Brilliant puppetry elevates the charming if modest opera Puss in Boots into dazzling theatricality in this joint production of Gotham Chamber Opera and Tectonic Theater Project. The score by Xavier Montsalvatge, the Spanish Catalan composer who died in 2002 at age 90, gives the children's tale a neoclassic setting with pleasantly melodic passages and hints of Spanish rhythms. There's also impressive ensemble vocal writing towards the ending. But it's the puppetry, created by London's Blind Summit Theatre, which takes the breath away.
First performed in 1948, the opera—Spanish title: El Gato con Botas—recounts how a cunning cat delivers wealth and the love of a princess to his master, a poor miller. Néstor Luján's libretto has been translated into English by the show's director Moisés Kaufman and conductor Neal Goren. From his first appearance during the overture as a mangy but ingratiating beast, the title character, manipulated by three puppeteers, seems sure to walk away with the show—especially after his makeover into a fluffy fellow sporting his swashbuckler outfit. But Puss gets a lot of competition from the story's miniature king and courtiers, each brought to life by two puppeteers working in amazing synchronization; a chorus of dancing rabbits, and, most particularly, a gigantic ogre whose body parts flail about in drunken stupor and then come threateningly together. A half-dozen folks work unobtrusively away to bring this show-stealer to life.