Don Giovanni

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte

Mozart’s bold, beguiling blend of comedy and drama tells the tale of a proud, predatory nobleman and the women who are drawn to him. Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts a cast of exciting young singers led by Lucas Meachem, whose baritone is “sweet, dark-grained and supple, and insinuating enough to make any woman give at the knees” (Santa Fe New Mexican). The enticing cast also features Ellie Dehn, who mixes “a stunning voice” with “real dramatic authority” (Opera News); Serena Farnocchia, who is “nothing short of spectacular” (Toronto Star); Kate Lindsey, "a powerhouse Zerlina" (Dallas Morning News); and Shawn Mathey, who “brings a bright, virile sound and sunny good looks to every role he plays” (Opera News). Noted Italian film and theater director Gabriele Lavia makes his San Francisco Opera directorial debut.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Approximate running time: 3 hours, 10 minutes including one intermission

San Francisco Opera production

Production photos: Cory Weaver 

Audio credit: Audio excerpts are from the June 10, 2007 performance of Don Giovanni with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles


Don Giovanni Lucas Meachem
Donna Anna Ellie Dehn
Donna Elvira Serena Farnocchia *
Leporello Marco Vinco *
Don Ottavio Shawn Mathey *
Zerlina Kate Lindsey *
Masetto Ryan Kuster
The Commendatore Morris Robinson *

Production Credits

Conductor Nicola Luisotti
Director Gabriele Lavia *
Set Designer Alessandro Camera *
Costume Designer Andrea Viotti *
Chorus Director Ian Robertson

* San Francisco Opera Debut


The action, which spans twenty-four hours, takes place in Seville
Late at night, Leporello, the servant of Don Giovanni, is keeping watch while his master attempts to rape the daughter of the Com­mendatore, Donna Anna. She escapes and gives chase, trying to discover the identity of the intruder. The Commendatore rushes to her defense as Don Giovanni slays the old man and flees. Anna returns with Don Ottavio, her fiancé, and the two swear revenge. In the early morning, Donna Elvira, a young woman from Burgos, searches for Don Giovanni; she is one of his jilted lovers. Servant and master spy on her and when they all meet, Don Giovanni talks his way out of trouble and escapes, leaving Leporello to explain his master’s philandering ways. He shows her Don Giovanni’s “little black book.” Around midday, Don Giovanni and Leporello hap­pen upon the rustic nuptial celebration of Masetto and Zerlina. The latter excites Giovanni’s fancy, and he invites everyone to his villa—the better to snare the young girl. The seduction is inter­rupted by Elvira, who denounces him and sweeps Zerlina away. Anna and Ottavio arrive, not yet recognizing Don Giovanni as the murderer. When Elvira interrupts again, Giovanni attempts to pass off her hysterics as madness, but the suspicion is planted. After he leaves to “help” Elvira in her distress, Anna realizes the truth, recounts the events preceding her father’s death, and concludes with a call for vengeance. Ottavio is then left alone to contemplate his love for Anna. Meanwhile, not in the least deterred, Don Gio­vanni orders Leporello to prepare a lavish party for all the neigh­bors. He is reminded to add more names to his famous list—Zerlina’s among them. The guests begin to arrive as daylight wanes. Zerlina vainly tries to soothe a worried, jealous Masetto. Don Giovanni renews his wooing of Zerlina, but her sharp-eyed fiancé intervenes. As Giovanni leads the young couple into the villa, Anna, Ottavio, and Elvira enter wearing masks. They are quickly invited by the master to join the festivities. With the party in full swing, Don Giovanni leads Zerlina into an adjoining room. Her cries, however, bring everyone to her assistance. Don Giovanni tries to make Leporello seem like the offending villain, but no one is taken in. The three guests unmask, and the tone of the party suddenly turns accusatory. Surrounded and condemned, Don Gio­vanni’s adventures seem at an end, but by a sudden intervention he once again escapes his accusers.
Later that evening Don Giovanni, after soothing a disgruntled Lep­orello with some coins, hatches his latest plot, this one aimed at Elvira’s maid; it requires master and servant to exchange clothes. Elvira is lured away by the man she thinks is her beloved and the real Giovanni is left to serenade the maid. Just then an armed Masetto and his followers arrive in search of the fugitive. The supposed Lep­orello sends them off in all directions, personally disarms Masetto, and beats him. Zerlina finds Masetto crestfallen and aching, and she tries to comfort him by offering her own personal remedy. Leporello, still disguised as Don Giovanni, is trying to escape the deceived of Elvira when Anna and Ottavio and, a few moments later, Masetto and Zerlina converge upon him. Believing they have found Don Gio­vanni, they threaten him with a speedy death. Leporello reveals his identity and everyone is dumbfounded; Anna retires. With profuse apologies, Leporello manages to escape. Ottavio asks that Anna be informed of his determination to punish Don Giovanni. Elvira finds that in spite of her outrage, she still feels pity for Don Giovanni.
     Later that night Don Giovanni and Leporello have sought refuge in a cemetery. The raucous conversation is interrupted by a ghostly voice from the statue over the Commendatore’s grave. In response to a doomful warning, Don Giovanni invites the statue, through Leporello’s terrified mediation, to come to Don Giovanni’s villa for a pre-dawn supper. To the servant’s horror, the invitation is accepted. The two return to the villa to prepare. Ottavio seeks to console Anna, suggesting marriage. Temporar­ily rejected, he charges Anna with cruelty. Anna protests her love and begs for patience. Don Giovanni eats supper while a wind band serenades him with popular operatic tunes of the day (including a snippet from Figaro). Elvira rushes in resolved to for­give Don Giovanni and tries to persuade him to change his ways. He cruelly taunts her, and she leaves in despair. Moments later, her terrified scream is heard and Leporello rushes out to see what is wrong. He too screams in terror and returns shaken, announcing the arrival of the statue of the Commendatore. In deadly jest, the Commendatore asks if Don Giovanni will dine with him according to the rules of hospitality. Arrogant to the end, Giovanni accepts. Pressing further, the Commendatore demands repeatedly that Don Giovanni repent his sins, but he is refused again and again. Finally, Don Giovanni meets his death.

