After a deeply disappointing two nights at the Met—the turgid, tech-driven new Rheingold and a shabby, stripped-down revival of Rigoletto—it was a deeply pleasurable half-surprise to have my faith in operatic staging restored by a nearly unknown, seventy-minute fairy-tale opera by the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge, himself little known in the States apart from a lovely handful of songs. I say “half-surprise” because this was a production of New York City’s splendid Gotham Chamber Opera, with its fine history of presenting delectable rarities in disarming productions.
El Gato con botas, tunefully written in 1946, had its premiere two years later, at Barcelona’s Liceu. I’ve no idea what it looked or sounded like then, but it couldn’t have surpassed the pleasure quotient of Gotham’s production, in Albert Guinovart’s charming chamber orchestration Director Moisés Kaufman staged Perrault’s beloved story simply and clearly—the audience was pretty evenly divided between children and equally beguiled adults—without the aid of any modern-day-wonder stage machinery. All the magic was supplied, quite visibly, by the performers, including the nimble puppeteers of Blind Summit Theatre, manipulating the even nimbler puppets of Nick Barnes’s fanciful design.
Several years back, Blind Summit Theatre created for Anthony Minghella’s Madama Butterfly a puppet child more wrenchingly human than the flesh-and-blood Butterfly herself. The same talent was evident here, with greater relevance to the matter at hand. The characters—whether wholly singer, wholly puppet, or a hybrid of the two—were all wonderfully wrought. Everyone onstage deserved credit, but I’ll happily single out the singers—Leah Wool, Craig Verm, Nadine Sierra, Kyle Pfortmiller, and Kevin Burdette—and trust that the puppeteers will understand. Neal Goren conducted with a pleasure that surely fed on and was fed by the pleasure on both sides of the pit: My only disappointment was that the show had to end.