, repeated three times; this motif is associated with Donna Anna’s father, Commendatore, whose ghost appears before Don Giovanni during dinner. The subdued drum rolls heighten the ominous atmosphere suggesting the opera’s fateful conclusion, when the Don is dragged off to hell.
Not all sections of the Overture have something to do with motifs in the opera proper. The fast section in the Overture merely suggests the buoyant lighter side of the work. After the presentation and expansion of the three main ideas, the Overture is rounded off with a string and woodwind coda.