The activities in this guide address various aspects of Don Giovanni:
The political and moral themes of the work
Its context as a work of the European Enlightenment The rich interplay of Mozart and Da Ponte’s characters
The production as a unified work of art, involving creative decisions by the artists of the Metropolitan Opera
The guide is intended to cultivate students’ interest in Don Giovanni whether or not they have any prior acquaintance with opera. It includes activities for students with a wide range of musical backgrounds, seeking to encourage them to think about opera—and the performing arts in general—as a medium of entertainment and as creative expression.
A Lot of "Light" Music: A Close Look at the Influence of the European Enlightenment on Mozart and Don Giovanni
A comic opera about a serial seducer may seem an unlikely place to look for ideas that reshaped Western thought and culture over the course of the 18th century—but such ideas continually surface in Don Giovanni. Mozart and Da Ponte’s titular anti-hero begins the opera by killing a man; he ends it en route to hell. And yet the philosophical principles embodied in, and sometimes parodied by, this opera caused such different intellectuals as the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw to lavish praise on both the work and its protagonist. Kierkegaard believed that Don Giovanni marvelously depicted the darker sides of human nature. Shaw considered Giovanni himself a powerful life force, a model for modern men. How might someone as badly behaved as Don Giovanni merit any praise at all? In this two-session activity, students will
become acquainted with key ideas of the European Enlightenment
assess commonalities and differences in Enlightenment thought
place Mozart, Da Ponte, and the world they knew in the broader context of Western history
evaluate the composer and librettist’s intentions in key scenes and statements found in Don Giovanni
express personal interpretations of scenes and characters, citing specific evidence
apply the social thought reflected in Don Giovanni to fictional and current-events situations
For background on the European Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, see the sidebar New Findings, New Ideas.