The origin of the Cloak
The Origin of the Cloak
The origin of the Cloak as the Commendatore or “Guest of stone” in Anna Chromy’s Don Giovanni
Music and dance have been the constant theme of my drawings and paintings since my debut. Human bodies transcend themselves to become works of art – as in the case of Nureyev or Baryshnikov. Divine voices such as Maria Callas. Melodies that seem to come from another world – such as the “Adagio” by Albinoni and the “Dies Irae” from Mozart’s “Requiem.” All of these were my source of inspiration while working on Don Giovanni in my studio in Pietrasanta, where even today, the soul of Michelangelo still lives on.
I chose Don Giovanni because I have always tried to reflect on the fragility of human existence in my art. Contrary to Mozart’s other operas, Don Giovanni is placed from the beginning under the sign of death. His sufferance is torrid, insatiable, and omnipresent. In this, he is very much like “Jedermann” (Everyman) by Hofmannsthal; he as well, despite all the festivities, is from the beginning marked by the seal of death. In the form of the Commendatore, Death was, therefore, the first of my sculptures for this cycle.
Both Don Giovanni and Jedermann are famous plays, moral-religious stories, and universal drama in one. The themes date from the beginning of the 17th-century – DonJuan, Don Quichotte, Faust, Hamlet, and Jedermann – all appeared around 1600 and very often as a couple, master and valet, like Don Giovanni and Leporello.
Ever since his first appearance in “El Burlador de Sevilla” by Tirso de Molina, Don Juan has been represented hundreds of times in every language and country, either as a play, opera, or novel. Now, for the first time, the “anima di bronzo” (The Soul of Bronze), as Da Ponte called Don Giovanni, really exists in bronze.
The Venetian Da Ponte was inspired by another version of the opera Don Giovanni which took place in Venice a short time before, based on music by Giuseppe Gazzaniga and libretto by Giovanni Bertati.
Don Giovanni, in my opinion, owes a lot to the spirit of this city. Venice, which inspired me for many of my paintings, is a magical city where life and death constantly mingle, as in Don Giovanni. Life is the stage of a theatrical play in which mystical shadows, half-man half-animal, reflect in the mirror of the lagoon.
On 29th October 1787, when Mozart’s Don Giovanni had its premiere in Prague, another Venetian and famous seducer was in public, Giovanni Giacomo Casanova. Prague had the ideal audience for Mozart’s Don Giovanni, independent, non-conformist, with an overflowing fantasy and sense of entertainment, and consequently, the premier was a brilliant success.
Vienna was a different story. Even though the emperor Joseph II declared, «it is divine and probably more beautiful than ‘Figaro,’ but it is not a dish for the teeth of my Viennese,» the opera was unsuccessful. To those who contemplate my Don Giovanni, I would like to request that they heed the advice of Mozart’s reply to his emperor, «Give them time to chew it» and consequently take their time, as well, to chew and savor it.
Leonardo Da Vinci once said that «drawing is so complete that it does not stop at analyzing nature but gives us back much more than nature.»
The same applies to sculpture – Camille Claudel said: «the most difficult task in the art of sculpture is to capture a dance movement.»
Except for the Commendatore, all sculptures dance on the stage of life, gay, agile, spellbound by Mozart’s divine melodies. In the “Dies Irae” of his “Requiem,” Mozart transformed Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Sixtine Chapel’s “The Last Judgement” into one of the most overwhelming pieces in the history of music. In my studio in Tuscany, the home of Michelangelo, I have tried with my Don Giovanni, this “soul of bronze,” to create an echo to these glorious melodies.
The Cloak of Conscience, Monaco, Grimaldi Gardens, Larvotto
The work of art was presented for the first time to the public at an extensive sculpture exhibition held on the Cathedral Square at Pietrasanta. The collection was entitled “La Veste del Vuoto” (= clothed emptiness) – a premonitory title.
Well, what do we leave once we have said goodbye to this world? To this old and distressing question for all human beings, everyone will reply according to his convictions. Whether in painting or sculpture, the traditional images of death in the form of a human skeleton only reflect the material image of our decline.
On the contrary, with my cloak that drapes emptiness, I want to show that it is the love we have given, the works that we have created, and the sufferance that we have endured that dress the emptiness of our disappearance. Only the “cloak” survives us, as part of the universal conscience.
Nobody has this better put into words than Paul Valéry: “You know my judgment on the enterprise called Life: there are only two things. Two. The only two things that transform us into beings capable and worthy of surmounting all that reduces us to being only the similar of our fellow-men… Love and Work. But to give them an intense and new sense – and combined, Love becoming Work”.
In my Don Giovanni each of the characters is at a stage more or less advanced in this “cloak”: From Leporello, who has not even started his metamorphosis, to Don Ottavio, who is only holding a tiny piece of fabric already broken; from Don Giovanni, Eros full of life, to Masetto who radiates goodness and sufferance; from the seductive Zerlina to Donna Elvira, who in her despair risks losing the taste of life and her “cloak“, to Donna Anna, the virtuous, who is perfectly dressed for her last Journey.