Sunday, August 24, 2014

Famous Ephebophile: Mozart's Don Giovanni




Don Giovanni (1787) is considered by many to be the finest opera of all time. David Naugle wrote "What Plato's Republic is to political philosophy, what Michelangelo's Cistine Chapel Ceiling is to painting, and what Shakespeare's tragedies are to drama, so also is Mozart's Don Giovanni to the works and world of opera." And Naugle shared that Goethe opined that Mozart "... obviously possessed deep insight into human nature ..."

Don Giovanni was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but was written by librettist and ephebophile Lorenzo Da Ponte. Is the opera so well known because of its music or libretto? I would argue that the "unsung hero" is Da Ponte. In addition, it is well-known that Don Giovanni was a libertine, who seduced over 1,000 females in Spain - not to mention other lands, but many would be surprised to realize that he specialized in nymphets. 

For example, Giovanni's servant, Leporello, explained to Donna Elvira, one of Giovanni's young spurned conquests, that Giovanni's "... outstanding passion is the youthful beginner....provided she wears a skirt." 

While pretending to be Giovanni, Leporello referred to Donna Elvira as, "Poor little girl...pretty little face!

During his seduction of "Little" Zerlina, a peasant girl, Giovanni told her, "... you are not destined to be a peasant, those roguish little eyes will win you another lot, those lovely little lips, those white and fragrant little fingers; it's like touching reeds and smelling roses." Zerlina was further described as "... my little dear," and as having, "...white and young little hands...that fresh complexion..."

And, Giovanni informed Leporello, "I met a beautiful, young, elegant girl on the street; I went up to her, I took her by the hand ..."

38-year-old Da Ponte had two sources of inspiration for his libretto: Giovanni Bertati's libretto for Don Giovanni, o sia II convitato di pietra and his 16-year-old mistress. 

Da Ponte wrote in his memoir: "A beautiful girl of sixteen...came to my room ...at the sound of the bell...She would bring me now a little cake, now a cup of coffee, now nothing just her pretty face...I worked twelve hours a day every day...and through all that time she sat in an adjoining room...ready to come to my aid at the first touch of the bell. Sometimes she would sit at my side without stirring, without opening her lips, or batting an eyelash, gazing at me fixedly, or blandly smiling, or now it would be a sigh, or a menace of tears. In a word, this girl was my Calliope...for all the verse I wrote for the next six years. 



So, why isn't Don Giovanni known as an ephebophile? My assumption is that it is very difficult to find nymphet opera singers; therefore, most performances of Don Giovanni are done by middle-age women which causes a major theme of the opera to get lost in translation.