Mixing commedia dell’arte with Tex Avery-style antics and vaudeville pranks, Herbert Fritsch’s production of Mozart’s most sublime achievement is shockingly dismissive of the music, as if it were standing in the way of his vision. The German director is a disciple of Frank Castorf, the dictator-intendant of the Berlin Volksbühne (and director of the already-notorious bicentennial Bayreuth Ring) and Castorf’s influence is evident in the production’s mixture of high-octane theatricality and wholesale iconoclasm. But for all the ideas Fritsch throws at the audience, the result is surprisingly dull. The colorful costumes and deranged, pasty face paint suggest the Kabuki carnival atmosphere of Robert Wilson or Achim Freyer and the manic, hyperkinetic performances brought to mind some of the Komische’s better outings. But on a deeper level, this production has very little to recommend it.
Fritsch favors butchering the recitatives – sung in a new, not entirely successful translation by Sabrina Zwach – by either rushing them or drawing them out to great lengths. He also instructed the orchestra repeat a chord here or there or, in one case, the harpsichordist to play Vecchia zimarra (amusingly while the Don and Leporello trade capes). But the music, like everything else in this production, lacks unity and coherence. More’s the pity since this staging supplants Peter Konwitschny’s sophisticated production from 2001.