Lyric Opera of Chicago

On the Couch: Don Giovanni

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Scott Pytluk, Ph.D, types up notes from his session with Don Giovanni.

Lyric’s First Don Giovanni, Nicola Rossi Lemeni, in 1954.

Lyric’s Don Giovanni, Nicolai Ghiauroy, in 1964.

Lyric’s Don Giovanni, Bryn Terfel, in 2004.


He’s opera’s most notorious bad boy — seducing women across the globe and leaving not just broken hearts, but also broken homes in his wake. But what really makes Don Giovanni tick? Here’s a peek at the psyche of this fascinating character from the point of view of his therapist.

Session Note 
Patient: DG
Birthplace:  Somewhere in Italy
Tuesday, 3pm, Chicago, Wacker Drive

DG arrived even later than is typical, explaining that his assistant, L, required more time than expected to finish today’s catalogue of conquests. “Surely you understand my tardiness, Doc,” he offered with his characteristic patronizing tone. 

Yes. I understand, DG. Your conquests must be your highest priority because, without them, without action, you would have to feel what you cannot bear feeling: shame. Shame not because of the overindulgence and excess with which you enact your conquests, not to mention your objectification of women, but because of your unconscious need for maternal nurturance and the terrifying dependency your need produces. What a bad boy you believe you are for needing so much. What terrifies you? Well, if you depend absolutely, you risk ending up with nothing, for you are convinced that she will abandon you. So, better to be a really bad boy and chew women up and spit them out compulsively. Like this, you do not have to feel your maternal neediness and, over and over, manage to abandon them before they abandon you. Let us not forget how much your loving mother wished she had not had to farm the land as often as she did in order to feed you (ironically), leaving you ever hungry for her ministrations.

Speaking of hunger, you again reported the dream you seem to have repeatedly — the one in which you invite to dinner a larger-than-life statuesque father whom you call “Commendatore.” (Who uses such an antiquated appellation? I need to ponder its meaning some more.) Many of my colleagues would contend with self-satisfied certainty that your death at the hand of the father of one of your conquests in a recurring dream clearly reveals guilt and desire to punish yourself for vanquishing your father and possessing your mother. They would say that this is the story you repeat in your innumerable encounters. I think, however, that the symbol of the dinner invitation holds the truth. Your neurosis is not rooted in immature sexuality at all, but in infant-like hunger as noted above.

Treatment plan: Remember our sessions and recite to yourself, or better yet sing, the words which I borrowed from some Mozart opera and have uttered to you time and again: “Se sei buonino, che bel rimedio ti voglio dar!” (roughly: “If you’re a good boy, what a beautiful cure I will offer you!”)

After all, we don’t want to see you become a bad boy, let alone a madman like another “Don” we all know.


Scott Pytluk, Ph.D. is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and a licensed clinical psychologist. He is a candidate in psychoanalysis at the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis and maintains an independent practice of psychotherapy in downtown Chicago. He is also a regular at Lyric.


Photo: David H. Fishman

New Lyric Opera production generously made possible by Mr. & Mrs. Dietrich M. Gross, the Abbott Fund, Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald J. Gidwitz, and The Negaunee Foundation.




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