Key stage 3

Exploring the storytelling technique of starting a narrative with a ‘bang’

Introduce the students to the synopsis and play the opening of the overture:

Allow 2 minutes for students to think individually, writing down any words or phrases that the opening of the music makes them think of:

• What struck them about this music?
• Were there any common ideas?
• How does it ‘set the scene’?
• What are the dominant instruments, and what might this mean?

Remind students that the opera starts with a murder, and that one of the reasons that Don Giovanni is such a famous opera is because it is so immediately dramatic.

You can extend this activity by asking students to write an opening paragraph that features an immediate event using a different genre - sci-fi, romance, crime, children’s literature, etc. Ask them not to dwell on description; instead they should aim to make the story immediately interesting and exciting.

Spend a few minutes discussing fictional characters that are attractive, but are actually very bad. Examples might include anything from pop culture or literature such as the White Witch in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe or Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter.

• Discuss the archetype characters selected and why the loveable rogue is such a familiar figure in fiction.
• Explain that Don Giovanni is such a character, and listen to Deh, vieni alla finestra to witness his charm.

Distribute the handouts that include a poetic translation of this aria.

Read the English translation, then ask the group to answer the questions following it:
Would the students fall for such chat up lines? Perhaps they could discuss potential chat up lines. Why are some so cringe-worthy? How does Don Giovanni get away with it? Should he?

Further development

KS3 - Persuasive

Students could be encouraged to write their own poems trying to woo someone. Furthermore, some students might be encouraged to use the same pattern as the English translation of this aria, which is in couplets of iambic pentameter. They might also be encouraged to include at least one simile, perhaps one metaphor, and to try and use a bit of moral blackmail.

Key stage 4 

Understanding how characters can be established through dialogue, and to further character-based writing or drama improvisation

Introduce the students to the plot of Don Giovanni. Follow this by exploring the characters focusing on their character descriptions.

Show the students a list of quotations from the opera, either projecting on a smart board, or by handing out copies.

In small groups, pairs or individually, ask students to allocate the quotations to the characters. Students should be able to justify their choices.

Once they have made their choices, feed back and start a discussion. Is Don Giovanni a liar, for example? Download the quotation-to-character sheet

Further development

In small groups, allocate each group a single character. Each student in the group should choose a different quotation from their character and memorise it. Ask students to choose a simple gesture to go with their quotation; something that helps us understand what the character is saying.

Create a ‘character machine’ by asking each group to present their line and gestures to the class, one member at a time. The aim is to get each student to deliver their line in turns without prompting and creating a continuing loop.

What does this tell them about the characters? What would happen if one character met another? Is tension set up this way?

Exploring creative writing though the choices made by the character Zerlina

Start by playing Là ci darem la mano, explaining that it is one of the most famous duets in all opera. During this duet, Don Giovanni sings this to Zerlina on her wedding day to Masetto.

Ask students to pay attention to identify the moment when Zerlina changes her mind and decides to follow Don Giovanni, if necessary playing the video twice.

After being seduced by Don Giovanni, Zerlina finds that she has some making up to do to Masetto and she does this by singing an aria. Pretending to be Zerlina, ask students to write a song to her beloved Masetto, trying to win him back. They can chose their own pattern of rhyme or rhythm; some might find it helpful to fit it to the tune of a familiar song.

Alternatively, students can be asked to write a letter to try to win Masetto back; this can be extended by asking students to write a letter from Zerlina to an agony aunt explaining what the situation is and what she has already tried to do to get Masetto back, followed by the agony aunt’s reply.