Opening Night at La Scala: Mozart's 'Don Giovanni'

There are plenty of great operas that reveal their true intentions right from the start -- think of the ebullient overtures that launch the brilliant comedies of Rossini and the portentous preludes introducing Verdi's complex tragedies. But there are others that open with cards held closer to their vests, and Mozart's enigmatic Don Giovanni takes the latter approach.

The overture to Don Giovanni begins in a dark D Minor key that seems to suggest impending tragedy. Yet the music's quick pivot to a bouncy D Major represents only the first in the opera's compelling progression of abrupt, emotional u-turns.

Actually, a close look at Mozart's own description of the opera warns us not to make any assumptions about its dramatic character. He called it a "dramma giocoso" -- a "playful drama" -- which at first seems to be a severe case of misdirection; the action begins with an attempted rape, quickly followed by a cold-blooded murder.

Yet, in between the shocking opening sequence and a climactic scene that finds Giovanni plunging into the fires of hell, the notorious Don leads us through exploits that often evoke high comedy. And it's Giovanni himself, with his deeply unsettling appeal, who provides the dramatically shifting core of Mozart's masterpiece.

Don Giovanni is a genuine villain. He's a serial womanizer, a rapist, a killer — and that's just touching the surface. Yet, as heaps scorn on his pitiable victims, laughing at them all the while, the audience tends to laugh right along with him. And after his well-earned demise, the opera ends with a suggestion that even those victims wish Don Giovanni was still around -- to keep us all uneasily entertained for as long as possible.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Don Giovanni from one of the most anticipated of all operatic evenings, opening night of the latest season at Milan's La Scala, and the cast is worthy of the occasion. The stars are soprano Anna Netrebko as Donna Anna, baritone Peter Mattei in the title role, baritone Bryn Terfel as Leporello, soprano Barbara Frittoli as Donna Elvira and tenor Giuseppe Filianoti as Don Ottavio. The production is led by conductor Daniel Barenboim.