We’ve studied Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1787) as an example of classical opera. Your task in this paper will be to watch three video recordings of one of the scenes we’ve studied (a portion of Act 1, Scene 3), and to compare and contrast these performances, keeping in mind the many decisions that singers and directors have to make when staging an opera.
Begin by listening to the recording of this scene that comes with your book. Follow along closely with the listening chart, get the music in your ears, and make sure you’re very clear on what’s happening at this point in the opera’s plot. Then, watch the same scene in these three productions, all of which are available on on YouTube or via this link:
The scene you need to study takes place at the times specified in parentheses.
Zurich Opera, 2001; conducted by Nicholas Harnencourt; directed by Brian Large https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp11bweiOA8&t=1990s (33:13-45:34)
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1998; conducted by Colin Davis; directed by John Vernon:
Vienna, 1990; conducted by Craig Smith; directed by Peter Sellars https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMXU5pjhPTM (35:37-47:04)
As you’re watching and listening, you can ask yourself questions like these:
Do the singers sound different in each version? If they do, what are the differences? Can you tell if the singers are making different decisions about how to sing the same music? Do they pause in different places, breathe in different places? Do they accent the music differently, or sing louder and softer in different places? Do these differences in singing have different dramatic effects? Can you describe what these effects are? Do you find yourself feeling different emotions when listening to the different singers? Can you say why?
What are some differences in the way the characters are portrayed in the different versions? Can you describe the different impressions you get of the different characters, and can you say what gives you these impressions? Is it how the singers stand? How they move or gesture? What about costumes? What about makeup, or hair color, or hair length? Do they seem realistic? Does it matter if they seem realistic? Do the singers seem believable as the characters they’re performing? If so, why? If not, why?
What are some differences among the various sets? What do you think the directors were trying to achieve with the different sets, and why did they make the decisions they did? Not all of the sets (or costumes for that matter) will try to be “realistic”—do any of them seem like they’re trying for a different impression, as though they’re portraying a different time or place? If so, why might they do this?
Think about these questions in the context of our discussion of Don Giovanni in class. You do not need to address all of them, but you should be addressing these kinds of question in your essay. Also, please be specific in your observations—in particular, please cite at least one specific moment from each of the videos you choose to watch (this three moments in total, one from each video). Please refer to these moments by citing the timings from the videos. If you wish to refer to other portions of the opera in your discussions, this would be fine, but you must discuss Act 1, Scene 3 (the portion covered in your book), as it is dealt with in each of the three performances.
Your paper should be three pages long, double spaced, in twelve point font (Times New Roman or Cambria). It should be well written, with correct grammar, clear and complete sentences, and no obvious spelling errors.
You do not have to consult any sources other than your textbook, these videos, and your own wits—but if you do consult another source, you must cite your research. This means letting us know where you found the material, as well as what in your essay is yours, and what comes from somewhere else. DO NOT PLAGAIRIZE. This is an extremely serious academic offense—it can lead you to get a zero for the assignment and be reported to the Academic Judiciary Committee. It can even lead to you failing the course. It’s also very easy for us to catch. If you have any questions about how to cite an outside source, please speak to your professor or your TA.