In Mozart’s time (the late 1700s), women were viewed much differently than theyare viewed today. Women were perceived as being inferior (intellectually andphysically) to men. As we all know, the women were supposed to spend their timein the house cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children.
Although, wemust take into account that this was mostly the biased perspective of the men ofthe time. As time progressed, the submissive female role changed. Their presencebecame much more prevalent as time went on. Mozart’s apparent personalperspective of women, which was demonstrated in his many operas, did not seem tocorrelate with the universal perspective of woman at the time. His perspectiveof women portrayed in The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni is much more liketoday’s perspective than the perspective of his time. In The Marriage of Figaro,the women are portrayed as intelligent, cunning, wise, and faithful.
In TheMarriage of Figaro, the women are presented with the problem of dealing withtheir jealous and lustful husbands. Ironically, it is the “lowerclass” woman, Susanna, who provides the needed leadership and wisdom whenit comes to solving the problem. She is the one that comes up with the idea tochange clothes with the Countess to test the fidelity and loyalty of the Count. It might have been expected for a man to come up with a plan so clever, or atleast for the upper class and supposedly more intelligent Countess to come upwith the idea, but low and behold, the “lowly” servant comes throughwith the great idea. In comparison with the males in the opera, the women areportrayed with much more fidelity and loyalty especially towards their spouses.
The men are portrayed as foolish, lustful, and jealous when it comes to love. The Count is the worst – he displays lustfulness, jealousy and above all,hypocrisy. He lusts after Susanna and expects her to break her promise offidelity to her fianc? Figaro. He also gets jealous when Cherubino tries tocourt the Countess. By doing this, he creates a double standard for him and theCountess. He feels that he should be allowed to act unfaithfully, while his wifeis to remain completely faithful.
The Count also portrays a very deceitful sidewhen tries to entice Susanna. He puts on a fa?ade just to convince her to sleepwith him. Susanna’s also portrays a somewhat deceitful side, although hers isthere to expose the deceitfulness of the Count. In Don Giovanni, the women inthe opera are portrayed somewhat, although not entirely different than they arein The Marriage of Figaro. They do not seem to be on the same level of wisdomand intelligence as they were in Don Giovanni. On the other hand, the men arealso portrayed as much more evil and deceptive as well.
The women were portrayedas being very emotional in Don Giovanni. Donna Anna is the most emotionalcharacter in the opera. She is very vengeful (rightly so) when it comes to herfather’s death and very vengeful toward the murderer himself. Thisdistressfulness is most evident in the scene when she gives the account of thenight of the murder to her husband Don Ottavio. We don’t see any of the malecharacters display this kind of free emotion. Donna Elvira, the ex-fianc?, isanother one of the main female characters in the opera.
She is also a veryemotional character. When she meets Don Giovanni in the opera, she exhibits agreat amount of sadness and despair towards her former lover. She is alsoportrayed as being very na?ve when it comes to the reputation and intentions ofDon Giovanni. She is easily deceived by Don Giovanni’s false promises and emptyflattery. Even though he had already left her once, she is foolish enough tobelieve him again. And in the end, it turns out (as expected) that DonGiovanni’s promises and words of flattery were all just a total sham.
Theaudience watches as Donna Elvira is yet again duped by her former lover. Zerlina’s situation is very similar to that of Donna Elvira. She is wooed by DonGiovanni and convinced by his false promises. She is also na?ve as to hisintentions towards the opposite sex.
She is unaware that Don Giovanni has areputation of being deceitful, shrewd, and very persuasive when it comes toconvincing women that he loves them. Mozart’s perspective of women is displayedin the characters of the women in his operas. He therefore perceives women theway the audience would have perceived the women in his operas. For that reason,he perceived women as very intelligent, wise, and emotional people. One has towonder just how different Mozart’s perspective of women was compared to that ofthe current time.
If the two varied greatly, what kind of response did Mozart’snumerous operas (especially the two in question: The Marriage of Figaro and DonGiovanni) receive from the audience? Did they appreciate the unusual femaleperspective or did they frown upon it? Did they welcome the change as comedic orconsider it appalling because it was different?