Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Opera, Gluttony and the Deadly Banquet

Don Giovanni, King's Theatre, London. 23 July 1820

Mozart's Don Giovanni is an opera that deals with the libertine themes of aristocratic excess, promiscuity and lust. These vices are underlined by the presentation of gluttony. But at the end of the opera, the conspicuous consumption of food and flesh is nicely contrasted with the moral heat of the hellfire consummation.

Yet the tone, mood and form of this opera buffa is, in its totality rather ambiguous, as it oscillates between the comic and tragic elements that compose it. There is a pressing sense of gravity and frivolity; of a moral code and the libertine repudiation of it.

The brilliance of Mozart's composition further complicates coherent interpretation by blending elements of fooling and farce with romantic anguish and a tragic sense of an underlying vacuity in human affairs. It borders on the the modern preoccupation with absurdity and nihilism, and a grotesque presentation of the human predicament.

Another way of thinking about the underlying oppositions exposed in the opera is the familiar pairing of Eros and Thanatos explored in the psycho-analytic work of Georges Bataille and Sigmund Freud.

According to Peter Conrad, opera "is an art devoted to love and death (and especially the cryptic alliance between them); to the definition and the interchangeability of the sexes; to madness and devilment; to drink when Don Giovanni sings his so-called champagne aria, to eating when Carmen invites Don Jose to gobble up everything in the tavern; and to blasphemy against a Christian religion that reproves this bodily glory and chastens the organism in which the voice is warmly housed." (p.11)

At the end of his Preface to his book A Song of Love and Death: the Meaning of Opera (1987)
Conrad comments perceptively

"One of opera's gospels is gluttony. It delights in Don Giovanni's gorging last supper and in the gobbled repasts of Puccini's bohemians [...] Opera also irrigates the well-fed body, and abounds in the praise of drinking, from the inebriated romp of the emperor and the poet in L'Incoronazione di Poppea to Herod's inventory of his wine cellar in Salome." (p.16)

Examples from film and theatre demonstrate these interpretations of Act 2 Scene 5 of
Mozart's Don Giovanni :

Dinner presented. Comic absurdity. Misrule. Gluttony. Parody of the Last Supper?

The statue of the Commendatore returns to life and exacts his punishment on the libertine Don Giovanni.

No comments:

Post a Comment