The music of the great but sorely underrated Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge deserves to be more widely known, performed and heard. Montsalvatge, who died in 2002 at age 90, could be compared to Mozart in the enchantment his music provides to listeners, and so it’s no coincidence that his thoroughly delightful opera Puss in Boots (El Gato con Botas), receiving its first U.S. performances at the New Victory Theater, is an enthralling show for adults and kids of all ages.
Based on Charles Perrault’s beloved fairy tale, Montsalvatge’s opera is a beguiling 65-minute work that follows the exploits of the clever cat that saves its own life by conniving to have his master meet and marry the kingdom’s beautiful princess. With its gorgeous melodies and witty musical characterizations, Puss in Boots is a perfect miniature gem. (The English translation heard at most of these performances is perfectly fine, although Montsalvatge composed the opera in Spanish.)
The enterprising Gotham Chamber Opera, with assistance from the Tectonic Theater Project and Blind Summit Theatre, presents a colorful staging that superbly complements Montsalvatge’s glorious music. Director Moises Kaufman adroitly mixes real singers with puppets, including the most memorably mangy cat I’ve ever had the pleasure to see (sung, at my performance, by the sweet-voiced mezzo-soprano Karin Mushegain). Puppetry director Mark Down and his talented team of puppeteers deserves special mention for some of the most beguiling creatures to appear on any stage, such as a half-dozen adorable rabbits or a drunken, hilariously misshapen ogre that transforms itself into a lion, a bird and a rat in magical feats of stagecraft.
The intrepid puppeteers and singers should all be commended for collaborating to turn the tale’s king and a couple of his minions into dwarves through ingenious costuming and lock-step movement. The singing cast is terrific, with Nadine Sierra’s lovely-looking and lovely-sounding Princess standing out. Neal Goren conducts a lively chamber orchestra with polish and drive. You won’t get many more opportunities to see Puss in Boots—let alone hear any Montsalvatge music—so by all means, go!