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Mozart’s Don Giovanni

Erwin Schrott as Don Giovanni, Washington National Opera, 2007

1,908 words

Editor’s Note:

The following essay on Mozart’s Don Giovanni is from the Ursus Major website. Any information on its author would be greatly appreciated.

Those interested in seeing Don Giovanni should first check to see if the Metropolitan Opera encore broadcast of their current production is showing in your area on Wednesday, November 16. Click here to find a theater in your area: The Met broadcasts are the best way to see opera. Period. The superimposition of the subtitles on the screen gives the words great immediacy. The use of multiple cameras and closeups gives you a view superior to even the most expensive seats in the opera house.

On DVD, I recommend the superb 1954 color version conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. On CD, my favorite is the 1959 recording conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini with such amazing singers as Eberhard Wächter, Joan Sutherland, Gottlob Frick, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Those interested in a modern, digital recording on period instruments should try the recording conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.

It is obvious that Don Giovanni is a very serious work given a buffa veneer from the simple fact that Mozart wanted the opera to end with the damnation of the Don (as it was initially produced in Vienna, to his delight), and that the anti-climatic finale was added at the insistence of the impresario in Prague (and, alas, has attached itself to the work, save for that first, short — but authentic! — production in Vienna).

Don Giovanni is a “comedy,” in the sense that Ionesco’s Rhinoceros is a comedy. The buffa elements are there to distract [. . .]. E. T. A. Hoffmann understood this and so did Kierkegaard. GBS [George Bernard Shaw] knew exactly what the implications were. Why do you think he interpolated Don Juan in Hell into Man and Superman? Because Don Giovanni anticipates Jenseits von Gut und Böse by nearly a century: the Don is the Übermensch!

Wagner knew there was much more to Don Giovanni than the printed score indicates. He didn’t know exactly what; but of all of Mozart’s operas, it’s the one he felt most drawn to. (Perhaps because, subconsciously, Wagner could see the shadow of himself in the character of the Don: beyond good and evil.) The Commandatore is one of those idols, whose Twilight Nietzsche so accurately delineated. All of this is very hard to comprehend, because the buffa aspects of the opera are so perfect, and the music is, well, Mozart. What more can one say?

I say the Don is the Übermensch (and feel the shade of GBS nodding in agreement), because he is totally inner-directed, which makes him an Übermensch. The Over-Man is not a creature devoid of manners and morals; rather, one who has fashioned them himself: he is a Ding an sich. Of course the Don does not “repent”; he has nothing to repent for.

Donna Anna, who is the only other “strong” character in the opera, was ecstatic when she believed that the Greatest Wimp in Opera, Don Ottavio, had finally developed something approaching virility. (There are countless essays in every language, except perhaps Ebonics, advancing the premise that the Don “scores,” before the curtain rises; and that Anna’s harpy-pursuit is the result of her delight in discovering her husband-to-be was a virtuoso in the Ars Amoris, followed by the realization she’d been “had”! If so, it’s the only time the Don does, which is part of the buffa: facia di farina.)

The Don does everything he can to avoid fighting the old fool — until the Commandatore infers that he’s a coward, which is an intolerable accusation. (And isn’t Mozart’s summoning of The Beast, now in command as honor has been maligned, an utterly masterful deployment of the interval between billiard shots?)

The trio for basses — three basses! — shows the compassion of the Don, but what else could he have done? Truly unfortunate that the old geezer brought it on himself, but what does the Don have to repent for? Nothing! He did everything, consistent with honor, to avoid this; but the Commandatore would have it no other way. Hard cheese! Exerunt. As for the other women, we see that the source of Elvira’s fury is not having Don Giovanni for her own. Once she thinks she has acquired him, she is transformed from harridan to house-cat. And at the conclusion of la chi darem la mano, Zerlina is pushing the Don to the site where their “union” will be consummated. Why should he not resume at the festivities what had been thwarted by Elvira — after such careful preparation (and arguably the finest duet ever composed)? Again: ubi sunt culpa?

