OPERA | El Gato Con Botas
music > X.Montsalvatge | Libretto > N.Lujan | First performance at the Royal Opera House | Princess > Anush Hovhannisyan | Cat > Rachel Kelly | Miller > Luis Gomes | King > Michel de Souza | Ogre > Jihoon Kim | Conductor > Paul Wingfield | Orchestra > Southbank Sinfonia | Designer > Simon Bejer | Lighting > Warren Letton | Movement > Mandy Demetriou | Continuo > Helen Nicholas | Puppeteers > Sara Henriques, Rui Rodrigues from Red Cloud Puppet Company & Greg Eldridge| London UK | 2013
Backdrop Image: © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013 | Anush Hovhannisyan and Sara Henriques as the Princess
> Director’s Note
Has it ever happened to you when walking down a street that you have closed your eyes and started to fly? Have you ever come across someone you do not know as you walk along a road and felt an inexplicable joy? Ever wondered what your life would be like if you had this or did not have that? Ever started to cry for no apparent reason? Ever imagined that when you walk, you are actually the wind? Or realised that when you touch something, you are made of silk?
When I was a child, I could be anything. I could go in and out of a castle in two seconds, be a doctor, a soldier, someone extremely rich, someone very kind, the perfect father, a dwarf; I could travel to the moon and back to earth. What happens to us as we get older that makes us forget how good it is to fly?
A fairy tale has this effect… you have no way of running away from it. The attic opens and in come all the machines, games, toys, dolls, all the things from my childhood that my mother insists on keeping for the sake of the memories attached.
I would like to dedicate this show to Joao Paulo Seara Cardoso, the father of puppetry in Portugal, who said: ‘Passions are the burning matter of theatre. A puppet is a dead body, highly flammable. The actor entrusts it with the flame of his soul. Infinitely. In this way, the puppet remains in a limbo between life and death’.
“(…) If you loved the little puppet boy in Anthony Minghella’s English National Opera production of Madam Butterfly , hasten to the Royal Opera’s staging of Xavier Montsalvatge’s El gato con botas . From first note to last it’s a riot of puppetry. And why not? As its title suggests, Montsalvatge’s one-act comic opera, written in 1948, is a Catalan take on the rollicking old pantoPuss-in-Boots . In Pedro Ribeiro’s staging not just Puss, but the bemused Miller, bankrupt King and doll-like Princess all have puppet doubles — and the show also features appearances by a prancing lion, a flapping bird and (my favourite) a radio-controlled mouse. It says something for the quality of the cast – all young singers on the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Programme – that they weren’t upstaged by their wooden doppelgangers and the beret-clad puppeteers flitting around. Ribeiro, however, is careful to tell the story deftly and clearly, while allowing his choreographer Mandy Demetriou and designer Simon Bejer their surreal flights of whimsy. Children will be mesmerised but so will adults: Montsalvatge’s music, now being joyfully rediscovered in his native Barcelona (he was besmirched for decades by making his career in Franco’s Spain), is beguiling mix of Catalan colour, pastiche-Classical recitative and tangy bitonality, effectively delivered here by the Southbank Sinfonia under Paul Wingfield. The stand-out performance is Rachel Kelly’s Cat: sexy, sassy and smart. Note, too, the names of Michel de Souza, Jihoon Kim, Luis Gomes and Anush Hovhannisyan. (…)”
> Richard Morrison | The Times ****
“(…) El gato con botas turned out to be a hitherto unknown little gem. Montsalvatge’s one-act fantasy opera tells the tale of a hapless, inebriated miller who has inherited a mangy old moggy. It transpires that this is no ordinary feline tale, as the miller’s cat morphs into a swashbuckling Errol Flynn-type character who proceeds to take his owner on a serious of fantastical journeys, in the process meeting a King, a Princess and an Ogre. Aided and abetted by a lucid staging by Pedro Ribeiro and some magical puppetry from members of the Red Cloud Teatro de Marionetas in Portugal, El gato con botas is a brilliant, and funny little opera which deserves to be seen more often, and would be the perfect introduction to opera for kids of all ages. (…) this evening not only revealed plenty of exciting young talent, but an unjustly neglected opera as well.”
