I fear I have a crush on baritone Günter Papendell. He was the perfect prig in Eugene Onegin; polite, numb to his own emotions. Almost unrecognizable in his title roll of Don Giovanni, again at the Komische Opera Berlin, Papendell personifies the licentious playboy, ruining women left and right, to their (and the audience's) great delight. He's charming to his very pointy end. This production is so much fun. Go, and laugh.

Günter Papendell (Don Giovanni) © Monika Rittershaus
Günter Papendell (Don Giovanni)
© Monika Rittershaus
Is Don Giovanni supposed to be a 'laugh-out-loud' good time? In the original manuscript Mozart did not specify – there was no subtitle. He later however inscribed in his own catalogue Il dissoluto punito o, il Don Giovanni; opera buffa - “the promiscuous punished, Don Giovanni, a comic opera”. Rules of the day required this classification; the inclusion of the 'common folk' for example would indicate an opera buffa. Librettist Da Ponte subtitled his text dramma giocoso, “drama, with jokes”. The question then remains; is Don Giovanni a drama with jokes, or, jokes with drama?

This Herbert Fitsch production was very much jokes with drama. Performed as per Komische Opera tradition in a German translation, it is simply hilarious, at times crude, and perfectly appropriate for the Komische Opera's standard 'naughty' filter. Sabrina Zwach's gritty translation, coupled (please do excuse this hilarious pun), with the fantastic physical comedy of Günter Papendell as Don Giovanni, and bass-baritone Evan Hughes singing Leporello had the audience laughing out loud almost throughout. It was fabulous. Colourful costuming by Victoria Behr, textual word play, racing recitatives – all very clever, inside jokes, but not too far inside.

There were quite a few unusual aspects to this production. The overture had to wait until after the the first scene, and the murder of the Commendatore was accomplished. It was worth the wait however, and well performed. On the stage, lovely black lace hangings floated around, hinting at the boudoir, but unfortunately smelling of moth balls. I howled with laughter at the interpretation of the bride Zerlina as a little masochist. And Masetto, poor dear, really tried to be gallant, and sang beautifully also. Our Commendatore – turned statue – was the suitably statuesque Alexey Antonov. His formidable bass resonated, and was a 'wow' moment.

Günter Papendell (Don Giovanni) and Alexey Antonov (The Commendatore) © Monika Rittershaus
Günter Papendell (Don Giovanni) and Alexey Antonov (The Commendatore)
© Monika Rittershaus

In Don Giovanni, Mozart made the unusual choice to have a baritone sing the romantic lead – usually a tenor performs this role. We did get our tenor, Don Ottavio, who – even within this very funny staging – is taken quite seriously. Adrian Strooper does a beautiful job. He's rather inept and bumbling in earlier scenes as the comedy requires, but Strooper's Ottavio is noble and earnest in his moment. Soprano Nina Bernsteiner as Donna Anna gives us 'Frauen Power' in purple with a strong voice and great presence. As Donna Elvira, Karolina Gumos is strident in many ranges, but she is captivating on stage nonetheless. Leporello, at one point named “Mozzarella” by Don Giovanni, is simply perfection in the role. His voice is smooth and clear, his humour underplayed, the perfect straight man.

The orchestra, under the baton of Ivo Hentschel performed well but was too loud. It was almost always too loud. It was disappointing that the pianist playing the recitatives was not named in the programme. The fortepiano had many 'in-jokes', perfectly executed. Bravo, mystery Hammerklavier player!

The opera was perfect until it had to end. We all knew that Don Giovanni was going to get his just desserts, but I personally hoped that this time... How does one bring an opera buffa to a dramma giocoso end? Unfortunately here the production did disappoint. With lots of finger pointing our smiling Don just sunk into the stage. He seemed confused, as did the (loud) orchestra and ensemble. My sixteen year old daughter solved the production's dilemma: the 'Joker-esque' lipstick smile worn by Don Giovanni through the entire opera needed only to be smeared into a downward grimace. Then we would have known that he was aware of – if perhaps not accepting - the need for his fate. Long live the purple clad Giovannis of the world, and woe to those who regret interacting with them.