Composition and premiere
Original playbill for the Vienna premiere of Don Giovanni
The Estates Theatre
in Prague, the venue of the world premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787
The opera was commissioned as a result of the overwhelming success of Mozart's trip to Prague in January and February 1787. The subject matter may have been chosen in consideration of the long history of Don Juan operas in Prague; the genre of eighteenth-century Don Juan opera originated in Prague.
The libretto of Lorenzo Da Ponte was based closely on a libretto by Giovanni Bertati for the opera Don Giovanni Tenorio, first performed in Venice early in 1787, although he was loath to admit this in memoirs written decades later. Some of the most important elements that he copied were the idea of opening the drama with the murder of the Commendatore (in earlier dramas, this incident always appeared somewhere in the middle) and the lack of a specification of Seville as the setting, which had been customary in the tradition of Don Juan dramas since the appearance of the prototype Don Juan drama El burlador de Sevilla by Tirso de Molina, written in the early 17th century. For Bertati, the setting was Villena, Spain, whereas Da Ponte's libretto only specifies a "city in Spain". According to some sources, Giacomo Casanova assisted in the writing.
Don Giovanni was originally to have been performed on 14 October 1787 for a visit to Prague of the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, niece of the Emperor Joseph II, and her new husband, Prince Anthony of Saxony; however, the production could not be prepared in time and Le nozze di Figaro was substituted instead on the order of the emperor himself. The score was completed on 28 or 29 October 1787 after Da Ponte was recalled to Vienna to work on another opera. Reports about the last-minute completion of the overture conflict; some say it was completed the day before the premiere, some on the very day. More likely it was completed the day before, in light of the fact that Mozart recorded the completion of the opera on 28 October.
The score calls for double woodwinds, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones (alto, tenor, bass), timpani, basso continuo for the recitatives, and the usual string section. The composer also specified occasional special musical effects. For the ballroom scene at the end of the first act, Mozart calls for two onstage ensembles to play separate dance music in synchronization with the pit orchestra, each of the three groups playing in its own metre (a 3/4 minuet, a 2/4 contradanse and a fast 3/8 peasant dance), accompanying the dancing of the principal characters. In act 2, Giovanni is seen to play the mandolin, accompanied by pizzicato strings. In the same act, two of the Commendatore's interventions ("Di rider finirai pria dell'aurora" and "Ribaldo, audace, lascia a' morti la pace") are accompanied by a wind chorale of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and trombones (with cellos and basses playing from the string section).
The opera was first performed on 29 October 1787 in Prague under its full title of Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni – Dramma giocoso in due atti (The Rake punished, or Don Giovanni, a dramma giocoso in two acts). The work was rapturously received, as was often true of Mozart's work in Prague. The Prager Oberpostamtzeitung reported, "Connoisseurs and musicians say that Prague has never heard the like," and "the opera … is extremely difficult to perform." The Provincialnachrichten of Vienna reported, "Herr Mozart conducted in person and was welcomed joyously and jubilantly by the numerous gathering."
Revision for Vienna
Mozart also supervised the Vienna premiere of the work, which took place on 7 May 1788. For this production, he wrote two new arias with corresponding recitatives – Don Ottavio's aria "Dalla sua pace" (K. 540a, composed on 24 April for the tenor Francesco Morella), Elvira's aria "In quali eccessi ... Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" (K. 540c, composed on 30 April for the soprano Caterina Cavalieri) – and the duet between Leporello and Zerlina "Per queste tue manine" (K. 540b, composed on 28 April). He also made some cuts in the Finale in order to make it shorter and more incisive, the most important of which is the section where Anna and Ottavio, Elvira, Zerlina and Masetto, Leporello reveal their plans for the future ("Or che tutti, o mio tesoro"). In order to connect "Ah, certo è l'ombra che l'incontrò" ("It must have been the ghost she met") directly to the moral of the story "Questo è il fin di chi fa mal" ("This is the end which befalls to evildoers"), Mozart composed a different version of "Resti dunque quel birbon fra Proserpina e Pluton!" ("So the wretch can stay down there with Proserpina and Pluto!"). These cuts are very seldom performed in theatres or recordings.
Later performance traditions
The opera's final ensemble was generally omitted until the early 20th century, a tradition that apparently began very early on. According to the 19th-century Bohemian memoirist Wilhelm Kuhe, the final ensemble was only presented at the very first performance in Prague, then never heard again during the original run. It does not appear in the Viennese libretto of 1788, thus the ending of the first performance in Vienna without the ensemble as depicted in the film Amadeus must be an accurate portrayal. Undoubtedly, this practice was sanctioned by Mozart himself. Nonetheless, the final ensemble is almost invariably performed in full today.
Modern productions sometimes include both the original aria for Don Ottavio, "Il mio tesoro", and its replacement from the first production in Vienna that was crafted to suit the capabilities of the tenor Francesco Morella, "Dalla sua pace". Elvira's "In quali eccessi, o Numi ... Mi tradi per l'alma ingrata" is usually retained as well. The duet "Per queste tue manine" and the whole accompanying scene involving Zerlina and Leporello from the Viennese version is almost never included.
In modern-day productions, Masetto and the Commendatore are typically played by different singers (unless limited by such things as finance or rehearsal time and space), although the same singer played both roles in both the Prague and Vienna premieres, and the final scene's chorus of demons after the Commendatore's exit gives the singer time for a costume change before entering as Masetto for the sextet.