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Puss in Boots (El Gato con Botas) – An Opera By Xavier Montsalvatge
Occasionally – in fact, quite rarely these days – something quite surprising turns up during an evening spent in a concert hall. After almost forty years of interest in music focusing on all Western musical styles from Gothic to Minimalism (perhaps not such a big leap!), real surprises are now very rare and often come when you hear a piece by a young composer. someone is just starting to find their voice. However, Xavier Montsalvatge died at the age of ninety in 2002, having lived as an active composer longer than most, but few knew his music outside his native Catalonia. Since moving to Spain, I’ve been actively looking for shows featuring his increasingly popular works, and I’m fascinated by the eclecticism of his style, usually neoclassical, but often laced with popular tunes, folk and jazz, and sometimes more. a hint of Bartok hardness. But none of the piano and string works I had heard so far could have prepared me for the experience that was Montsalvatge’s opera, El Gato con Botas, Puss in Boots.
Obviously an opera for children, with a text by Charles Perrault that faithfully follows the well-known pantomime version of the tale, from the first rhythmic string figures, with their changing harmonies and ambiguous keys, we know that we are about to experience a work that exists simultaneously. on different levels, in some respects similar to Janacek Ravasz’s little Vixen, but lighter in touch, to Miro Janacek’s father.
The work lasts only one hour and consists of five scenes. In the first, our Cat lazes on a pillow in front of the television and occasionally offers her tight costume with dangling trinkets to the audience in languid lines. The children were captivated from start to finish by this wonderfully engaging character, elegantly and excitingly portrayed and sung by Marisa Martins. Older members of the audience may have thought otherwise, such is the nature of pantomime. In this first scene, she is introduced to her new sequined high-heeled and pointy boots, along with a cape to accentuate her pinkness. The king and princess lament the state of the kingdom. Life seems boring when there are no wars or civil strife. Apparently no husbands either. Puss in Boots appears and is picked up. The miller, the king’s daughter’s suitor, puts on his shorts, swims in the river, and immediately runs into trouble.
Puss summons his faithful white rabbits, who until now have moved the props like a ballet and rearranged the kindergarten’s alphabetical furniture. They put on snorkels and goggles and rescue the boy. The king is overjoyed and the princess’s eyes bulge a little. Then the ogre seems to get a little rough on things. In his lair, he laments that the high life has turned his nose aubergine. Of course, Puss takes care of everything, capriciously avoiding the lion he transforms into, then courting the canary, which is his next trick, and finally, of course (offstage), he deals with the radio-controlled orange mouse, the shape he requested. to take it away. Are all ogres this stupid? Anyway, there’s a wedding and everyone clearly lives happily ever after, including Puss, who gets his television back.
So that’s the story. It’s a pantomime, but it’s brilliantly made and full of wonderful imagery. Marisa Martins as Puss is quite outstanding in the role. As a dancer, she uses her body with flirtatious expressions and interpretive gestures that follow the music rather than follow it. And he also has the unmistakable talent of singing beautifully and acting seemingly effortlessly. Enric Martinez-Castignani in the role of the king is an excellent portrayal of a bumbling idiot whose deafness perhaps hides his wisdom. Miguel Zapater is outstanding as the ogre. He turns into a real pantomime character who admits to drinking too many glasses of wine.
As the princess, Maria Luz Matrinez gently carries on the apparent naivety of the character, and her voice shines in a role that has to bear the hammer image of a pure white wedding dress, a bridal dress hung with bright red balls. How’s that for deliciousness! And if David Menendez had stripped down to his swimming trunks to take a dip in the river in an older-style opera house, there’s no doubt that some of the audience would have called for the spectacles, which were otherwise permanently trained on Pussy’s pinkness, to be diverted. His acting was a great mix of clown and suitor and his singing was excellent.
But all this was underpinned by the music, which was brilliantly expressive, a deceptively simple yet eclectic mix of recitative, full orchestra and inventive ensembles. The trombone and tuba figures accompanying the ogre were brilliant. The recitatives were brilliantly cast as not quite Mozartian, while the neoclassicism was always immersed in interesting harmonic shifts. And there was always the movement of the cat’s paw in the strings for Puss to draw us all in with that playful hand and wrist movement. In the pit, the World Youth Orchestra played flawlessly, and Josep Vincent, who is certainly one of the smartest and most accomplished young conductors, is certainly destined for global recognition.
This music and performance was of the highest quality – and it all took place in this increasingly sophisticated little town of La Nucia, just outside Benidorm. What a wonderful place to live!
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