BWW Review: EL GATO MONTES at Dorothy Chandler PAVILION
On May 4, 2019, Los Angeles Opera presented a colorful, opulent production of Manuel Penella's opera EL GATO MONTES (THE WILDCAT) at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Starring in the cast were Placido Domingo as Juanillo, El Gato, with Ana Maria Martinez as Soleá and Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Raphael, El Macareno. Needless to say the house was packed.
Composer Penella who wrote his own libretto for EL GATO MONTES also wrote numerous shows for Spanish theaters, most of them light fare such as musicals, operettas, revues, vaudevilles, and skits. The Teatro Principal, Valencia, Spain premiered El GATO on February 23, 1916. L A Opera played a Spanish production of it in 1994 which was eventually televised in the United States.
Despite a few stops and starts, Penella's lyrical and inventive music has a haunting rhythmic quality. It stays in the mind of the listener as it recalls passages and ornaments from Spanish song and dance. This opera also incorporates dramatic singing into the mix in a manner similar to Italian and French verismo opera.
Jorge Torres's production, originally designed for the Teatro de Zarzuela in Madrid, was grounded in realistic acting and solid story telling. Francisco Leal's scenery and lighting added openness to the first act and mystery to the latter scenes. A gold hanging that descended from above was notably effective in its ornate Spanish beauty. Pedro Moreno's costumes were glorious. The women's bullfight outfits were rich and colorful while the toreros glittered with black sequin accents. Only the priest and Juanillo, the Bandit, wore dull colors at all times.
In the 2019 performances, Plácido Domingo took the baritone role of Juanillo instead of the romantic tenor role, Raphael, which he had sung in the 1994 production. Last night, Domingo was the bandit who had killed a man for offending Soleá. With dark facial expressions and what was often a menacing stance, he sang with great intensity and dramatic vocal colors that underscored his power to dominate the community.
Ana MaríA Martinez has been singing with Placido Domingo since she won the Operalia Zarzuela Prize in 1995. They still sing incredibly beautiful, awe-inspiring duets. Both the bull fighter and the bandit are in love with Soleá, and she has to decide which one to spend her life with. Although the bull fighter is handsome and leads an exciting life, the strong, mysterious bandit has always been her first choice. Her role allowed her to grow as she made her choice of a partner. Martinez's large lyric soprano voice cut across and through the orchestra, drenching the audience with waves of pleasurable sound.
As Rafael, Arturo Chacón-Cruz was a smart, good looking bull fighter. Afraid of Juanillo, he loses his confidence in the bull ring and pays for it with his life. His voice was sweet-sounding and he had bright high notes that brought him a great deal of applause at the end of the evening.
Nancy Fabiola Herrera was a fascinating Fortune Teller who danced as beautifully as she sang. She was simply perfect for that role. Niru Liu, a member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, sang her short part with silvery tones and was easily heard despite being far upstage for both her appearances.
Rubén Amoretti was a fine comedian as Padre Antón and he added a pleasant bit of relief to this otherwise melodramatic story. As Frasquita, Sharmay Musacchio sang with a warm voice and provided comfort to Rafael and Soleá. Juan Carlos Heredia, also a member of L A Opera's Young Artist Program, was a strong-voiced Hormigón while Daniel Armstrong was a helpful Pezuño.
Conductor Jordi Bérnacer enabled the roughly 50-piece orchestra to bring out the the opera's many singable melodies and danceable rhythms.The Flamenco numbers were particularly enchanting. I especially enjoyed the delightful cello solo in the last act. Although this composer was not an expert at orchestration, his music has a simple sincerity that endears it to lovers of folk music.
Choreographers Cristina Hoyos, Jesús Ortega and their dancers gave excellent exhibitions of Flamenco while Grant Gershon's L A Opera chorus sang in delightful harmony as they moved in small groups whenever possible. EL GATO MONTES is an eminently worthwhile show that will be at the Chandler Pavilion through May 19th.
Photo of Ana MaríA Martinez and Arturo Chacón-Cruz by Cory Weaver for L A Opera