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The Ogre [Photo by Richard Termine]
08 Oct 2010

El Gato con Botas: Gotham Chamber Opera

Haven’t you always secretly felt that singers who reach for high notes (and make them) ought to levitate and maintain themselves in mid-air when they do it?

Xavier Montsalvatge: El Gato con Botas

Cat: Ginger Costa-Jackson; Princess: Nadine Sierra; Miller: Craig Verm; King: Kyle Pfortmiller; Ogre: Kevin Burdette. Production by Moisés Kaufman and Tectonic Theater Project; Gotham Chamber Opera, conducted by Neal Goren. Performance of October 1.

Above: The Ogre

All photos by Richard Termine

 

And quiver with emotion and vibrato when they sing on the ground? The title character of Xavier Montsalvatge’s El Gato con Botas (Puss in Boots) does just that, in the delicious production Gotham Chamber Opera has put together at the New Victory Theater just off Times Square, under the direction of Moisés Kaufman, with the Tectonic Theater Project creating the marionettes and other special effects. You hardly notice the singers at times, good as they are; the Cat (and, later, the Ogre), singing in the manner of Avenue Q, occupy all your attention.

On the evidence of this score, Xavier Montsalvatge, a Catalan modernist, was more national than modern. El Gato con Botas, delicately played by piano, strings, a few almost incidental woodwinds, is tuneful, angular, swift-moving, with a Spanish rhythmic pulse. There is much witty scene-painting and dancing, and the harmonies are attractive and piquant without falling into cliché. The piece has character, but its scenic demands no doubt give opera companies pause. There’s a lively cat who dresses very well—sword, cape, plume, boots and, in an underwater ballet in this production, snorkel. There’s a rescue from the river. There’s an Ogre who transforms himself into a lion, a parrot, and a rat. (El Gato has evidently attended Das Rheingold to pick up fairy tale stratagems—or else Wagner had read his Perrault.) There’s a rabbit hunt, and lots of rabbits.

None of the magic gives the production team at the New Victory any difficulty—scene-changing interlude music just provides more opportunities for madcap special effects, and transformations are what the game is all about. There is some kowtowing to the idea that it’s a kids’ show, and several matinees in English translation are part of the run (I preferred to attend one of the performances in the original Spanish), but the kids ae just a cover story. The sophistication of the humor, the charm of the musical presentation, the dizzy delights of the occasion are much too good to waste on kids, however much they are sure to love it.

Gotham has provided multiple casts. On opening night, Ginger Costa-Jackson “voiced” El Gato, standing self-effacingly aside as the scrawny marionette leaped to capture notes high in the air. Nadine Sierra sang a dulcet princess; Craig Verm a heroically befuddled miller/marquis with a pleasant growl to alarm any cat to heroic deeds; Kyle Pfortmiller made a smug monarch, his head atop a tiny, strutting body; and Kevin Burdette was unusually serene for an Ogre whose body starts in disassembled body parts, before he comes together to threaten our feline hero. (You know the kids are going to love singing, twirling, headless body parts.)

_MG_0072A copy small.pngJonothan Lyons; Aaron Schroeder and Stefano Brancato (puppeteers); Craig Verm (Miller vocalist) and Ginger Costa-Jackson (Cat vocalist)

Where has this delicious little score with its spoof-ballets and arias been hiding all these years? I guess it’s been waiting, like a princess in a tower, for a company creative enough to set it free.

John Yohalem

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