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"Don Giovanni" in Pop Culture

Posted on: September 5, 2023

Given that we’re based in LA, we always love it when we see opera in movies and TV shows. Whether it be a full-on adaptation of or a passing reference to our favorite opera, the fact the art form continues to be mentioned in the modern day shows how timeless these works are. With our production of Don Giovanni fast approaching, we were wondering how pop culture has treated Mozart’s masterpiece.  

Is there a better way to start off our list about one of opera’s greatest villains than with one of pop culture’s greatest villains? While the original character was created by novelist Thomas Harris in 1981 for his novel Red Dragon, Hannibal Lecter didn’t reach iconic status until 10 years later when Anthony Hopkins portrayed him in Jonathan Demme’s classic film The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal Lector would be reimagined for modern audiences with NBC’s Hannibal showing a younger Hannibal who, just like Giovanni, is able to get away with a lot of his crimes due to his position making him seem trustworthy. The writers of NBC’s Hannibal must have been aware of this connection for in Season 2 Episode 3, “Hassun,” Hannibal can be seen listening to “Dalla sua pace,” Don Ottavio’s famous aria, an expression of his feelings for Donna Anna. The use of the aria is even more powerful as it’s used to contextualize Hannibal’s relationship with his colleague Will, the criminal profiler.  

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
We’re following up one iconic villain with another. Professor Moriarty goes hand and hand with Sherlock Holmes as he’s been toying with our favorite detective for well over a century now. It’s only natural that the clever Moriarty would be a fan of Don Giovanni, which is made clear in Guy Ritchie’s 2011 feature film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. During an especially intense scene, Holmes can be seen deducing Moriarty’s evil plans while racing backstage (and even onto the stage) during the final scene of Don Giovanni at the Paris Opera, all while Moriarty sits back and enjoys the performance from a box seat in the audience. As Moriarity smiles watching Don Giovanni we have to wonder if he’s enjoying thinking about Holmes spiral or is he just a fellow opera lover like us? 

Babette’s Feast
Let’s quickly look across the seas to find ourselves in Denmark with Gabriel Axel’s Oscar-winning 1987 film Babette’s Feast. The movie features the seductive duet “Là ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni, sung in a flashback scene by a younger version of one of the major characters and the famous French opera singer who is courting her (much to the discomfort of her extremely pious father). They sing the duet in French instead of Italian, making it an engaging listen for opera lovers familiar with it in its original language. While the movie largely revolves around food, we didn’t expect to have a feast for the ears along with it.  

What better way to end this list than with the movie about Don Giovanni’s composer himself? Miloš Forman’s 1984 movie Amadeus (winner of eight Oscars including Best Picture) features multiple performance scenes of operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. One of the most impactful of these shows Mozart conducting the final scene of Don Giovanni. This scene takes place shortly after the death of Mozart’s father. Watching the performance, the composer's rival Salieri realizes that Mozart feels a connection between his dead father and the character of the Commendatore. Based on the play by Peter Shaffer, Amadeus depicts Mozart as a rock star always up to mischief, just like Giovanni himself. Salieri’s connection of Mozart with the Commendatore resonates even further: Mozart’s father had tried to stop Mozart from his party lifestyle, similar to how the Commendatore warned Don Giovanni to mend his evil ways; and even from beyond the grave, Mozart is tormented by him, just as Giovanni can’t escape the divine retribution that the Commendatore delivers.