> Keith McDonnell | What’s On Stage ****
“(…)El gato con botas, by the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) – might sound more familiar if its title were translated: it’s our old pantomime friend Puss in Boots. (…) Pedro Ribeiro’s staging gains some of its appeal from the interventions of puppeteers Rui Rodrigues, Sara Henriques and Greg Eldridge; it combines colour and comedy in equal measure, and deserves to have an afterlife following this brief initial run. Excellent performances from the entire cast, while Paul Wingfield draws fluent playing from members of the Southbank Sinfonia. (…)”
> George Hall | The Stage ****
“(…) A woodblock tapped away as on a mouse ran in between Puss’s boots. Bells in scales and modal patterns made it clear that this opera is a fairytale. (…) Puss himself is played by the honey-voiced mezzo Rachel Kelly, and also by a small mangy, grey puppet. Three figures in black danced the puppet-Puss about the stage, leaping over rows of puppet ladies-in-waiting. Kelly, meanwhile, pouted her way from the gutters to the palace, with a convincingly feline, mischievous strut. Pedro Ribeiro’s direction is fantastically imaginative, and indeed it had to be. (…) This is the sort of show that adults should not enjoy, but do. There were laugh-out-loud moments. There were also intakes of breath at transforming sets and unexpected costumes, and Luis Gomes used his bright Italianate tenor voice to pleasing effect.(…) As an opera, El gato con botas may not be a masterpiece but it is certainly very entertaining.”
> Hannah Sander | Classical Source
“(…) this evening was mouthwatering (…) operatic fans of the obscure had come for Montsalvatge’s El gato con botas (…) The production was fascinating and involving. Puppetry is rife in London of late, given its use in the recent Butterfly at ENO as well as here. The (scruffy) cat in question was beautifully handled by its three puppeteers while Rachel Kelly gave a beautifully nuanced account of the role itself, always strategically near the animal she sought to give a voice to and demonstrating feline prancings and body language herself. (…) The story of the clever cat who arranges love and riches for its owner is marvellously done, with a succession of scenes that include Jihoon Kim’s magnificently sung mis-shaped Ogre with its artificial limbs, Armenian soprano Anush Hovhannisyan’s regal yet passionate Princess and baritone Michael de Souza strong as the King. But it is the mezzo of Rachel Kelly as the Cat that really carried the opera, a source of constant delight in her understanding of not only the idiom but of many individual touches of phrasing and vocal timbre. (…) He was on terrific form as the Ogre, and while one had to wonder whether the creature’s placement in the opera was dramatically satisfying, one had to admit the sheer enjoyment of the experience itself. Pedro Ribeiro’s slightly surreal production and Warren Letton’s expert lighting conveyed a twilight take on fairytale.(…) El gato con botas has to be seen to be fully enjoyed and appreciated. Truth is, I hardly stopped smiling all the way through.”
> Colin Clarke | Seen & Heard International
“(…) The joy of the Meet the Young Artists Week at the Royal Opera House is that they do short operas that are rarely (…) This year, they surpassed themselves with both an opera and a composer that I’d not heard of before (…) It’s a sweet little piece, moving quickly and, at 50 minutes, never outstaying its welcome. The music is engaging and professional, without being particularly challenging. You can feel the influence of film music (in a good way) and there’s lots of nice, quirky orchestral writing. (…) It was done very nicely. Pedro Ribeiro’s production had nice designs by Simon Bejer and used some Portuguese puppeteers to provide the animals – the cat, the rabbits he catches and the animals that the Ogre, Fafner-like, changes into. It was witty, didn’t flag and made for a really enjoyable half-evening. (…) It made for an excellent performance where no allowances were needed. (…) All praise to the ROH for putting on this evening. What would be really lovely would be if the Glyndebourne Tour or Opera North could take up El gato con botas, translate it into English and do some matinee or early evening performances aimed at children. It would be a great way of getting them introduced to the form.
> Opera Notes Blog
“(…) Tunefully cartoonish (…) Puss in Boots— by Xavier Montsalvatge has its panto elements, and Pedro Ribeiro brings them to life by using puppets (…) We go to the Royal Opera House to hear opera’s big guns but there’s more to the place than that. (…) Comedy is a good test of young singers’ talent, and El Gato con Botas — Puss in Boots— by Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge has its panto elements. Director Pedro Ribeiro aims to bring them to life by using puppets to supplement the human actors. With the Cat, this works well, puppet, puppeteer and singer conspiring to produce a split-screen effect. (…) Luis Gomes plays the Cat’s master with refined bel canto phrasing and some neat comic touches, while Rachel Kelly’s Cat is elegantly energetic. (…)”
> Nick Kimberley | The Evening Standard ***