Recognition Denied in <i>Don Giovanni</i>

Jessica Waldoff

in Recognition in Mozart's Operas

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780195151978
Published online May 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199870387 | DOI:
Recognition Denied in Don Giovanni

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This chapter shows how critical thinking about recognition makes it possible to reframe the questions that have dominated the reception of this opera. Is Don Giovanni a hero or a villain? Is the opera a comedy or a tragedy? Does the conclusion dramatize moral triumph or heroic defiance? At the climax of the opera, the moral truth towards which its recognition scenes have been pointing comes into conflict with the titanic defiance of its protagonist: recognition is denied. This ending creates a disjunction between dénouement (Don Giovanni's damnation) and lieto fine (the other characters' recognition of the moral of his tale). Critical thinking about recognition makes it possible to understand the problems surrounding the ending — including the performance tradition of omitting the scena ultima and lieto fine to conclude the opera with fire and brimstone — in a new way.

Keywords: lieto fine; disguise; dénouement; scena ultima; comedy; tragedy; moral truth

Chapter.  8342 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Opera

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