June 7th, 2014
Don Giovanni - Heikki Kilpeläinen
Leporello - Hans-Otto Weiss
Donna Anna - Tatjana Charalgina
Donna Elvira - Patricia Roach
Don Ottavio - Thorsten Büttner
Zerlina - Alexandra Samouilidou
Masetto - Dmitriy Ryabchikov
Commendatore - José Gallisa
Conductor - Hermann Bäumer
Director - Tilman Knabe
Stage - Wilfried Buchholz
Costumes - Eva-Mareika Uhlig
Tilman Knabe's action-packed production of Don Giovanni couldn't possibly be more different to Christof Loy's masterly new staging running concurrently just 40 kilometres away in Frankfurt.
While Loy's offers us an extremely personal, deeply melancholic but psychologically probing portrait of the aging Giovanni, Knabe's reading is extrovertly, unapologetically political and has the look and feel of a computer war game.
His overriding interest seems to be in the westernized idea of "freedom", his staging an examination of the "clash of cultures" -- between our hedonistic, self-obsessed West and the Middle East with its Jihadist wars and corrupt ruling classes.
Wilfried Buchholz's revolving set portrays a run-down hotel in a dusty town in an unnamed Middle East state.
Giovanni resembles Julian Assange and his Parka-wearing sidekick Leporello films the Don's sexual exploits with a tablet computer and stores them all on a USB stick.
The Commendatore is a (Christian) religious leader assassinated by snipers, bombs explode, sirens go off, there are air raids during which town dwellers are repeatedly chased through the streets by soldiers or cower in bombed-out shells of buildings.
We see Pussy Riot and Femen protestors.
Donna Anna wears military khaki and Don Ottavio is also some high-ranking military official.
Donna Elvira, heavily pregnant, smokes and drinks and then in Act 2 appears in Rambo attire, complete with bazooka, to give birth.
She then reappears again at the end to present the newborn baby, wrapped in bloodied rags, to Giovanni as "the last proof of her love".
Masetto seems to be a human trafficker who has seized Zerlina's passport and regularly beats her.
But he is sexually ambivalent, too, and allows himself to be seduced by Giovanni (disguised as Leporello).
Zerlina is a nymphomaniac who needs no persuasion at all to rip her clothes and mount the prostrate Giovanni.
But she throws fake blood all over herself to accuse him at the end of Act 1.
It looks as if Giovanni will meet a fiery death at the end, too, when he is overpowered and doused in petrol, with Donna Anna standing above, threatening to drop a match.
But Don Giovanni escapes when she, in turn, is overpowered and in a defiant final pose, he rips off his shirt to reveal the word "Liberta" scrawled across his chest.
Even if in the Frankfurt production, Loy's title character is anything but likeable, Knabe's worldview is so joyless, so unredeemably misanthropic that you're left neither liking nor caring about any of the characters.
There's no denying that Knabe has plenty of ideas. But he fails to follow through with any of them with any coherence or cogency.
Unlike Loy in Frankfurt, he never really engages with the text and all too frequently resorts to gimmickry.
And with a bewildering amount of superfluous action going on onstage, and earfuls of extraneous sound effects, it's over-directed, too, and easy to get lost or distracted.
Teams of cameramen and journalists constantly appear on stage for no apparent reason, Donna Anna noisily shreds documents while Ottavio sings an aria.
I wish the evening had been musically more interesting.
Knabe's idea of Personenregie is to stand the singers all at the front of the stage.
But everything seemed to be at a relentless forte, with little attempt made to alter shade or colour or really work with the words.
Patricia Roach as Donna Elvira came closest to bringing her character to life.
Tatjana Charalgina was a relentlessly shrill Donna Anna, Thorsten Büttner a vocally wooden and one-dimensional Ottavio.
Neither Heikki Kilpeläinen as Giovanni nor Hans-Otto Weiss as Leporello left any lasting vocal impression.
But that may not be entirely the fault of the singers.
Knabe is so preoccupied with shoving our noses in his concept and political message that he forgets to inject any life into the characters who remain cyphers.
Nevertheless, no-one stood out as a real vocal actor. And it all sounded as if they were singing from a teleprompter with no attempt to inject any meaning into the words.
Much the same could be said of the orchestral playing under conductor Hermann Bäumer, too, which was marred by rushed, scrappy tempi and some duff intonation throughout.
Of course, it's not really fair to compare the two productions side by side: a small house like Mainz will simply not have the same resources as the opera in Frankfurt.
But for all its visual overload, Knabe's treatment didn't leave me wanting to see it again, while Loy's continues to reap rewards even after repeated viewings.