Just in time to compete with family-oriented holiday presentations, Gotham Chamber Opera and Tectonic Theater Productions on Saturday night revived their triumphant 2010 production of Xavier Montsalvatge’s 1947 opera El gato con botas. Performed in Spanish with English supertitles, the production’s combination of dazzling puppetry and joyful music makes for an experience that rises high above the regular run of Nutcrackers and carol concerts.
Written to a libretto by Néstor Luján, Montsalvatge’s opera recounts the classic fairy tale of an extraordinarily clever cat who uses only his wits and sartorial prowess to win the hand of a beautiful princess for his penniless master.
Moisés Kaufman’s inspired direction turns this diminutive piece (barely an hour, with no intermission) into an enchanting experience. Slick, attractive sets by Andromache Chalfant create vivid scenes with a minimum of complication, helped along by subtle lighting by David Lander.
But it’s the puppets, designed by Nick Barnes and directed by Mark Down, that make this production a joy to watch, instilling the story with a fanciful and whimsical sense of humor. The ogre, which our hero must defeat in order to secure a suitable palace for his master, is the pièce de résistance. Each of the monster’s limbs is controlled by a separate puppeteer; the whole lumbers about with odd grace. Kevin Burdette’s taut, leathery bass gave the beast comic bluster.
Voicing the titular feline, Ginger Costa-Jackson sang with a hard-edged, amber tone. She was a model of consistency, her voice solid from top to bottom, her phrasing sensitive and intelligent. Craig Verm brought a warm, gravelly tone to the role of the miller, the cat’s master, and Andrea Carroll’s bright, ringing soprano gave her princess an innocent charm. Stefanos Koroneos drew plenty of laughs as a bumbling, benign king.