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Reviews345 Don Giovanni: Myths ofSeduction and Betrayal, edited by Jonathan Miller; xiv & 128 pp. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, $10.95 paper. This is a peculiar book with an unusual publication history for a scholarly enterprise. It was originally published in Great Britain under the tide TL· Don Giovanni Book by Faber and Faber in 1990. The first American edition was published by Schocken Books and distributed by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House. Most recendy, Johns Hopkins Paperbacks reprinted the slim collection, under its current tide, as part of the series Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society. But the "occasion of this book," as its introduction admits, was the 1985 English National Opera production of Mozart's Don Giovanni , directed by the celebrated Jonathan Miller, who is also an erstwhile humorist, a sometime television host, and a doctor of medicine. One comes away from the book with the sense that it was "created" to take advantage of Miller's name and the recent Mozart bicentennial. Although the nine short essays in the collection are all very readable, learned, and never less than interesting, most ofthem have very litde to do with Mozart's opera, despite the book's tide. With few exceptions, the essayists write about subjects close to their own special interests, with only a passing nod or a strategically placed allusion to Mozart or Don Giovanni. For example, Roy Porter, author of several books on English society in the eighteenth century, purports in his essay "Libertinism and Promiscuity" to discuss the "universal profligacy which seemed to be infecting all ranks and sections of society" in "the age of Wesley—the age of Mozart." But Porter's interest is clearly the age of Wesley rather than that of Mozart, as the essay concerns itself almost exclusively with eighteenth-century England. Also Anglocentric isJane Miller's "The Seductions of Women," an essay essentially about Samuel Richardson's Clarissa and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Similarly, Robert Darnton, author of numerous eighteenth-century French studies, considers in "Don Juanism from Below" the recendy discovered manuscript that recounts the life of a Parisian glazier named Jacques Ménétra, "a real-life Don Juan in eighteenth-century France." (Interestingly, neither Darnton nor anyone else in the book mentions Giacomo Casanova, who not only was another "real-life Don Juan" but also is said to have assisted his fellowVenetian Lorenzo Da Ponte in writing the libretto for Mozart's opera.) Marina Warner, for her part, analyzes Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses (and recent cinematic versions of the novel) in her essay "Valmont—or the Marquise Unmasked ." For Malcolm Baker, a specialist in eighteenth-century sculpture, the statue of the Commendatore in act two of the opera provokes a disquisition on eighteenth-century tomb sculpture. More to the point, Peter Gay, a biographer of Freud, offers an Oedipal reading ofDon Giovanni which, he contends, 346Philosophy and Literature "replays Mozart's own real-life batdes." But Gay's discussion is really about Da Ponte's libretto, not Mozart's music, and much of it applies to earlier versions of the Don Juan legend as well. Gay does not explain what is unique about Mozart's musical version thatjustifies connecting it to his "own real-life batdes." The remaining essays are more direcdy related to the opera and more useful to its students. In "The Libertine's Progress" Peter Conrad presents a brief, serviceable overview of the DonJuan tradition, although this kind of thing has been done many times before and more comprehensively and informatively (see, e.g., Oscar Mandel's TL· TL·atre ofDonjuán: A Collection ofPlays and Views). Conrad properly begins with "the first sponsor ofthis prolific offspring," Tirso de Molina, who created the character of Don Juan in his play El Burlador de Sevilla (e. 1616). Astonishingly, Conrad is the only author in the book to mention Tirso. Also astonishingly, he proceeds to dismiss El Burlador de Sevilh as no more than "monkish propaganda," showing that he has not read or not read with understanding this rich and complex drama (see, e.g., Sola-Sole and Gingras 's Tirso's Don juan: TL· MetamorpL·sis ofa TL·me...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 345-346
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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