Going Rogue: Don Giovanni

Greg Waxberg

"I know of no delight to compare with that given me by some of the illustrious dead whose works I have read or seen. The three finest things God ever made are the sea, Hamlet, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni.”

These two sentences are excerpted from a love letter by Gustave Flaubert to Louise Colet, a poetess whom he met while she was posing for sculptor James Pradier. Colet apparently had complained that Flaubert wrote to her more about Shakespeare than about himself; apparently Flaubert found the Bard more interesting.

Don Giovanni costume design by Andrea Viotti

Such is the power of art and literature, and Flaubert’s praise of Don Giovanni has been reflected by many other artists over the centuries, demonstrating the impact of Mozart’s opera on the arts. Yet, even Mozart had to be inspired to write one of his greatest works, and that inspiration was the legend of Don Juan (“Giovanni” is the Italian equivalent), which, itself, has been the subject of countless incarnations.

It would be convenient to be able to name a single historic person who was or became the Don Juan of myth, but this particular legend does not have that kind of history. Instead, the legend owes itself to a fictional character—but, complicating matters, even this fictional Don Juan may not have marked the first appearance of Don Juan in history. The history books point to a
seventeenth-century dramatic play by a Spanish monk who used the name Tirso de Molina. Titled El Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and His Guest of Stone), the play might have been revised by another playwright. Interestingly, the title of an earlier version, Tan largo me lo fiáis, refers to the idea of deferred payment, quite appropriate to describe Don Juan’s payback at the end of the opera.