Besides, the Übermensch harbors manifestly superior genetic material. Is in not in accord with the Categorical Imperative that these superior genes be given the widest possible distribution? 1,800-plus is pretty wide, but the Don is unique; furthermore, these superior genes aren’t reserved for aristocrats; no, they’re available to milkmaid and countess alike. Aperto a tutti quanti; viva la libertà! Were he a bullock, he’d be heaped with honors! Don Giovanni is the finest artistic statement ever made in favor of eugenics — and for this he should repent? (The program notes, even from a 1939 production at the Wiener Staatsoper, wouldn’t have raised that consideration!)

The conclusion is mere lip-service to convention. The Stone Guest and his demons are Nietzsche’s “idols.” The statue has come as invited, and good manners mandate the Don return the visit. The Übermensch would never behave uncivilly. The statue demands that he repent. The Don refuses, time and again: he has nothing to repent for! (At the party, Zerlina behaved like a stupid goose. She was the one shoving him, a few scenes earlier.) Neither Mozart nor da Ponte were so naive as censure the Don. After all, had not da Ponte — a baptized Jew and ordained priest — been forced to leave Venice, not merely for taking a mistress and running gaming rooms, but also supplying filles de joie upon request? Mozart may have been a virgin until his marriage [!], but he was no prude.

[. . .]

Nietzsche held the Übermensch to be a state-of-being, not a physical entity. This is shown to be true, by the fact that never once did Nietzsche use the term in the plural: Übermenschen! Failure to comprehend that results in a gross misinterpretation of Nietzsche’s works. Wagner, in his “Nordic” tetralogy (the only thing Nordic about it being the names of the characters and the warped adaption of some sagas, he used to advance the ideals of Bakuninite anarchism) provides the criteria for the status of the Übermensch. In the second act of Die Walküre, Fricka totally demolishes Wotan’s contention that the son he sired on a mortal woman, Sigmund, is a “free agent,” able to reclaim the Rhinegold, which the runes that serve as the Germanic Logos prevent Wotan himself from doing. Wotan sinks into despair, crying “Den Freien muss sich selbst schaffen; Knechte knehte ich nur.” This “free-agent,” the Law unto Himself, is of course Siegfried: a product of fraternal incest (an abomination), beholden to the gods for nothing. He alone can restore his father’s sword (which divine power had broken) by filing it to powder, resmelting it, and forging it anew. Nothung is recreated by the adolescent Übermensch. It is entirely of Siegfried’s doing and with it, he destroys Wotan’s runic spear, heralding an end of the gods’ power.

Pedants, who write program notes, will try to make a villain out of the Don, citing minutiae, like the Don emerging at the end of Act I with a drawn sword, while dragging Leporello behind him. What jejune twaddle! The Don emerges with something that flashes and glitters (pedants forget it’s also theater, that must command the audience’s attention). This is certainly affirmed in the Second Act, where for a purse of coins, Leporello forgets all that has gone before and resumes his servile status. He readily assumes the Don’s hat and cape, to fool that harridan Elvira and get her out of the way (allowing for the exquisite arietta with mandolin). The fact that the Don is not a vicious or violent man is affirmed in the buffa scene (straight out of the commedia del arte), where Masetto (thinking the Don to be Leporello) displays the weapons he has amassed to kill the Don — and receives nothing more than a sound box-on-the-ears. (While we are rewarded with a fine arietta by Zerlina, on how she’ll nurse Masetto — who is back, full of piss and vinegar, in no time.) In actuality, if a “pious” nobleman had been shown an array of weapons an oafish peasant planned to use on him, the nobleman’s chief concern would have been how to clean his sword afterwards.

