The Vienna Don Giovanni






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Publication: Music Library Association. Notes
Author: Denny, Thomas
Date published: March 1, 2012

OPERA AND ORATORIO The Vienna Don Giovanni. By Ian Woodfield. Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell Press, 2010. [xvii, 214 p. ISBN 9781843835868. $95.] Music examples, illustrations, appendices, bibliography, index.

Ever since the 1788 Vienna revival of Don Giovanni, for which Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte made substantial modifications to the 1787 Prague original, the wealth of materials, versions, and options the creators left behind have challenged performers, editors, and scholars to bring the opera into clear focus. Ian Woodfield has grappled intensely with these challenges and his book is an important contribution to our understanding of the opera. Near the end of the book, he places his own efforts into the context of past and ongoing scholarly efforts to understand the versions. Since the nineteenth century, scholars had pursued a "quest to establish [the opera's] authentic form" (p. 145). In Woodfield's critique of this quest, past efforts idealized a "text-based conception of the identity of Don Giovanni, supported by the twin pillars of the autograph and the première" (p. 145). Ultimately, this narrow foundation provided an "unreal picture" of the opera's interaction with its world. Wood - field aligns himself clearly with a "changing consensus" that coalesced in recent decades around the work of Alan Tyson and Dexter Edge in particular. A central theme of the book will be that an eighteenth-century opera was a "fluid . . . enterprise" rather than a "fixed text" (p. 1). His book demonstrates that new, and certainly newly nuanced, perspectives can result from a thoroughgoing application of philological methods in the service of this new set of ideals.

Woodfield opens his book with Da Ponte's account of the early Viennese reception of Don Giovanni, which he uses to set up this theme. According to the librettist, Mozart made changes, and then made more changes, in response to early reactions. Woodfield next lays out the foundations of his philological approach. He provides a list of thirty-one relevant sources (table 1), carefully sorted into versions (Prague and two "final" Viennese versions that he has identified), rough date (early and late), and origin (Bohemian or Viennese). He then discusses the complexities that result from taking seriously the view that opera is a process. First, the approach requires the inclusive consideration of many sources and the challenging evidence they provide of a messy creative process. Messiness comes from the complexity of copying (producing numerous theater materials, including scores, parts, and prompter's books, under great time pressure). Moreover, there are a variety of points at which the autograph could interact with copyists, and a variety of moments during rehearsal or performance at which the composer's views (changes or clarifications) could be registered on one or more of the documents. Before closing, Wood - field introduces one of his main speculative conclusions: "on philological grounds it seems certain that at least two copies of the full score were prepared" (p. 7) during the period leading up to the performance. He terms these two the "conductor's score" and the "reference score" (more later on the second type).

Woodfield's two-pronged philological method relies chiefly on "error transmission and layout" (p. x). Tracking "patterns of errors" is a "traditional tool of philology" (p. 14), but his approach to layout rests on some original strategies. During his earlier study of Così (Mozart's Così fan tutte: a Com po - sitional History [Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2008]), he discovered that "page- and linebreak analysis" (p. 14) proves remarkably effective in tracking transmission, in large part because replicating the exact layout of an exemplar was a typical procedure used in the copying ateliers of the era. Woodfield also relies on the manuscript work of other scholars, notably Dexter Edge, for judgments about watermarks and copyists, especially as they affect the dating of a source or section. The book performs a useful service in synthesizing and disseminating some key findings from Edge's remarkable but massive dissertation (Dexter Edge, "Mozart's Viennese Copyists" [Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 2001]).

The core of the book consists of three chapters that focus, in chronological order, on three distinct phases in the creation and dissemination of Don Giovanni. Woodfield's title actually understates the broad scope of his study. Although the 1788 Vienna production forms the focus for the central, and by far the longest, chapter of the book, he gives thorough consideration in his first chapter to the complexities of the 1787 Prague production and, in his third, to the early dissemination of the opera up through the 1801 Breitkopf & Härtel full score and its immediate impact. Woodfield himself acknowledges the disconnect between title and content: "It may seem surprising to have spent time on an analysis of the Prague Don Giovanni in a study to the Vienna version, but in reality the two conceptions of the opera were inextricably entangled throughout their history" (p. 30). He even opens the second chapter, the Vienna chapter, with ten additional pages examining the competing roles of Prague and Vienna in the 1787 production (p. 33). (In this, he draws heavily on Hans Ernst Weidinger's "critique of the Praguecentered narrative" of the 1787 commission ["Il Dissoluto Punito. Untersuchungen zur äußeren und inneren Entste hungs - geschichte von Lorenzo da Pontes and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozarts Don Gio - vanni." Ph.D. diss., University of Vienna, 2002].) In short, the reader comes away from Woodfield's book with a far broader overview of the opera's history than the title would suggest.

Woodfield argues in his first chapter that even the "Prague version" is not entirely tidy. After providing background on five early Prague-derived copies, and a discussion of copying practices as they might affect transmission, he outlines three principal aspects of the Prague versions for further discussion. First, in "A Possible Cut," he explores the uncertain position in 1787 of Masetto's aria. Second, he identifies "Prague musical fingerprints" that prove useful in tracing the pedigree of various sources. Finally, he examines errors that he groups into two categories, those found in the Prague Conservatory score and those found only in later copies, which he traces to "a lost transmission exemplar" (p. 29).