“Trickster” in the title does not refer to someone who plays practical jokes, but rather to someone who tries to trick people into believing him. That motivation is central to the Don Juan character and to Mozart’s opera: Don Giovanni continually manipulates women into falling in love with him, and making them believe that he loves them. Also significant, fathers in Spanish plays of the time defend their daughters’ honor, and defense of female honor, in general, was a common theme in Spanish dramas—prevalent ideas in Don Giovanni.

At the end of Molina’s play is an encounter with a statue, a scenario that may have been adapted from versions of an ancient European folk story, The Double Invitation. In the story, a young man insults a dead man and then invites him to dinner. The dead man keeps the appointment and returns the invitation. At the second meal, the young man is terrified into repentance or is punished by death or madness. This double invite serves as the foundation for two scenes in the opera.

Following Molina’s play, so many versions of the Don Juan legend have been published, composed, staged, or filmed that it seems as if every artist wanted to attach his or her name to the story. Bergman, Dumas, Goldoni, Molière, Pushkin, Shaw, and Zorrilla immortalized Don Juan in plays. Gluck composed a ballet, and Richard Strauss composed a symphonic poem. E.T.A. Hoffmann penned a novella. Byron is recognized for his epic poem. Both Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera and Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation include a fictional Don Juan opera. A silent film starred John Barrymore, and Errol Flynn appeared in Adventures of Don Juan. Plus, there were at least four operas.

When the time arrived for Mozart’s rendition, commissioned by the Prague Opera, he was approaching the end of his life. Composed four years before he died, Don Giovanni followed Le Nozze di Figaro and preceded Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflöte, and La Clemenza di Tito. Librettist Lorenzo da Ponte’s main sources for Don Giovanni were Goldoni’s, Molière’s, and Tirso’s plays, and an opera by Gazzaniga (libretto by Bertati). Together, da Ponte and Mozart married comedy and tragedy in what da Ponte termed “dramma giocoso” (“merry drama”); the comic element was important because the Prague theater’s manager, Pasquale Bondini, wanted Don Giovanni to replicate Figaro’s rousing, buffo spirit in orderto help his company’s finances.

Copyright laws did not exist, so, working from Bertati’s libretto for Gazzaniga’s opera, da Ponte followed the story, but limited the number of characters based on the number of available singers. Ultimately, Mozart chose to set the opera in two acts, instead of three, to keep the action moving, since the libretto consists mainly of episodes. The work premiered in October 1787 as Il dissoluto punito, ossia Il Don Giovanni (The Rake Punished), reflecting da Ponte’s moral judgment of the character.

For the singers of the Vienna premiere in May 1788, Mozart needed to make revisions: two new arias and a new scene. “Dalla sua pace” was inserted in Act I for the tenor singing Don Ottavio, because he could not manage “Il mio tesoro” in Act II (Mozart did not intend for both of Ottavio’s arias to be sung in the same performance, but they usually are today, as in this production). The soprano singing Donna Elvira wanted an aria on the scale of Donna Anna’s, so Mozart obliged with “Mi tradì.” In place of “Il mio tesoro,” Mozart added a scene for Zerlina and Leporello, but this scene is often cut today (which is the case for this production).

Dramatic elements of the opera generate from Don Giovanni: they begin with him murdering the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s father, leading her fiancé Don Ottavio to swear vengeance. Don Giovanni abandoned Donna Elvira, leaving her lamenting his betrayal of her. He woos Zerlina on her wedding day and simultaneously chases away her fiancé. He forces his servant Leporello into several uncomfortable situations, such as when Leporello needs to make excuses for him, carry out his wishes, or trade places with him so that Don Giovanni can serenade Donna Elvira’s maid.

Set design for Don Giovanni by Alessandro Camera

Much of the opera’s humor stems from Leporello’s actions and comments. He is, at various times, foolish, fearless, wimpy, sympathetic, amused, and appalled. The audience can laugh at his Catalogue Aria (in the true spirit of a merry drama, the aria is at once funny and shameful) and be his cheering section when he tries to convince Don Giovanni to leave women alone, only to have his intentions backfire.

