La ci darem

In Brief

In response to Bloom's question in Calypso, Molly names two songs that she will be singing on the "programme" that Hugh Boylan has put together for their upcoming concert tour. The first is "Là ci darem," a duettino for baritone and soprano from Mozart's Don Giovanni. This magnificent little song of sexual seduction comments in many ways on the Blooms' marriage and Boylan's intrusion into it. For Bloom, the implications are anything but encouraging.

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Don Giovanni (1787) is Mozart's version of the Don Juan story. The anti-hero is a nobleman who takes advantage of his social position to seduce or rape many hundreds of women and girls (the current count, according to his servant Leporello, is 2,065) in Italy, Germany, France, Turkey, and Spain. Early in the opera, Giovanni comes upon a procession celebrating the upcoming marriage of two peasants named Masetto and Zerlina, and sets his sights on the bride. He gets rid of all the others and begins seducing Zerlina, who is tempted by his attentions but fears that he will leave when he has had his way with her. He promises that in his nearby casinetto (little villa) he will change her sorte (fate), by making her a nobleman's wife:

Don Giovanni
Là ci darem la mano,
là mi dirai di sì.
Vedi, non è lontano;
partiam, ben mio, da qui.

Zerlina
(Vorrei e non vorrei;
mi trema un poco il cor.
Felice, è ver, sarei,
ma può burlarmi ancor.)

Don Giovanni
Vieni, mio bel diletto!

Zerlina
Mi fa pietà Masetto.

Don Giovanni
Io cangerò tua sorte.

Zerlina
Presto, non son più forte!

Don Giovanni
Vieni! Vieni!  
Là ci darem la mano.

Zerlina
Vorrei e non vorrei.

Don Giovanni
Là mi dirai di si.

Zerlina
Mi trema un poco il cor.

Don Giovanni
Partiam, ben mio, da qui.

Zerlina
Ma può burlarmi ancor.

Don Giovanni
Vieni, mio bel diletto!

Zerlina
Mi fa pietà Masetto.

Don Giovanni
lo cangerò tua sorte.

Zerlina
Presto, non son più forte!

Don Giovanni
Andiam'!

Zerlina
Andiam'!

Giovanni and Zerlina
Andiam', mio bene,
a ristorar le pene 
d’un innocente amor!


There you will give me your hand,
there you will tell me “yes.”
You see, it is not far;
Let's go from here, my beloved.


(I would like to, and I wouldn't.
My heart trembles a little.
I would be happy to, it's true,
but he may be tricking me.)


Come, my beautiful love!


I feel sorry for Masetto.


I will change your fate.


Soon I won’t be strong anymore!


Come! Come!
There you will give me your hand.


I would like to, and I wouldn't.


There you will tell me “yes.”


My heart trembles a little.


Let's go from here, my beloved.


But he may be tricking me.


Come, my beautiful love!


I’m sorry for Masetto.


I will change your fate.


Soon I won’t be strong anymore!


Let's go!


Let's go!


Let's go, my beloved,
to relieve the pangs
of an innocent love!

There is nothing "innocent" about Giovanni's pangs, and Boylan seems cast very much in the same mold of the heartless seducer. But Joyce allows Molly to ask just how terrible it is to take some pleasure outside of a marriage that offers her no sexual satisfaction: "serve him right its all his own fault if I am an adulteress as the thing in the gallery said O much about it if thats all the harm ever we did in this vale of tears God knows its not much doesnt everybody only they hide it."

Molly probably does not experience Zerlina's uncertainty before the act—though she does have her doubts afterward. When Bloom recalls Zerlina's first line in Calypso, he misremembers it in a way that emphasizes his wife's very active participation in the adulterous liaison: "Voglio e non vorrei. Wonder if she pronounces that right: voglio." Substituting the present indicative voglio ("I want") for the conditional vorrei ("I would like") calls the reader's attention to the fact that Molly is hardly being seduced. In Lotus Eaters even the one conditional verb has dropped out: "Voglio e non." But in Hades Bloom does recall the line correctly: "voglio e non vorrei. No: vorrei e non."

The substitution of voglio for vorrei is a joke with multiple layers. Not only is Molly's pronunciation of the word irrelevant, but voglio has a particular, unflattering application to Bloom himself. His counterpart in the seduction scene is the subjugated Masetto, and he outdoes Masetto in subjugation. Masetto in fact stands up for himself, trying in vain to stop the nobleman from exercising his droit de seigneur. Bloom never does, and his substitution of voglio connects him with Don Giovanni's servant Leporello, as Robert M. Adams first suggested (Surface and Symbol, 71). In a deliciously mock-heroic aria at the beginning of the opera, "Notte e giornio faticar," Leporello dreams of throwing off the yoke of servitude and becoming a master himself. The rousing central declaration of this aria is "Voglio far il gentiluomo, / E non voglio più servir": "I want to play the gentleman, / And I don't want to serve anymore."

It would make perfect sense for Bloom to identify with Leporello, as with Masetto. Calypso shows him to be a servant to his wife, and in Circe his failure to stand up to the violator of his marriage is enacted by having him serve Boylan as a butler, showing him into the house and conducting him to the room where Molly is stepping naked out of her bathtub. A phrase in Ithaca, "supraracial prerogative," suggests that he acquiesces in the violation of his marriage in part because his Jewish heritage puts him in an inferior position to the ethnically Irish Boylan, much like a peasant being swept aside by an aristocrat.

Bloom tries to turn the tables, in fantasy, when he woos his former flame Josie Breen In Circe. With "his fingers and thumb passing slowly down to her soft moist meaty palm which she surrenders gently," he places on her finger a ring that signifies domination more than betrothal, and says, "Là ci darem la mano." She replies with an excited repetition of his excited-woman line: "Voglio e non.You're hot! You're scalding!" But, as Stephen says of Shakespeare's whoring in London, such "assumed dongiovannism" can hardly overcome the pain of being betrayed.

These many painful suggestions raised by a few words from Mozart's opera all stand in contrast to the associations raised by the other song on the program, Love's Old Sweet Song.

JH 2017