Academic journal article Notes

The Vienna Don Giovanni

Academic journal article Notes

The Vienna Don Giovanni

Article excerpt

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. …

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