Doom is foreshadowed from the first note. The orchestral chords that begin the overture are the same chords that will accompany the Commendatore’s second entrance. Subsequent dominating chords and changes in atmosphere leave many possibilities for interpretation, such as mysterious, high, wandering strings and pulsating woodwinds, perhaps representing heartbeats. A galloping motif heard three times in the woodwinds could symbolize Don Giovanni’s carefree attitude or his glee at making new conquests.

Heavy, descending chords followed by fluttering strings comprise a two-part recurring theme throughout the overture. Perhaps the darker chords symbolize the demonic Don Giovanni, and the strings signify the sweet, innocent women of whom he takes advantage. Or the two parts might represent Don Giovanni’s face-off against the Commendatore, or the somber and comic scenes in the opera—or possibly all of these ideas at once.

Overall, it is important to remember that there are two kinds of operatic overtures: those that contain themes from the opera and those that do not, but serve as curtain raisers. Don Giovanni is in both categories, because it personifies the Commendatore, foreshadows the dinner scene, makes clear that this is an opera of contrasts and mood swings, and serves as Mozartean flair.

Drama and comedy aside, this would not be a Mozart opera if it did not contain tender, melodic arias. Don Ottavio’s “Dalla sua pace” and “Il mio tesoro” are in this category, as are Zerlina’s “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” and the Don Giovanni/Zerlina duet “La ci darem la mano.” However, for sheer speed, Don Giovanni’s Champagne Aria, “Finch’han dal vino,” is most impressive.

Significantly, this brief aria, in which he anticipates more conquests, is one of at least two moments in the opera when he outright declares his motivation. The other—also in the spirit of funny and shameful—is when he tells Leporello that he needs women more than bread or air, that to be true to one woman is to be harsh to all of the others, that women call his good intentions “deception.”

Whether intentional or not on da Ponte’s part, the passage of time between the murder and the dinner scene has a notable emotional effect. It leaves no doubt about Don Giovanni’s objectives and depicts one attempted seduction after another, making one feel like someone or something needs to end Don Giovanni’s ruthlessness toward women, or else he will continue his pursuits forever.

In the dinner scene, a fragment of the woodwind motif from the overture is heard again, and the onstage ensemble plays three melodies to entertain Don Giovanni while he dines. The first, a joke on Mozart’s part, is from Una cosa rara, an opera by Martín y Soler that premiered in Vienna in November 1786 and became a box office favorite over Le Nozze di Figaro. The second is the aria “Come un’agnello” from Sarti’s Fra i due litiganti il terzo gode (“While Two Dispute, the Third Enjoys”), and the third is “Non più andrai” from Figaro. However, all levity ends with the arrival of the Commendatore’s ghost.

Musically, this scene with the Commendatore is a stroke of genius. Mozart repeats the opening segments of the overture, with all of the dread and mystery that they convey, now heard in the perfect context. As Don Giovanni is dragged to his doom, the music turns frightful and unforgiving, with harsh drum beats and other vigorous melodies. It would be difficult to imagine Mozart sounding more menacing than he does in these few bars.

Ever since the world was introduced to Don Giovanni, Mozart’s opera has received similar treatment as the original Don Juan legend. A number of composers and writers have praised the work by borrowing from it or simply arguing for its greatness. Liszt and Thalberg composed piano fantasies (Liszt’s is Reminiscences of Don Juan). Chopin wrote variations for piano and orchestra on “La ci darem la mano.” In addition, Beethoven and Danzi wrote variations on that duet, and the twenty-second variation in Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations is based on Leporello’s “Notte e giorno faticar” at the beginning of the opera. Don Giovanni is also referenced in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann.

