Wednesday 5 October 2011


Back for a moment to my piece on Don Giovanni (see here).

My nephew Richard who lives in Spain writes that the fate of Don Juan in literature ("Don Giovanni" is the Italian for this originally Spanish character) has varied according to the state of play in religion and politics...

"El Burlador de Sevilla y el Convidado de Piedra" (the Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest) was written in 1616 during the Spanish Baroque period by Tirso de Molina, a Roman Catholic monk and the founder of this literary device. In his story Don Juan doesn't change, is unrepentant and bound to his worldly desires and so is punished with damnation. The ideas of the Renaissance have failed and people look for escape in the heavens. It is a time of great stoicism. The play is an inspiration to aim for the higher spheres.

By contrast in "Don Juan Tenorio" written by José Zorrilla in 1844 during the Romantic period the story is the same but with the twist that Don Juan is repentant and in the nick of time he is saved by the love of Inés the nun. This is a post-Enlightenment play: man is inherently good; the religious themes are from Zorrilla’s upbringing as a modern Catholic.

Incidentally Richard tells me that the latter play is performed all over Spain every year on All Saints Day because of its ghostly theme.

Perhaps all this adds credence to the view that it was odd for Mozart to go for the damnation option but of course he did predate Zorrilla so it may simply not have occurred to him to look for a happy ending. And as an Enlightenment man he just wouldn't have taken hell-fire seriously (so he isn't really in the Tirso camp even though he's faithful to that plot) whereas the Romantics might have found it disturbing?

Glad we've cleared that up.