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“Long live women, long live good wine! Sustenance and glory of human kind!” So sings Don Giovanni in the opera that bears his name and was first performed in 1787 in Prague. With music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, Don Giovanni has enchanted music lovers ever since. According to Wikipedia, it is 10th on the list of the “most-performed operas worldwide.” Don will be visiting the Valley in February at the Arizona Opera and we’re counting the days.
The sustenance Don Giovanni sings of includes a tasty list of culinary delights: chocolate, coffee, hams, pheasants, ices, and sweets. So it is not surprising that we at Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School are fans of an opera that celebrates the Don’s culinary favorites.
Wine flows freely throughout the opera’s two acts. One of the opera’s most famous arias is called The Champagne Ariabecause after the wily seducer, Don Giovanni – while holding a champagne glass – instructs his servant Leporello to “have a grand party prepared so that [the young girls’] heads will be hot with the wine,” he laughs and breaks the glass.
THE RAKE’S PROGRESS
The story of Don Giovanni began in 1630 in a drama called The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest by Tirso de Molina, a Spanish poet and monk. The Don was known then by the Spanish version of his name, Don Juan. By the time Mozart began his opera Don’s story was well known. He was a libertine whose life was devoted to women and wine and whose story was told in countless dramas, novels, puppet plays and in song by composers like Mozart whose version has lasted through the years. (The full title of the Mozart-Da Ponte opera was Don Giovanni – the Rake Punished. A rake [from the Middle English “rakehell” – “hellraiser”] is a libertine and gourmand with no morals who lusts after women, wine and pleasures of the table.
Opera was the most popular entertainment of the upper class in Mozart’s day and Italian opera was considered the best so the Austrian Mozart joined with the Venetian Lorenzo Da Ponte who wrote the libretto in Italian.
Don Giovanni derived its culinary stripes from its composer and lyricist as well as its environment. Mozart and Da Ponte passionately loved wine and the pleasures of the table. The growth of the merchant middle class in Europe was accompanied by an increase in the availability of delicacies formerly enjoyed only by the royal classes. These included coffee from the Orient and chocolate from Spain’s American colonies. Vienna, where Don Giovanni opened after the performances in Prague, was already well known for its desserts. The Miloš Forman film Amadeus from the Peter Shaffer play has deliriously delicious scenes of tables laden with Viennese delicacies like Nipples of Venus and Crema Mascarpone Speziale.
IN VINO VERITAS … AND A GOOD TIME
Just as author Ian Fleming gave 007 a preference for Wolfschmidt vodka for his martinis in Moonraker, Mozart & Da Ponte seem to have engaged in an 18th century shout-out and a bit of product placement when their Don raves about one particular wine. Towards the end of the opera Don hosts his final dinner party and at one point exclaims, “Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzimino! ” (“Pour the wine! Excelent Marzimino! ”)
(We’ve had no luck finding Marzimo in the Valley. A good substituite would be a fruity Chianti such as a Pietro Chianti – $11 at Total Wine.)
A SWEET ENDING Confectioner Paul Fürst created a candy that has come to be known as Mozartkugeln (Mozart Balls) in Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg in 1890. A number of brands are sold now. Heindl Mozartkugeln – made with marzipan, nougat and dark chocolate – are available at World Market. (SomeMozartkugeln also contain pistachio cream.)