"From wily house cat to lord of the manor"
Critiques of the 17th-century French fairy tale Puss in Boots have ranged from appreciations of the wily cat’s ingenuity and imagination to condemnations of the insinuation that trickery is a valid route to success. The story’s imaginative elements were charmingly illustrated in a whimsical staging of El Gato Con Botas (Puss in Boots), the 1947 children’s opera by the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge, who wrote more than 20 ballets. It received its premiere, sung in Spanish, on Friday evening at the New Victory Theater. (The run includes performances in English or Spanish.)
Neal Goren conducted the tuneful and rhythmically colorful score, which evokes Catalan folk music. The opera, a production of the Gotham Chamber Opera and the Tectonic Theater Project, directed by Moisés Kaufman, features choreography by Sean Curran and puppets by Blind Summit Theater of London, which created the puppets for Anthony Minghella’s Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Minghella’s use of a puppet to represent Butterfly’s son provoked controversy, and I had mixed feelings myself. But in this context the puppets, operated by black-clad puppeteers, worked brilliantly. The cat strutted, slunk and cavorted, evolving from a mere house cat to a regal puss in boots. His transformation took place behind a screen through which his silhouetted figure could be seen being groomed and coiffed.
Ginger Costa-Jackson, dressed in black and moving alongside the puppet, gave voice to Puss with her silvery and dark-hued mezzo-soprano, which she wielded with feline flair. Other puppets ranged from the cutesy — including dancing white bunnies — to the more picturesque, like the colorful aquatic creatures that floated across the stage in the river scene, one of Andromache Chalfant’s simple but evocative sets. The Princess and the Miller were entirely human. Nadine Sierra, wearing a red flamenco-style dress and red sunglasses, sang the role of the Princess with coquettish élan and a bright, fluid soprano. As the Miller, obeying the dictums of his cunning cat to win her hand, the baritone Craig Verm sang and acted with panache. The King was half man, half puppet, with the head of the baritone Kyle Pfortmiller, who sang well, visible above a puppet that was manipulated by a man standing behind him.
The most remarkable puppet was the boozing Ogre, charismatically rendered by the bass Kevin Burdette. That monster first appeared through his individual gnarly body parts, which swirled around the stage before assembling into a suitably grotesque creation. The puppet wizardry continued in the next scene, in which Puss tricked the Ogre into morphing into a lion, then a parrot and finally a rat — which naturally heralded the monster’s downfall.