The Last Night of Don Juan (2000)

A Musical Play based on La dernière nuit de Don Juan (1918) by Edmond Rostand
and Don Juan Tenorio (1844) by José Zorrilla
Text by Murray Ross with Robert Xavier Rodríguez

Duration:  full evening
For Nine Actors, Vocal Octet (SSAATTBB), Women’s chorus (SSAA), Dancers, Puppets and Orchestra:  3(3pic)3(ca)3(bcl)3(cbn)/4331/timp.3perc/

Commissioned by The San Antonio Symphony

Premiere performance, May, 2000: San Antonio Symphony,
Christopher Wilkins, Music Director

Fred Curchack as The Devil / Puppeteer

The Last Night of Don Juan is a musical play for actors, dancers, puppets, vocal soloists, women's chorus and orchestra.  The work encompasses romance and farce, allegory and magic in a sexy and richly comic post-modern deconstruction of the traditional Don Juan story.  The text includes elements from the very first Don Juan, El Burlador de Sevilla (1630) by Tirso de Molina, commedia dell’arte scenes from Dell’arte rappresentativa premeditata ed all’ improvviso (1699) as well as fragments from George Cruikshank’s The Tragical Comedy of Punch and Judy (1860).   


Don Juan seductive, bold
...luxurious, complex score... The legendary seducer, having been dragged down to Hell, persuades the Devil to grant him a one-day reprieve to resolve a wager with his rival, Don Luis.  The two men turn out to have been equal in sexual conquests and murder, so Don Juan bests his rival by seducing his fiancée, Doña Ana, and a novice nun, Doña Inés.  When the Devil reclaims Don Juan, [one woman] offers to save him if he will be her faithful husband.  He refuses, relishing the prospect of a punishment worthy of a hero.  Instead, the Devil makes him a puppet, the ultimate humiliation for a libertine.  The text is predominantly spoken, but many of the lines are closely synchronized with the musical score.  As is his wont, Rodríguez stole –his term – liberally from Mozart’s opera and Richard Strauss’ tone poem on the same subject.  Recomposed echoes of those familiar scores were woven through Rodríguez fetching, richly textured original music... ear-filling and cunningly apt – witty, raucous, sinister, erotic, as the drama required.

                                                Mike Greenberg, San Antonio Express-News

Program Note:

Murray Ross’ English text is freely adapted from the Spanish Don Juan Tenorio (1844) by José Zorrilla and the French  La Dernière nuit de Don Juan (1921) by Edmond Rostand.  The Zorrilla version of Don Juan is the most often-performed play in the Spanish-speaking world, with regular performances throughout Mexico and Latin America to celebrate El día de los muertos (All Soul’s Day).  Rostand’s Don Juan treatment was the last play by the author of the famous Cyrano de Bergerac and Les Romanesques (better known as the source from which the musical The Fantasticks, was drawn).  Ross’ text also includes elements from the very first Don Juan, El Burlador de Sevilla (1630) by Tirso de Molina, commedia dell’arte scenes from Dell’arte rappresentativa premeditata ed all’ improvviso (1699) as well as fragments from George Cruikshank’s The Tragical Comedy of Punch and Judy (1860).  In combining and elaborating upon these sources, The Last Night of Don Juan encompasses romance and farce, allegory and magic in a comic post-modern deconstruction of the traditional Don Juan story.

The musical score contains extensive passages of cinematic orchestral underscoring for the spoken dialogue, as well as entr’actes, dances, choruses and, in the puppet scenes, songs.  The Last Night of Don Juan is Rodríguez’ largest composition since the full-length opera, Frida (1991/93).  The music draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including themes from Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni (1787), Strauss’ tone poem, Don Juan (1889) and Gluck’s ballet, Don Juan (1761).  Rodríguez also employs a theme from The Magic Flute, a 13th-Century cantiga from the collection of the Spanish king, Alfonso the Wise, and, from his own music, a tango melody from his 1986 opera, Tango, and a theme from his 1997 chamber work, Il Lamento di Tristano.  Sometimes the themes are easily recognizable and are used as witty points of reference.  More often, however, the appropriated melodies are completely transformed and are combined into complex layerings of Rodríguez’ characteristic “richly lyrical atonality” (Musical America), in a style “Romantically dramatic” (The Washington Post) and full of the composer’s “all-encompassing sense of humor” (Los Angeles Times).