Mozart would probably be flattered by the comments of Danish philosopher Kierkegaard in the essay
“The Immediate Erotic Stages or the Musical-Erotic” from his book Either/Or, a discussion of the aesthetic and ethical stages of life. Kierkegaard argues that Don Giovanni makes Mozart “a classic composer and absolutely immortal” and that the opera is “supreme among all classic works.” His logic, condensed: the most abstract idea is the “sensuous,” which can be presented only through the abstract form of music; Don Giovanni is the perfect unity of this idea and form; and the subject matter is musical, meaning that the music is not mere accompaniment, but that the story, with its emotions, needs this music, and one could not visualize the story without this music.

One could ask, centuries after Don Giovanni made its debut, whether it was appropriate of Mozart and da Ponte to treat the story of a philanderer with drama and humor.   Perhaps not, and, if it were composed today, its impact might be perceived much differently. Yet, given that Mozart composed the opera for an open-minded Prague audience as opposed to a prudish Vienna, and given that the intention was entertainment (like any other opera), the synthesis is justified. Plus, could anyone conceive of this opera without Leporello’s humor and asides, without his Catalogue Aria? Some things, no matter how incongruous, are simply inseparable once joined—in this case, Don Giovanni’s story, music, and wit.
Greg Waxberg, a writer and magazine editor for The Pingry School, is an award-winning freelance writer and a program annotator for opera companies.

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Director's Note

Gabriele Lavia

Man, in order to tell the story of his origin—his “essence”—uses myth. Myth tells the story of man’s existence. Don Giovanni is a myth in which, as in a hall of mirrors, the essence of man is reflected: his desperate thirst for knowledge, freedom, and absolute solitude. This idea of reflection was the inspiration for our scenic design.

“Deign come to the window oh my treasure…” is the simple, impassioned plea from Don Giovanni that will never receive a response. No one will ever look out from that empty window, and Giovanni will remain desperately alone. But who is the woman that he is inviting to the window? We will never know exactly. She is any ordinary woman, with “a mouth sweeter than honey.” But that woman is ultimately not there; she is an absence. Perhaps she is Death, to whom Giovanni sings his own serenade….
Don Giovanni is a man made of solitude. In the end, the only one that does not abandon him is the Commendatore—and Giovanni is left with the terrible remorse for his murder. In looking at the story’s mythic symbols, the Commendatore is the not only the father of Donna Anna; he is the father of the story. As Giovanni arrives in the cemetery, he invites this man of stone from the realm of the dead to dinner. And the statue accepts, eventually coming as the destiny of death.
Don Giovanni is a myth in which each of us is reflected as if in a “game” of mirrors, calling to mind the symbolic image of human failure and solitude.

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Don Giovanni Facts


Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones; 32 strings (10 first violins, 8 second violins, 6 violas, 5 cellos, 3 basses). Mandolin (for Giovanni’s serenade) played by violinist Craig Reiss. Recitative accompaniment by Maestro Luisotti (pianoforte), Bryndon Hassman (harpsichord), and Thalia Moore (cello).
Additional Orchestra: 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 3 trombones, 6 violinists, 1 cello, and 2 basses that play onstage (in costume) and offstage.
Epilogue: We omit the epilogue in these performances. The epilogue was part of the Prague premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787, but for the Vienna performances in 1788 (for which Mozart added considerably more music, including “Dalla sua pace,” “Mi tradì,” and the duet for Leporello and Zerlina) there is considerable evidence that the epilogue was omitted. Recent research shows that the assimilation of the Vienna and Prague versions occurred before the composer’s death, thus affirming the authenticity of composite versions.
Don Giovanni has been performed in 22 previous seasons at San Francisco Opera. For complete information on these past performances, visit

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Don Giovanni at San Francisco Opera

A look at some of the Company's past Don Giovanni casts

For complete cast listings visit our online performance archive.

Our set for the Company's first Don Giovanni in 1938

Licia Albanese (Zerlina) and Ezio Pinza (Don Giovanni) in 1943. Pinza was the Company's
first Don Giovanni in 1938 and returned to the role five more times. Albanese sang Zerlina
with the Company three times.