We must remember that in the ancien régime, opera was an aristocratic entertainment. Among the nobility, seduction was regarded with levity. Schiller’s play Kabala und Liebe — which Verdi “worked over” to fashion Luisa Miller — underscores the grossly different attitudes toward sexual conduct between the classes. Da Ponte casually commented that he rented his over-priced lodgings in Vienna, because the rent included the “ministrations” of the landlady’s sixteen-year-old daughter. (Mozart, on the other hand, confided in a letter to his father, that he had been a virgin at the time of his marriage.) The first three Books of the Tetrateuch are allegorical buffa plots (in which no seduction is sucessful nor sexual act actually consummated): mere titillation masking enormous profundity. With Don Giovanni, the real revelation is the nature of the Übermensch, hidden behind the mask of a frustrated rake.

He is a totally inner-directed person, building a code of conduct upon the faculties all gentlemen possess: conscience, a disdain for violence, and generosity: aperto a tutti quanti; viva la libertà!

He’s no prude. Sex is merely another human need, like food and drink. (The Don’s monomania in the opera is merely a distraction. Da Ponte’s attitude in real life is more in keeping with the Apollinian Canon.) The Pauline idiocy about the “virtues of chastity” is just that: idiocy. “Not by bread alone doth man live,” Nietzsche has Zarathusra say, “but also by meat!” — and then slit the lamb’s throat.
His manners are impeccable and his honor inviolable.

In fact, he differs scarcely at all from what Confucius, thousands of years before and within the context of a totally different Race-Culture, called “Manhood-at-his-Best.” The ancient Greeks had ascribed to Apollo the one and only Divine Commandment: Know Thyself! Oscar Wilde pointed out in his remarkable essay, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” that while such sufficed for the Ancients, for Faustian Man the maxim must read BE Thyself! Hidden inside of Don Giovanni is the antithesis of that miserable creature described by Nietzsche in Ecce Homo: the “Last Man,” the mindless conformist, materialist, hedonist, and egalitarian: “one herd and no shepherd!”

[. . .]

Don Giovanni brings forth the Übermensch, three-quarters of a century before Nietzsche’s hazy delineation. It also dispels those idols, long exorcized by the rational; but still clung to — even with the images streaming in from the Hubble — still a potent force among those, who dread the idea of “going it on their own.” Forget about the “lechery” — without a seduction. That is there simply to mask the real intent: the delineation of the totally inner-directed Übermensch.

Extract from “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Apollo’s Anamuensis?,”



  1. Jan L
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    From the article:

    “I say the Don is the Übermensch (and feel the shade of GBS nodding in agreement), because he is totally inner-directed, which makes him an Übermensch. The Over-Man is not a creature devoid of manners and morals; rather, one who has fashioned them himself: he is a Ding an sich.”

    From the Free Dictionary

    Guided in thought and behavior by one’s own set of values rather than societal standards or norms.

    (Philosophy) guided by one’s own conscience and values rather than external pressures to conform

    This sounds interesting. I didn’t know I was an Übermensch! Many thanks!

  2. MOB
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t seen the name Ursus Major for 10 years. Back then I was involved with a small group of activists who had been subscribed to the esu-list. I was subscribed for too short a time to form my own impression, but I still have email exchanges in which he was discussed.

    He signed himself:

    I have two articles written by UM:
    2. PREFACE to Marcus Ely Ravage’s A Real Case Against the Jews (Century Magazine, January 1928), which UM, for some reason, entitled “Jewish Influences” by Markus Ely Ravage. I (and thousands of others) have the full article, as well, and it can be seen here: along with Part II.

