Of Catalogues and Crushes
Drama, Music, Close Reading, English Language Arts, Social and Emotional Learning
- The reproducible handouts for this activity
- A pen or pencil
- Scratch paper
Common Core Standards
This activity directly supports the following ELA-Literacy Common Core Strands:
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6–8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
One of Mozart’s most famous (and most controversial) arias occurs in Act I of Don Giovanni, when Leporello shows Donna Elvira a catalogue he has made of Don Giovanni’s many, many conquests. In this activity, students will analyze the aria, consider how Leporello has “categorized” the woman it lists, and respond to this categorization in small-group and class-wide discussions. Finally, they will play a game of Categories (reverse Scattergories) inspired by their close reading and analysis.
STEP 1. LISTEN
Begin by introducing the “Catalogue aria” (Track 4) to students. Distribute the text and translation reproducible, and play the aria for them. Tell students that it is sung by Giovanni’s servant, Leporello, in Act I of Don Giovanni.
By the end of this step, they should have a good grasp of the following points: You can either simply explain them to students, or you can invite students to listen to and read the aria, and then figure out the following bullet points by a process of induction.
- What’s the text about? Leporello shows Elvira a list of all the women that Giovanni has seduced.
- What’s the point of the aria? This aria serves as a comical tool to bring the audience up to speed on the romantic history of the opera’s namesake.
- How do onstage listeners (i.e., characters in the opera) respond to the aria? Leporello’s list sparks shame and horror in Donna Elvira, who is one of Giovanni’s many exes (and is still hoping that he will marry her, as he promised to do).
- How might the audience respond to the aria? Pay attention to your own response as you listen to this aria. Does it strike you as funny? Cruel? Clever? Inappropriate? What is making you feel this way: The music? The text? Both?
STEP 2. CATALOGUE THE ARIA
In this aria, Leporello crassly “catalogues” the women using five major descriptors:
- Country of Origin
- Social Class
- Hair Color
- Body Type
Distribute the “Cataloguing the Catalogue” handout. Divide students into small groups (3–4 people) and ask them to jot down the specific ways Leporello speaks of each category in this aria. (For example: “tall ones = majestic, small ones = graceful” would go under the “Body Type” category.)
Once students have entered the descriptive information under each category, invite them to discuss within their groups:
- How do you feel learning that Giovanni’s exes have been categorized in this way?
- What would you do if you discovered that someone you once dated had done the same?
- How do you think Donna Elvira feels learning that she is just one of Giovanni’s many lovers?
STEP 3. DISCUSS
Now that students have spent time working in smaller groups, it is time for a classwide discussion. (Remind your students that this should be a safe and civil discussion; it may help to review the rules on the Philosophical Chairs handout.) Address each of the following questions with your students.
- In what ways is it harmful to separate people into categories?
- In what ways is it useful to separate people into categories?
- What kinds of categorical descriptors did Leporello’s list NOT include?
- What can you learn about the values of the person making the list when you see which categories they chose to use for sorting people?
STEP 4. PLAY “CATEGORIES”
After their discussion, invite students to lighten the mood by playing an improvised game of “categories” (like reverse Scattergories).
- Divide into teams of four to five people.
- In teams, select a category of people, places, things, or activities (e.g. “camping”).
- Select four to five items to list in your category (ex. camping >> bear, ice, sleeping, tent). Hint: The more obscure these items are the better!
- Once all teams have created their categories and lists, teams will get up in front of the class and mime each individual item on the list. The other teams must use the mimed items to clue them into the category the team has chosen. The first team to guess the category wins that round.
STEP 5. REFLECT
Return one more time to Leporello’s aria. Play it again for students and ask them to imagine how Leporello might be miming each of the items in his five categories as he sings through the text. Does Mozart’s music give us any clues?
To personalize this activity, invite students to spend some time making a list of the qualities they enjoy in a best friend or romantic partner. It may help to think about the qualities they enjoy in people with whom they already have relationships (such as friends and family members) How do the people you love best make you feel? What do you admire most about those closest to you? Use the outline below to guide students as they thoughtfully craft their own categories.
Note: It should be up to students whether or not they share this list.
The Rules of The List
- Most of the qualities on your list must be part of a person’s inner being (their character, beliefs, etc.) rather than physical descriptors.
- All elements of your list must be school appropriate.
- Your list should be honest. (Since you do not have to share out this information unless you want to, it is most important that you are honest with yourself about what you truly want in a best friend or romantic partner.)