Textual Polyphony in Mozart's Don Giovanni

Master's Thesis


The usual reading of Don Giovanni (DG), aside from political critique of aristocracy, sees it as an opera moralizing on the punishment of sin. The resulting interpretation descends from a literary tradition originating in counter-Reformation texts, starting with de Molina’s El Burlador and continuing with such acclaimed comedies as the commedia-dell’arte L’ateista fulminato, to Goldoni’s and Moliere’s Dons. Charles Russell presents Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s DG as “a culmination of a 150-year-old tradition … of all Don Juans who had come before” (Don Juan Legend, XXX). This linear reading informs the widely shared interpretation that over the whole opera, from overture to finale, looms the sinner’s refusal to repent and inevitable condemnation to eternal punishment. I propose a different method that takes into account widely divergent but interlocking contemporary texts. I define this approach as polyphonic and contrapuntal: expanding the network of literary and non-literary texts from Mozart’s Kyrie in C minor to Da Ponte’s memoirs. My interpretation is that, from the overture onward, Mozart evokes the final call to repentance rather than damnation. Don Giovanni dramatizes the offer of forgiveness, not its refusal.


Attribute NameValues
Author Lesley Grace Sullivan
Contributor Pierpaolo Polzonetti, Research Director
Contributor Vittorio Montemaggi, Committee Member
Contributor Zygmunt Baranski, Committee Member
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline Romance Languages and Literatures
Degree Name Master of Arts
Submission Date 2016-05-13
Record Visibility and Access Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


Please Note: You may encounter a delay before a download begins. Large or infrequently accessed files can take several minutes to retrieve from our archival storage system.