Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - Theses

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    Don Giovanni's avenging women
    Morgan, Holly Dee ( 2013)
    A common misconception surrounds the role of the female characters in the opera Don Giovanni, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1787 to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Today’s performance practice often excludes the duet “Per queste tue manine,” between Leporello and Zerlina. This thesis explores the implications of reinstating this important duet and its associated scene as both highlight a significant transfer of dominance from male to female. Its reinclusion sheds new light on the strength of the female characters in Don Giovanni. Issues of domestic violence (Zerlina and Masetto), abandonment (Elvira) and passionate revenge (Anna) are analysed to expose the shortcomings of productions that omit “Per queste tue manine” with its transfer of power from men to the women. These women are not neurotic, forgettable, or dependant. Rather, all possess a strong sense of self and like Giovanni are ambitious. Peter Sellars’s and Jose Montes-Basquer’s productions (both from 1991) offer contrasting dramatic interpretations of femininity in Don Giovanni, and are analysed to propound feminist viewpoints on characterisation. Dramatic intention is discussed as a necessary performance tool which, when applied, aids the understanding of characterisation for an audience. Theatre-great Konstantin Stanislavski’s techniques provide scope for the exploration of feminist characterisation in performance. The words of Aristotle, Sylvia Plath, and Sophocles offer literary connections between powerful femininity, abandonment, and the art of tragedy, which align with the feminist conclusions that are drawn here. The viewpoint of powerful femininity with which this thesis is aligned is that of Susan Gilbert and Sandra Gubar, as outlined in their feminist literary criticism The Mad Woman in the Attic (1979). Gilbert and Gubar advocate that readers and audiences be clearly presented with the influential attitudes of fictional women in literature; a concept that is brought to light in this thesis through an exploration of Elvira’s, Zerlina’s, and Anna’s attitudes and behaviours. Giovanni’s three women creates an immensely powerful feminine unit, which is exhaustively explored throughout the four chapters that comprise the thesis. Through an examination of the musical score, recordings, DVD performances, program notes, and musical and non-musical literature, all supporting the author’s personal engagement with the music of Zerlina, this thesis uncovers the powerful femininity often hidden within the characterisations of Mozart’s operatic creations. In Hebrew, the name Zerlina means ‘beautiful dawn’; Don Giovanni, guided by Zerlina, and when interpreted in the manner suggested, may too head towards its own innovative and beautiful dawn.