Woodfield uses figures extensively throughout the book, most frequently to provide flow charts of the interrelatedness of various sources in the transmission chain. One of the most important figures (fig. 8, "The transmission of Don Giovanni from Prague to the Vienna Court Theater") appears at the start of the second chapter. He depicts eight extant copies, plus the autograph (including separate boxes for revisions and additions), and four sources whose existence he infers. He devotes about twenty pages to a systematic discussion of the eight extant copies and then, over the remaining fifty pages of the chapter, sets forth his central claim: that three (and perhaps four) substantially distinct Viennese versions of Don Giovanni exist.

He labels the three main versions Vienna 1, 2a, and 2b and they are, respectively, an expanded version (with the new numbers added, but none yet deleted), a revised and somewhat shortened version (Vienna 2a), and a version that is further reduced (Vienna 2b). Both Vienna 2a and 2b survive in multiple extant scores and both played influential roles in subsequent transmission; Woodfield regards both as "final" versions. The "full" Version 1, first posited by Dexter Edge in his dissertation, exists in no score but is evident on close study of the orchestral parts. (Woodfield also hypothesizes a fourth, "intermediate" version that consists of a modest reordering of Edge's expanded version, with the new scena for Elvira placed before the comic duet.) Late in the Vienna chapter, at what might be described as the rhetorical climax of the book, Woodfield returns to the passage from Da Ponte's memoirs. He breaks Da Ponte's text apart and provides commentary to suggest how each passage might account for versions 1, 2a, and 2b (see table 22). Page after page of dense philological argument had already made this point; still, the exuberant rhetorical strategy effectively returns our attention to his larger theme, operatic composition as collaborative process rather than fixed text.

In the third chapter, Woodfield discusses the subsequent interaction between the Prague and Vienna versions, the fate of the autograph, and the impact of the first published full score. There is much of interest in this chapter, but I found his discussion of "Guardasoni's Performances of Don Giovanni in 1788 and 1789" particularly provocative. He makes an intriguing observation that both Guardasoni (whose company had performed the opera in Prague in 1787) and Mozart made parallel changes to the 1787 materials. In early revivals, Guardasoni and Mozart both "enhanced the role of Donna Elvira, both wrestled with the intractable problem of Leporello's escape, both thought about the scena ultima, and both introduced two tiny (and not easily explicable) cuts into the Act II finale" (p. 122). Woodfield argues that these parallels inhabit a "grey area of authenticity" in which we encounter "the possibility that subsequent actions of individuals associated with the original production might reflect the composer's thinking" (p. 122).

Woodfield's book is highly technical. It contains thirty tables, two thick appendices ("Error Transmission" and "Page-Break Analysis"), and seventeen figures. Although he writes lucidly, and pauses periodically to summarize the key findings from a densely argued section, some readers will nonetheless find this a daunting read and will doubtless prefer to wait until his insights reach a more distilled state within our communal narrative about the origins of Don Giovanni.

Philological study inevitably requires practitioners to posit "missing links" in the stemma to account for particular variant versions. Readers will doubtless differ on the plausibility of Woodfield's various conjectures. As mentioned above, he posits the creation of two pre-performance copies (although "only one such copy usually survives" [p. 7]). This entails the positing of a whole category of sources that he terms "reference scores." Leaving aside the plausibility in general of this type as a category, Woodfield does make a convincing philological case for a missing source in the Don Giovanni Viennese transmission.

"Reference score," however, seems an unfortunate choice of label. It suggests something authoritative and fixed, which is peculiarly at odds with Woodfield's persistent opera-as-process theme. He occasionally substitutes "transmission" for "reference": in the discussion of the two types of errors in the early Prague sources (p. 29) and in table 17, where he comments on the "status" of Version 2a. Given that the hypothesized ("transmission") score is the nearest ancestor to Version 2a, his comments on Version 2a seem relevant: was it an "authorized text" or, more likely, a "snapshot taken at a particular but random moment in the ongoing process of revision, the main consideration being the need to supply an exemplar for the commercial exploitation of the opera in a timely fashion" (p. 82)? "Transmission score" would seem to fit more comfortably with the tenor of his argument.

Factual errors are rare, but not insignificant. For instance, Woodfield states that the "first significant revival took place only in 1798, when it was conducted by Mozart's pupil Süssmayr in the Theater auf der Wieden" (p. 130). Woodfield confuses two distinct revivals, Schikaneder's 1792 revival (at the Theater auf der Wieden; arrangement by Spiess) and the 1798 Hoftheater revival (performances split between the Kärntnertortheater and the Burgtheater; involving Süssmayr and using the Schröder/Lippert four-act version). Schikaneder's revival seems "significant" enough to warrant a mention, even though no sources survive that Woodfield could have enfolded into his discussion.

Even those readers who remain skeptical of various conjectures will likely find Woodfield's work a serious, thoughtful, and thought-provoking study. Along with a greater understanding of the detailed evolution of Don Giovanni, readers will come away with a generally enriched understanding of what a version is, of the complexities of the term "authentic," and much more. Woodfield observes in passing that philology cannot always provide answers, but it often sharpens the questions. Woodfield's book has certainly accomplished that.

Author affiliation:

THOMAS DENNY

Skidmore College

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