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Unravelling Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni

donj
The Commander returns as a stone statue, condemning Don Juan for his crimes.

I remember the first time I ever heard Don Ottavio's showcase aria Il mio tesoro was at the Herald Sun Aria singing competition in 2002. I was blown away and it was, funnily enough, really my first exposure to a Mozart opera aria. From that point on Don Ottavio was, at least until the 30th September when I debut the role, on my list of bucket-list of opera roles to sing.

Don Giovanni is an opera that I return to again and again at the theatre, on my iPod or to sing in my recitals and concerts. Every note written for the tenor role of Don Ottavio is just exquisite and a joy to sing. Dramatically, it is also something uniquely complex in opera and a mystery to unravel.

What’s the story?

Don Giovanni is the timeless story of the fall of Don Juan, a nobleman who “takes great pride in his ability to seduce women of all ages and stations in life” (Wikipedia). However, in trying to “seduce” Donna Anna (it is unclear whether it is seduction or rape) he finds he has messed with the wrong woman. She escapes him and when her father tries to protect her honour, Don Giovanni kills him. This leads to a series of flights, deceptions, failed seductions and gluttonies which culminate in his judgement and damnation from the ghost of the very man that he killed.

So who is this Don Ottavio guy anyway?

Don Ottavio is the fiancé of Donna Anna and, like Don Giovanni, a nobleman complete with the power as his title would dictate, but that is where the similarity ends. Don Giovanni, although disguised as a respectable gentleman, is crude, a liar, a womaniser, a glutton and a murderer. Ottavio, on the other hand, is legitimately respectable: honest, polite, faithful (perhaps to a fault) and dignified.

Donna Anna finds her father's body, pushing Don Ottavio away.
Donna Anna finds her father's body, pushing Don Ottavio away.
Christopher Busietta as Don Ottavio & Sophia Christine Brommer as Donna Anna.
Ottavio is drawn into his worst nightmare after Donna Anna makes him swear to avenge her father’s death. After he has sworn this oath, Donna Anna then suspects Don Giovanni of killing her father when she claims to recognise his voice as that of her attacker.

He is rightly concerned with protecting his place in society and so he is very reluctant to accuse the very respected and popular Don Giovanni of murder without proof. Not to mention that the very thought of killing somebody is appalling to him, honourable as though it might be.

His relationship to Donna Anna appears to be shaky from the start. Although it is true her father has just been murdered, it seems to go deeper. Donna Anna is very cold to his advances and very quick to attack him. It could be that the marriage was simply convenient for her or that she falls out of love with him.

Don Ottavio, on the other hand, is desperately in love with her and agrees to everything she says in an attempt to win her affection. Unfortunately that includes swearing to avenge her father’s death and kill Don Giovanni, against all his rationality, instinct and ability.

Don Giovanni's death.
Don Giovanni dies as Leporello and Death look on.
Dong Hwan Lee (Leporello), Giulio Alvise Caselli (Don Giovanni) & Erich Payer (Death).
Don Ottavio is a very difficult role to play.

Don Ottavio is thrown in a very difficult situation. Not only does he have choose his words carefully when dealing with his volatile fiancé, but he has to negotiate the delicate situation concerning Don Giovanni’s possible crimes. Except in his aria, Don Ottavio is actually holding back his true feelings and picking his words very carefully.

One great scene is when Don Ottavio, Donna Anna and Don Giovanni first meet after Ottavio has just sworn to kill the Commendatore’s murderer. All Don Ottavio says in the scene is: “Ah, Don Giovanni!”.

In this scene, Donna Anna asks for Don Giovanni’s help in finding the Commendatore’s murderer. Don Giovanni makes a ridiculous show of how much he wants to help in order to cover up any suspicion, but cannot resist flirting with Donna Anna.

What could he possibly be feeling? I feel that Don Ottavio is rightly furious, jealous and upset knowing Giovanni's reputation, but he can’t show it. He doesn’t want to anger the more powerful Don Giovanni or show his fiancé that he is jealous, which would give her more leverage over him. Perhaps a part of him is happy that the Giovanni has agreed to help him, yet he also feels like an opportunity to prove his worth is being hijacked.

Don Giovanni opens at the Großes Haus, Theater Augsburg, on Saturday 30th September 2012!
Don Giovanni opens at the Großes Haus, Theater Augsburg, on Saturday 30th September 2012.
This frustration, fear, helplessness and yet devoted love for Donna Anna that is under the surface bubbles out completely in the aria that closes this scene, Dalla sua Pace. He does not want to believe Don Giovanni is the murderer, because it would be so detrimental to his honour and his safety. Yet he cannot find peace and happiness without finding the murderer, because his fiancé would never be happy.

We are seeing a passionate, frustrated, dejected man under the constraints of society and acceptable behaviour as a foil to Giovanni, who is completely free of these fetters.

Don Giovanni opens at the Großes Haus, Theater Augsburg, on Saturday 30th September 2012!

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