Sunday, September 26, 2010

Music: Gotham Chamber Opera—El Gato con Botas

To file this post under "music" is a bit deceptive, but not any more deceptive than the Guggenheim promising "El Gato con Botas" and presenting "Puss in Boots." The Gotham Chamber Opera will be offering the Spaniard Montsalvatge's opera both in the original Spanish as well as English translation performances, but I was rather disappointed that the Works and Process preview gave us the lesser of those two choices.

I was equally disappointed that, promised "puppets" in plural form, we were only shown one puppet (though it was a puppet comprised of plural pieces, and quite an astonishing puppet at that), for this production at the New Victory Theater is a puppet production, inspired by Artistic Director Neal Goren's admitted discomfort with the idea of live people playing animal characters. No self-respecting opera star is willing to dress up in a cat costume, it seems—save that trash for Broadway.

The excessively caffeinated Goren practically stole the podium from moderator Anotoni Pizà, whose greatest moment was cutting off the conductor's effusive stream to ask him whether or not he keeps a pet cat. But the more intriguing character was Mark Down, the Artistic Director of Blind Summit Theater, the collaborators responsible for the puppets. For these are not Sifl & Olly sock puppets. The one puppet we saw tonight—the ogre—requires seven sweating puppeteers, never mind the opera singer who stands alongside them, sweating and heaving himself.

I found nothing particularly interesting in Montsalvatge's music (I'm by no means an opera fan, but I still think I can recognize whether a particular work has any value), but the puppet—oh the puppet! What a creation of astonishing artistic and physical genius. Never have I seen such an enormous living, breathing thing made of seven sculpted hunks of foam mounted on poles, operated by the nerdiest subcategory of theater nerds: professional puppeteers. What stars they are, these puppet-wielders, brutishly, nimbly, willfully dancing this other being into life.

I say, more puppets, less singing.

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