    UM’s Preface begins thus:

    PREFACE by “Ursus Major”
    It was “The Jazz Age”: Bootleggers and Revivalists, Gershwin and the Blues, movie stars and one, long, roaring Bull Market on Wall Street. The world had been “made safe for democracy” – but not too safe: all of Europe’s emperors were gone, but the dictators were just arriving. The first was Vladimir Ulyanov (better known as “Lenin”), who together with Lev “Trotsky” Bronstein, had first dismembered the Russian Empire, and then reassembled most of the pieces – after a brutal civil war – into The Soviet Union, the first Marxist- Communist state. Although Lenin wasn’t Jewish, Trotsky was, as were a great number of other leading Bolsheviks (as they had been called before the Revolution, and still were by their detractors).
    UM on

    Free Republic:
    To: mrustow – Yeah, I was in New York myself when the Central Park Jogger Wilding attack went down. Working about 15 blocks north of 110th St. on the Westside. Heard the news on the radio – and I wanted to run down there to 96th and Fifth – with an assault rifle. Didn’t have one, of corse. Didn’t do it, of course. But you understand I’m sure.

    esu-l: *de gustibus non est disputandum*! Anti-Semitism was rather chic in the 1920s & 30s: Henry Ford, Fr. Coughlin, Gerald L.K.Smith. Mencken had far more to say about Woodrow Wilson than the Jews, however!

    A friend wrote: “Ursus was so clearly jewish – anti-Christian, pro-empire, anti-Aryan. He is a good example of why I believe Jews need to be identified by their spirit NOT THEIR RACE – because racially they are often white. Im not surprised he is on the AmRen list.”

    My group knew Ursus Major as David Stennet, a Jew. Criticisms expressed against UM, included:
    He refuted the idea that Ashkenazi Jews are heavily inbred.
    He hated Christianity; relatedly, he disputed the fact that the Founding Fathers were Christian.
    He expressed contempt for Southerners, rednecks, and “lone white wimps.”

    UM’s writing style is typically Jewish–sarcastic, condescending, contemptuous, wise-guy. He leaves one wondering what side of the net he’s standing on. His Ezra Pound article is revealing; like all Jews, any mention of Jews has rounded edges.

    An AR-list poster identified contributor “Ecce Homo” as “David Strassbourg, who runs ESU.” I don’t know if EH and UM were connected. However, I had received emails from EH that convinced me he was Jewish, as well. Some of his positions were:
    AR should not join with other “whitist” groups (a position shared by AR Jews before AltRight and NPI).
    Jews should be ignored at this point because they are in decline.
    “The fringe” blows the Jewish problem way out of proportion into an unhealthy obsession.
    The Jews are a vanishing tribe here in America. This vanishing trend should be encouraged.
    He also said, “It is true Jews have slipped at the helm, so to speak (They are at the helm, are they not?). They are guided by a descending philosophy.”

    I have a nicely written letter to UM (“David”) that a friend of mine posted to esu. It’s longer than a usual Comment. But I’ll submit it, and you (Editor) can do as you wish with it.

  3. CompassionateFascist
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Hmm…just let me transpose to the music room and give the Don John overture a listen. 6 min. 30 sec later…powerful stuff. The Romantic Age definitely did not begin with Beethovan, and – whatever else it is – this opera is no comedy.

    • ned
      Posted November 9, 2011 at 4:25 am | Permalink

      You are quite correct. Although not as noticeable until Beethoven’s time, there were many elements of Romanticism even in Haydn’s symphonies, with some of them displaying “Sturm und Drang” effects.

      Romanticism and Classicism often overlap each other, at least in Music and Literature.

  4. Fourmyle of Ceres
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink


    A quick comment:

    Note that a book by a Mr. Harold Covington, “The Stars In Their Path,” appears in the “you may also like” section following the essay. This book, with synchronicity worthy of Jung, deals with reincarnation.

    If memory serves, Mozart was not as fond of Don Giovanni as he might have been, seeing much room for improvement, which he could not fulfill before his untimely passage from this mortal coil. Saint-Saens, musical prodigy of the first water, took it upon himself to rewrite “Don Giovanni” when he was four. A casual review of the life of young Camille reveals enough to strongly imply that Mozart returned, if only to tie up some loose ends.

    Wonderful essay.

    Thank you very much.

    What’s In YOUR Future? Focus Northwest!