Prologue.  The action begins where Mozart’s Don Giovanni ends: in Hell.  A chorus of devils enthusiastically anticipates torturing their new resident, but when Don Juan arrives, he’s unafraid, explaining that the Devil has sent for him prematurely.  Don Juan has made a bet with his rival Don Luis, about who could do more harm with more luck in the course of one year.  The year is up tomorrow, and the two had agreed to meet at the carnival in Seville to see who won.  The Devil cannot resist learning the results, so he agrees to give Don Juan twenty-four more hours on Earth.

Act One.  In Seville,the carnival is in full swing, with dancers, singers and lovers.  A Commedia dell’arte  puppet show delights the crowd on one side of the stage, while on the other Catalinón, Don Juan’s servant, and the Innkeeper are waiting for the rival lovers to show up.  Don Juan enters, masked, and, bantering with the puppets, watches Punchinello try to woo Colombina over Pantalone’s protests.  As the clock strikes noon, Don Juan and Don Luis recognize each other, and compare their lists of men killed and women seduced over the course of the last year.  It’s clear Don Juan has won, but Don Luis refuses to concede defeat since Don Juan has not yet seduced a novice nun on the eve of taking her vows.  Don Juan quickly agrees to supply this decisive conquest by the following morning, adding that he will also seduce Don Luis’ fiancée in the same night.  In a tango, Don Juan demonstrates his techniques of seduction with multiple partners, and the scene ends with the puppeteer revealing himself as the Devil, pulling the orchestra’s “strings.”

The scene changes to night, with Doña Ana’s balcony on one side of the stage and Doña Inés’ convent on the other.  The action of the two scenes proceeds simultaneously and independently.  The Abbess counsels with Doña Inés while Don Luis tells Doña Ana he is afraid of Don Juan, and will return later to spend the night with her.  As Doña Inés prays, Don Juan accosts Don Luis in the street, and a sword fight erupts.  Don Juan wins with Catalinón’s help.  While his servant ties up his rival, Don Juan, disguised as a nun, personally delivers a letter to Doña Inés.  Don Juan then returns and bribes Doña Ana’s servant into giving him the necessary ladder.  In the dark, he climbs up to the bedroom, and Doña Ana makes love to him thinking he is her fiancé.  Meanwhile, Catalinón, disguised as a priest, hears Doña Inés’ frenzied confession of her love for Don Juan.  Don Juan then climbs out the window, revealing to the shocked Doña Ana who has just seduced her.  He returns to take Catalinón’s place in the confessional, then emerges to embrace Doña Inés.  The act ends with Doña Ana cursing, Doña Inés sighing in ecstasy and Don Juan gloating in his triumph.

Act Two.  It is just before midnight in Seville, and the carnival revelers are going home to bed, singing.  Don Juan and Catalinón enter, and Don Juan asks the puppeteer for a special show.  Don Juan again entertains himself, interacting with Punchinello, Colombina and a little puppet Devil; but the puppet show comes to a sudden end at midnight when the puppeteer reveals himself and claims Don Juan’s soul. 

Playing a little violin, the Devil calls up the spirits of Don Juan’s conquests:  1003 women, each wearing a mask and cape.  The Devil tells Don Juan that each woman will whisper a clue to her identity in his ear; Don Juan must name the woman.  He fails, again and again.  The Devil then collects tears the women have shed for Don Juan and finds them all false – all except one, from a White Ghost:  the one woman who truly loved him.  The White Ghost says she existed within each of the women Don Juan seduced, but was never allowed to materialize, since Don Juan was always running away from love.  Don Juan is given one last chance:  the opportunity to seek lasting happiness with a single woman. 

He refuses, defiantly, preferring Hell instead.  The Devil announces that in place of the usual torments, he will turn Don Juan into a puppet, playing at seduction for all eternity.  The play ends as Don Juan is lowered from high over the stage into the puppet theater, where he reemerges as a small puppet, dancing and singing.