Picking a Fight, Da Ponte Style

Today, a follow-up to Tuesday’s post on Terms of Derision in Don Giovanni. This time, a survey of some of the threats of violence and fight-provoking language in Da Ponte’s libretto.

First, self-violence. In a fit of feigned masochism, Zerlina enumerates all of the painful things she invites her fiancé to do to her to prove that she’s really contrite about appearing to run off with another man…

  • Ammazzami – kill me (specifically, “Vien qui, sfogati, ammazzami, fa tutto di me quel che ti piace” – Come here… get your anger out… kill me… do whatever you will with me!”)
  • Cavarmi gli occhi – rip out my eyes!
  • Straziarmi il crine – tear out my hair!

Elvira is determined to do violence to Giovanni. She swears to:

  • Cavare il cor – tear out his heart
  • Farne orrendo scempio – cause a horrendous slaughter

The top of Act II is testosterone gone wild. Masetto is on the prowl to punish Giovanni. The Don himself is in disguise as Leporello, provoking Masetto even further.

  • Farlo in cento brani – cut him in a hundred pieces
  • Ammazzarlo – murder him
  • Trucidarlo – slaughter him
  • Ferite – wound him
  • Fracassargli le spalle – smash his shoulders
  • Rompergli l’ossa – break his bones
  • Accoppatelo – bump him off

And finally, in addition to constantly calling Leporello names, Giovanni obviously feels the need to threaten him:

  • Nel petto ti metto questo acciar – I will put this sword in your chest
  • Orsù, va là! O qui t’ammazzo, e poi ti seppellisco! – Get on with it, or I’ll kill you right here and bury you, too!


And while we’ve had fun with this, rest assured that there is also comedy, wisdom, and love in this show. And amazingly, even all of this strong language comes across with a wealth of nuance and subtext when heard through the beautiful prism of Mozart’s music.

Next week (if we manage to finish all of our intern interviews!), a first stab at what I hope will be a short series on digging into the awesomeness that is W.H. Auden’s libretto for The Rake’s Progress.

One Comment


Elvira is a low estrogen women who out-don giovanni’s all the other women, because no man in his right mind would approach her on her own. The modern Elvira for you. Masetto has so confused, he should be punching Elvira, not poor Don, who haplessly came onto the scene. Masetto should be satisfying Elvira instead of complaining to everyone else. Zerlina has nothing to apologize because she never ran off with anyone — it’s a fiction Elvira composed on her rampage of poor unsuspecting Levitical men. This is the modern remake, except for Don Giovanni’s family gets threatened if he doesn’t give Elvira any attention. And musical friends show unusually double standard — preventing Zerlina from having a personal life, while pimping everyone to Elvira. As usual, blame it on the usual suspects for this italian looking farce, manufactured solely by the libidinal needs of the French.

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