  5. MOB
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Subject: Re: See the Gods bow their heads. . .
    Date: Mon, 19 Jan 1998 01:43:31 -0500
    From: Dan Parker
    To: [email protected]


    You’ve gone to considerable lengths to illustrate the similarities between Christianity and Mithrasism, other pagan religions, Judaism and Greek mythology. Finally you boast that you could write all day–presumably on the same subject. I’m sure you could. But why would you have killed as many baby electrons–to be evocative of imagery more familiar to you–as you already have to make such a simple argument? Do you imagine that Christians aren’t already aware of those things?–and I’m not saying you’re right. Do you think we know nothing about our history as a people and as a culture?

    For the sake of argument, David, let’s say you are right. Christianity took pagan rituals and applied them in the worship of another god. So why would you attack it so much then? A rose by any other name…

    Is it your argument that you would attack equally any other religious discussion in this forum? Why? Given that religion of one form or another, gods of one variety or another, have been central to our culture throughout our recorded history, why do you hate it so much?

    You’ve stated that “[t]hose on this list who hold Christianity as THE heart of our Western European/Race culture tend to have a tendency to use too much imagination when dealing with DEDUCTIVE arguments. . . which IS the foundation for any debate.” The grammatical problems in that sentence aside, the essential argument is patently false. You’re implying–no, you’re explicitly asserting–that the people discussing Christianity in this forum are simpletons. You damned well know better than that. It is only narcissism, which you keep in check in your persona as David Stennett and let gush forth unrestrained through your alter ego, Ursus Major, that deludes you into thinking for a moment it might be true. (No, David, don’t summon up Ursus. We only want to speak with David now.)

    You complain “[n]either you nor the rest of your ilk [Christians?], have advanced ONE positive action for the restoration and preservation of the Euro High-Culture.” Neither have you, David. Nor will you allow us the chance to in this forum.

    Christianity and Jews, which you desire to destroy and exalt, respectively, would not occupy as much of this forum were it not for your incessant thumping. If you didn’t notice, when Ursus Major, whoever that clown is or was, stopped his particular thumping, the forum took a well deserved pause. You simply will not allow the discussion to flow naturally from those things held most sacred to other topics of interest. As soon as this process begins, you or your alter ego, Ursus, begins the war again. You’re a disrupter. A Jew?

    Short of a revolution, counter to the one of the 60s and the 70s which destroyed Western culture in the U.S. and much of Europe (as it was organized, funded and led by leftist Jews), the university will remain quite out of our hands. The popular culture which replaced high culture is lovingly coddled by every branch of the media (again, this is controlled largely by Jews).

    Nicholas Strakon, who is not, to my knowledge, an academician nor a scholar or writer of any wide repute, is, nevertheless, a true lover of Western civilization and high culture. He writes in an essay on preserving Western identity: “I am a disbeliever in both Judaism and Christianity, but Blake still throws a shiver up my spine when he writes:

    “Jesus was sitting in Moses’ Chair
    They brought the trembling Woman There
    Moses commands she be stoned to death
    What was the sound of Jesus’ breath
    He laid His hand on Moses’ Law
    The Ancient Heavens in Silent Awe
    Writ with Curses from Pole to Pole
    All away began to roll

    “A man who will not or cannot permit himself to be moved by those lines is for better or worse, no Westerner. He may be a superior being, but it is going to be hard for us mere Westerners to talk to him. Hard to confide in him, hard to love him.

    “We may be inferior beings, but if we exercise our moral and cultural imagination when we read Blake’s lines, we will be able to pierce the tissue of theology and metaphysics–so weighty and divisive in other contexts–and see, within, a proud, brilliantly concise celebration of some core elements of the West: fellow-feeling, equal justice, and incorruptible heroism. Exerting my imagination, I “own” Jesus not as my metaphysical savior but, in his incorruptibility, benevolence, justice, and courage, as the defining Hero of the West. And I see in him little of the soul-frozen, cowering, malicious, black magical, dead-eyed Levant.

