The time setting of the two acts of Mozart’s Don Giovanni has always puzzled me. Everyone, including I suppose Mozart and Da Ponte, seems to think that the action in Act 2 starts immediately after that of the first act. In other words, the action from start to finish is continuous and depicts the last few hours of the Don’s life.  But clearly, this is impossible. Basically, the whole timeline is screwed up.

Let’s assume that the timeline is continuous. The Don kills the Commendatore in the opera’s first scene.  It is night. The next scene is set early in the morning. Scene 3 is later in the morning. The next one is in a garden, no time of day specified. The last scene (5) of the first act is in Giovanni’s house. The second act says it’s night. No time is given for scene 2, though it presumably immediately follows the previous one. Scene 3 is set at almost 2 am in a graveyard. This is where the temporal problem arises.

Giovanni is addressed by the statue of the Commendatore (La statua del Commendatore). Below is a picture of the graveyard scene from a Prague production just a few year after the opera was first performed in that very city.

Notice that there’s a large equestrian statue over the Commander’s grave. How did it get there? He’s been dead for less than 24 hours if the opera’s action is continuous. Hardly time for a burial, much less a grand statue and tomb. The Don invites the statue to dinner – at 2 am? Must be so if the action is continuous? If the action is continuous the dinner would be at about 3 am as there’s a scene between the graveyard and the Don’s last supper.

When the opera was first performed it was labeled a dramma giocoso. Mozart entered it into his personal catalogue of his works as an opera buffa. The latter designation seems better. Don Giovanni is sort of a long locker room story set to glorious music. It’s an opera and composer and librettist needed a statue, so they just said the hell with the constraints of time and put one in.  As for the Don himself, I’ve never seen him as a very interesting fellow. He seems best characterized as a victim of the heartbreak of satyriasis.