Albanese also sang the role of Donna Anna with the Company in 1955. She is pictured here
backstage with Jan Peerce (Don Ottavio).

Richard Lewis (Don Ottavio) and Victoria de los Angeles (Donna Anna) in 1962

Giorgio Tozzi (Don Giovanni) and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Donna Anna) in 1962

Our 1962 set for
Don Giovanni

Gino Quilico (Don Giovanni), Kallen Esperian (Donna Elvira), and Harolyn Blackwell (Zerlina) in 1991

Samuel Ramey (Don Giovanni) and Rebecca Evans (Zerlina) in 1995

Daniela Dessi (Donna Elvira) and Alfonso Antoniozzi (Leporello) in 1995

Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Don Giovanni in 2000

Stanislaw Schwets (Masetto) and Anna Netrebko (Zerlina) in 2000

Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni in 2007

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“Smoke, mirrors and superb singing in S.F. Opera's new Don Giovanni!”
“Baritone Lucas Meachem, a former S.F. Opera Adler Fellow, was in handsome voice as a gangster-thuggish Giovanni, bursting with testosterone at the seams of his black leather greatcoat, whose tail he swept back frequently in a show of arrogant contempt for his lessers.”

  –San Jose Mercury News
“Commanding and musically vibrant” performances by Lucas Meachem and Marco Vinco.
“Baritone Lucas Meachem—a former Adler Fellow who has appeared several times on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House but never with such vocal brilliance or theatrical panache—and the Italian bass Marco Vinco, whose U.S. operatic debut as Leporello was a virtuoso display of darkly gleaming tone and comedic resourcefulness.”

  –San Francisco Chronicle
“Soprano Ellie Dehn was a vigorous and rich-toned Donna Anna.”

  –San Francisco Chronicle
“Fine singing and dramatics were buoyed upon the ample orchestral waves generated by conductor Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera players.”

“Of all of Mozart's operas, ‘Giovanni,’ coursing as it does from the comic to the tragic and back again, contains almost every musical impulse in the composer's storehouse, and Luisotti and company mined every rich vein with both the requisite sensitivity and power.”

Shawn Mathey, rather a last-minute addition to the cast as Don Ottavio, was a full-throated, sweet-voiced tenor with a beautifully controlled vibrato; his fluid and resonant rendition of the "Dalla suo pace" aria was one of many high points of the evening.”

“Italian bass Marco Vinco, making both his S.F. Opera and his U.S. debuts, is a fellow we'll want to see more of. His irrepressibly entertaining Leporello, much-put-upon servant to Giovanni, was drawn in deep, robust voice and enlivened by his skittish, hyperactive stage antics.”

  –San Jose Mercury News
“The women were outstanding!”

Ellie Dehn (Donna Anna) sang wonderfully.”

Serena Farnocchia (Donna Elvira) sang superbly, expressing fury, confusion, and obsession in equal measure. Her Elvira wasn’t hysterical in the Schwarzkopf manner, but she was certainly in desperate need of therapeutic intervention. Brava!”

“SFO debutante Kate Lindsey (Zerlina) was one strong cookie.”

“Handsome Ryan Kuster (Masetto) sang beautifully, and acted so convincingly that it was hard to believe he's an Adler Fellow apprentice.”

  –San Francisco Classical Voice


  • Sat 10/15/11 8:00pm

  • Tue 10/18/11 8:00pm

  • Fri 10/21/11 8:00pm

  • Sun 10/23/11 2:00pm *

  • Wed 10/26/11 7:30pm

  • Sat 10/29/11 8:00pm *

  • Wed 11/2/11 7:30pm *

  • Sat 11/5/11 2:00pm

  • Thu 11/10/11 7:30pm

*OperaVision, HD video projection screens featured in the Balcony level for this performance, is made possible by the Koret/Taube Media Suite.


This production is made possible, in part, by San Francisco Opera Guild.

Cast, program, prices and schedule are subject to change.