    “And that is just how Western artists have “owned” Jesus, how they have renaturalized him from Jesus of Nazareth to Jesus of Europe. … When I listen to the great sacred music of the West–Victoria’s Masses, Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis,” the “Matthaus-Passion,” Parsifal, the Mozart, Brahms, and Faure Requiems, and on and on–I do not hear the sort of revulsion for mankind, worship of death, hatred of the mind and spiritual collectivism that many individualist-atheists and revivers of Old Religions detect in all that Christianity has touched. Allegri’s Miserere, despite its text, does not droop and cringe; it leaps with glory.”

    Europe took Jesus, David. We took Him spiritually, and we probably took His physical body, or parts of it anyway. To equate Mithrasism with all that flowed from our taking Jesus is ignorant at best and hateful at worst.

    You are a disrupter, David. A Jew? Your posting that Jew’s insane rant on the source of antisemitism, whatever that is, to the ESU website is just plain stupid. If you look at all of Western Christendom, the magnificent cathedrals, the beautiful rituals and ceremony, the incomparable music, the glorious and heroic paintings and sculptures and are still willing to imagine for one solitary moment, that we despise the envious Jew because Jesus is reputed to have been a Jew, then you simply do not understand the great and heroic spirit of Western man. You are not one of us.

    Still, you insist on exalting the Jew as being essential to the West. And worse, you insist that we are petty and jealous, even hypocritical if we’ve been innoculated against polio. It is not at all difficult to show that the large majority of Jews are not only anti-Western, but have been actively engaged in its destruction from at least the 19th century to this day–probably longer.

    So what if a Jew writes an essay suggesting that the European peoples need to live separately from the dark races? Is that an original idea? Does the name Wilmot Robertson ring a bell?

    One Jew writes an essay calling for separation of the races. One Jew, Emmanuel Cellar, is the father of the 1965 immigration act. From that one Jew’s piece of legislation has come the “browning of America” and the assurance that separation into an smaller patch of the Earth’s crust is now necessary for the Western man on this continent.

    You are a hater of the West, David. You may pretend otherwise, but what you write, and no doubt your actions prove it. I conclude with Strakon:

    “At the end of Tosca, the heroine, who has righteously slain the murderous political-policeman Scarpia, is being pursued by his thugs and is about to throw herself from a parapet. Floria Tosca’s dying cry: ‘O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!’–‘We shall meet before God!’–qualifies, I think, as a cynosure of Western Romantic art. I will even say that ‘O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!’ may be the climactic cry of the West; it was first uttered on stage in 1900 as the West was just beginning its own descent from the zenith. Hearing it, the literalist will remain dry-eyed–muttering, ‘Oh, she believes in God and the afterlife. That’s irrational. How tedious.’

    “I disbelieve in the supernatural, but if I were required to explicate ‘O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!’ I would resort to a richer context than the one encompassing the debate over atheism. Whether Tosca and Scarpia do indeed meet before God, it will always be the case that Tosca is a heroine and Scarpia a villain; that she is good and he is evil; that despite all man’s evil deeds, Justice IS, eternally, whether it emanates from the Godhead, from the unbreakable stone of the universe, or from our own nature as reasoning fellow-beings.

    “It may be that the special flavor of Western tragedy–I want to call it bittersweet–results from Christendom’s presumption that Right is personified and that the Righteous may expect a glorious reward after suffering injustice. In Western tragedy, to an important degree, ‘all is not lost.’ By way of contrast, a moral ‘black hole’ may exist at the center of Classical tragedy: as transfixed as we are by Antigone’s great struggle for justice, we have no basis for presuming that she will meet her tormentors before the pantheon on Olympus. Even if she did, the gods might laugh at her, or attempt to seduce her, or take her tormentor’s side. Justice and Right do not seem to inhabit the very soul of the Classical aesthetic universe as they do the Western.

    “An old atheist is permitted to weep when Tosca shouts her lovely defiance, if he is a Western atheist.”

    Ref. Nicholas Strakon, “The Western Aeries: Our Lovely Redoubt,” April, 1997.

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