Ten inspiring pieces of music 5: Mozart Don Giovanni – Commendatore scene

Some Mozart today – and what to choose? Despite dying in his early 30s he left behind a wealth of music, some of it trivial and trite it has to be said, but more masterpieces than is decent.

The piece that keeps coming to mind is a single scene from one of his late operas, Don Giovanni. It’s the tale of a young, sexually promiscuous man who abuses just about everyone he meets, including his faithful servant. While attempting to seduce (or worse) a young girl, he kills her father, the Commendatore.

Later in the opera, Don Giovanni is in a cemetery by a statue of the slain Commendatore and laughs, only to hear a ghostly voice proclaim that his laughter will not last past sunrise. The inscription on the statute says ‘Here am I waiting for revenge against the scoundrel who killed me’ but Don Giovanni simply invites the statue to dinner, in mockery.

The opera concludes – you guessed it – with the statue turning up to dinner. Don Giovanni nonchalantly orders his servant to set another place, ignoring the statue’s plea to repent. After refusing a final time, Don Giovanni is dragged down to hell by a chorus of demons.

Here’s the scene as rendered in one of my favourite films, Amadeus.

I’m not a huge opera fan but I do like Mozart’s – they’re great music even if you can’t follow the plot, or find it ridiculous. I chose this scene because it highlights the sheer drama that Mozart could conjure up.

There are quite a few videos of this on YouTube spanning everything from traditional performances up to quite modern ones, and I chose a fairly minimal production – the statue isn’t in full costume as in some, the singer simply standing dead still. And I love the acting in this – Don Giovanni, performed by Rod Gilfry, comes across as the arrogant bastard he’s supposed to be.

He was nominated for a Grammy for his recording, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (I believe the performance in the video is conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt). It’s not cheap, despite being twenty years old but it is available to stream on Apple Music. Or click the image below to purchase on Amazon.

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