An Inverted Palimpsest? Re-reading Don Giovanni with Joseph Losey and Kasper Holten

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“Film opera” – whether defined as a sub-genre or simply as opera adapted to the screen – stands out as a multi-layered object of inquiry, in which the stakes of intermediality and intertextuality are inextricably bound up with each other. Indeed, the film adds another layer of complexity to the already dense web of “texts” that constitute all and every opera (from the immediate interaction between musical and textual notation to the mediation of all sorts of archi-, meta-, and para-textual elements). Drawing on Genette’s approach to transtextuality, I will bring the concept of hypertextuality to bear on film operas that reshape, in a more or less drastic way, a pre-existing opera. My aim is (1) to shed light on both the connection and distinction between intermediality and intertextuality, and (2) to discuss the extent to which the
concept of hypertextuality (and the inquiry on intertextuality more generally) may
broaden and enrich the debate on the encounter between opera and film.
Against this background, I will focus on two film versions of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Carefully pondered, Joseph Losey’s Don Giovanni (1979) and Kasper Holten’s Juan
(2010) appear as re-readings of Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s masterpiece in which “class”
and “gender” come to play a major role. This contrast – between the emphasis on
“class” (Losey) and “gender” (Holten) – seems to tell us a big deal about the uses of
opera in contemporaneity, as if these two historical moments (late 1970s and early
2010) were the erased text of a culturally and artistically saturated palimpsest.
So seen, it is the present, rather than the past, that is hidden – but not as hidden as to
become invisible – behind the cinematic re-writing of the opera. What can we learn
about the very tension between these two “presents” by comparing them with their
common “past”? And what does such deciphering tell us about the (changing) role of
opera in late modernity? These are among the questions to be raised in the wake of a
comparative analysis of Losey’s and Holten’s works that will nonetheless unfold with
the above-mentioned questions in mind.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventInternational Conference Intertextuality in Music since 1900 - Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Lisboa, Portugal
Duration: 6 Mar 20157 Mar 2015


ConferenceInternational Conference Intertextuality in Music since 1900


  • palimpsest
  • Don Giovanni
  • Mozart


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