Burlesquing Don Giovanni
Professor Rachel Cowgill on burlesques of the Don on the early nineteenth-century London stage
A prominent concern in early English responses to Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni was the protagonists’s origins in low comedy, something that not only influenced the work’s reception, but can be seen to have obstructed its passage to the stage.
Following the Prague premiere of Don Giovanni, it took around thirty years for the opera to be produced at the King’s Theatre, London’s Italian opera house. The first production was a financial and artistic success and was unprecedented for its close attention to what was perceived to be the composer’s and – to a lesser extent – the librettist’s original intentions.
Don Giovanni was thus presented as opera to be taken seriously and reverently, which was emphasized in the scholarly preface to the printed libretto issued for the first London production.
Running contrary to this veneration was a series of burlesque sequels staged in the years after the London premiere. In these the Don has returned from the underworld for fresh amorous escapades that reconnnected him to the world on slapstick comedy and political satire.
Professor Cowgill has recently been awarded a visiting research fellowship from California’s Huntington Library, one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States in its fields of specialization. The Huntington is particularly strong in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century material and houses an important collection of manuscripts and plays that were performed on the London stage during this period.
The fellowship will give Professor Cowgill an opportunity to spend a month at the Library pursuing research on these burlesques of Don Giovanni for a collection of essays to be published in 2014.
Drawing on manuscript libretti held at the Huntington, in addition to printed and musical sources available in other collections, Professor Cowgill’s research investigates what these popular shows reveal about the relationship between high and low in the London reception of Don Giovanni.