224 years ago, on 29 October 1787, Mozart was undergoing the last preparations for the Prague première of his opera Don Giovanni. Prague, the city so dear to him, had enthusiastically welcomed the great composer, who in turn had not hesitated to return the affection. “Meine Prager verstehen mich” – “My Praguers understand me” – this is how Mozart defined his relationship with the residents of the Bohemian city. The première of Le nozze di Figaro of January 1787 had been a triumph: weeks in a row the Praguers would whistle and sing, on the streets and in the cafés, Figaro’s wonderful melodies. After this success Mozart was commissioned to write a new work: director Pasquale Bondini asked him to write a new opera which would be premiered in Prague. Mozart accepted and by the end of September 1787 he returned to Prague with Don Giovanni, on which he continued to work until the day of the premiere. On this visit in Prague Mozart stayed both in the city, at the inn “Zu den drei goldene Löwen” (“At the Three Gold Lions”), and outside the city, at the Villa Bertramka, the beautiful property of Josefa and František Dušek. It was here that Mozart found the oasis of silence in which he would conclude Don Giovanni.
The premiere of the opera took place in the splendid Estates Theatre, in that time named Nostitz National Theatre, honouring the aristocrate František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck, whose illuminist vision and financial support had been the foundation of the theatre. Prague Estates Theatre is one of the few European theatres which were preserved almost untouched to this day – a sign of the Czechs’ respect and appreciation for their history and culture!
It is a miraculous feeling to step into this theatre and realize you are in the same place in which Wolfgang Mozart has conducted his masterpieces! 224 years ago, those lodges were roaring in anticipation of the moment when the composer would appear in front of the audience, then, after a gracious bow, would turn around and give the orchestra the signal for the beginning of the opera that would later inspire the great French composer Charles Gounod to write: “It is an unequalled and immortal masterpiece, the apogee of the lyrical drama. The score of Don Giovanni has exercised the influence of a revelation upon my whole life; it has been and remains for me a kind of incarnation of dramatic and musical infailibility. I regard it as a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection!”
224 years ago, on this very night, Mozart’s Praguers were descending from their carriages in front of the theatre, the gentlemen dressed in splendid embroidered velvet costumes and white lace shirts, the ladies clothed in elegant brocade robes, from under which rustled sumptuous dresses of satin and taffeta, trimmed with silk and pearls. The gilded stucco of the lodges sparkled in the light of hundreds of candles and the spectators’ voices filled the theatre with a murmur that would melt in the lively applauses with which the composer was greeted the moment he appeared in the hall.
Provinzial Nachrichten of Vienna reported after this wonderful evening: “Herr Mozart conducted in person and was welcomed joyously and jubilantly by the numerous gathering”. And Prager Oberpostamtszeitung published a review on November 3, 1787: “Monday the 29th the Italian Opera Society presented the passionately awaited opera of the composer Mozart Don Giovanni, or the Banquet in Stone. Connoisseurs and musicians say that its equal has never been presented Prague. Herr Mozart himself conducted, and when he entered the orchestra, he was accorded a triple ovation; this occurred when he left the orchestra pit as well. As for the opera, it is extremely difficult to execute, and everyone admires, regardless, the good performance after such a short rehearsal period. Everything, theater and orchestra, offered its all to reward and thank Mozart with a good performance. Moreover, much expense was entailed by the several choruses and the decoration, all of which was splendidly arranged by Herr Guardasoni. The extraordinary number of spectators is evidence for the general approbation.”
(source: Soren Kierkegaard’s Interpretation of Mozart’s Opera Don Giovanni)
Don Giovanni ossia il dissoluto punito: dramma giocoso in due atti con balli analoghi ; parole del Sign. Abbate da Ponte, musica del celebre maestro Sign. Amadeo Mozart
224 years have passed since that golden moment of Music and Don Giovanni has remained one of the greatest works of the universal creation. The miraculous music of Wolfgang Mozart speaks to our soul as emotionally, as powerfully today as ever.
Words are useless, let us listen!
The musical sequences in the movie Amadeus were filmed in the
Estates Theatre of Prague.
224 years ago, in this place, in this moment, Mozart was conducting his opera!
The Distribution of the Premiere of Don Giovanni,
Prague, October 23, 1787
Il Dissoluto Punito ossia il Don Giovanni
Dramma giocoso in due atti
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte
Conductor: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Don Giovanni: Luigi Bassi
Leporello: Felice Ponziani
Il Commendatore: Giuseppe Lolli
Donna Anna: Teresa Saporiti
Don Ottavio: Antonio Baglioni
Donna Elvira: Katherina Micelli
Masetto: Giuseppe Lolli
Zerlina: Caterina Bondini
“Dearest, most beloved Friend!
My opera Don Giovanni was performed on October 29th, with the greatest of applause. – Yesterday it was given for the 4th time – for my own Benefit. – I think I’ll be leaving here on the 12th or 13th; … NB, just between you and me; – I so wished that my good friends, particularly Bridi and you, could be here just for one evening to share in my great happiness here!”
Wolfgang Mozart to Gottfried von Jacquin
(source: Pacific Opera Victoria Study Guide for Don Giovanni, 2007)
Playbill for the Vienna premiere of 7 May 1788