Giovanni as Noir: Mozart and DaPonte’s Masterpiece Through a Modern Lens
Stage Director Kristine McIntyre takes a look at classic Mozart opera from the perspective of the great Hollywood noir film genre.
A hero we love to hate. A mysterious woman from his past. Murder and seduction. Retribution and revenge. The themes of a great Hollywood noir film – and the essence of Don Giovanni.
It’s an opera replete with grey areas, starting with Giovanni’s own moral ambiguity, his love/hate relationship with Elvira, his shifts between violence, sensuality and humor, often in the same scene. Mozart and DaPonte labeled it a “dramma giocoso” but these days we look at the piece rather differently, given that it begins with rape and murder. We want to indulge in the guilty pleasure of rooting for the Don, though we’re supposed to be rooting for those earnest characters working so hard to achieve his downfall. How perfect and how freeing, then, to reexamine this piece through the lens of film noir, a genre built on contradictions and mixed emotions.
In the noir universe, the anti-hero navigates a world built on paranoia and mistrust. Younger characters confront a loss of innocence in a world gone mad, much like Anna and Ottavio, Zerlina and Masetto. And the city itself often becomes a character, shadowy and forbidding. The characters seem physically and emotionally lost, and so too in Don Giovanni, where in the second act everyone is at sea and only the Don finds the calm before the final storm. And that’s in a graveyard.
Like any noir anti-hero, Don Giovanni knows he can’t run from his past. It always catches up with you – whether in the guise of a beautiful, scorned woman, or the ghost of the father– figure you murdered in cold blood. Call it fate, call it justice, it always gets you in the end.