“That ungrateful soul betrayed me, O God, how unhappy he made me! But, though betrayed and abandoned, I still know pity for him. When I feel my suffering, my heart speaks of vengeance; but when I see the danger he’s in, my heart beats for him.”
Pamina’s opera puts it this way:
“So often not only in opera, but in all types of fiction written by men in past centuries, women are either shamed and vilified, or, more often, idealized and put on a pedestal. Fully human, complex female characters can be hard to find. Yet in Elvira, we find one. A female character with both comic and tragic elements; who has genuine dignity yet makes a fool of herself; who’s no shrinking violet, but no pillar of strength either; who has blazing anger, but too much love to maintain it, and great capacity for compassion, but too much anger to maintain it; whose faithful, passionate love has both positive and negative effects; whose humiliations are sometimes played for laughs but never portrayed as justified; and who remains morally gray throughout the opera, with neither the other characters nor the creators ever judging her.”
Donna Elvira is I think a character far ahead of her time, a betrayed woman who forgives the most damning faults in Don Giovanni, who feels the desire for vengeance, but who still has empathy for the danger he is in. This is the great puzzle of men like Don Giovanni, why women keep come back to them and feel for them, even as they are terribly betrayed.
The aria is I think a masterpiece, coming towards the end of the opera where Don Giovanni refuses to repent and is carried down to hell.
In quali eccessi, o umi, in quai misfatti orribili, tremendi è avvolto il sciagurato!
Ah no! non puote tardar l’ira del cielo, la giustizia tardar. Sentir già parmi la fatale saetta, che gli piomba sul capo! Aperto veggio il baratro mortal! Misera Elvira!
Che contrasto d’affetti, in sen ti nasce! Perchè questi sospiri? e queste ambascie?
Mi tradì, quell’alma ingrata, infelice, o Dio, mi fa.
Ma tradita e abbandonata, provo ancor per lui pietà .
Quando sento il mio tormento, di vendetta il cor favella,
Ma se guardo il suo cimento, palpitando il cor mi va.
Recitative in English
In what abysses of error, into what dangers, Thy reckless path pursuing, Have guilt and folly brought thee! The wrath of heaven will surely overwhelm thee, It is swift to destroy.
The lightning flash of retribution impendeth, It will soon be upon thee! Eternal ruin at last will be thy doom. Wretched Elvira! What a tempest within thee, thy heart divideth!
Ah, wherefore is this longing? These pangs of sorrow?