Review: LA Opera’s El Gato Montés

Placido Domingo and LA Opera bring a passionate Spanish opera-zarzuela to Los Angeles audiences with El Gato Montés from a relatively unknown composer. Domingo said this piece was special to him because it takes him back to his childhood where he grew up behind the scenes of his parents’ zarzuela company. Remembering the striking beauty of El Gato, Montes he always knew he wanted to bring it to Los Angeles audiences. Thankfully, he did to our buena suerte – this is truly an important cultural piece not to be missed. Domingo played the tenor role of Rafael Ruizi at Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville on August 7, 1992, and he was magnificent! Domingo is the greatest tenor of his time with a large repertoire with over 4,000 performances all over the world −and at 78 is still thrilling audiences. In this production he plays the role of Juanillo (aka “The Wild Cat”) a bandit who once killed for the woman he loved. Domingo has substantially sung baritone since 2009 and has upcoming singing engagements at the Met, La Scala and the Royal Opera House as well as conducting engagements with the Vienna Philharmonic at La Scala. Maestro Manuel Penella, a Spanish composer born in Valencia gained notoriety for Gato Montés, which opened at the Teatro Principal in 1919. This opera-zarzuela also ran for 10 weeks at the Park Theatre in New York. This is a lusty, bloody story of a love-triangle about the leading lady, a woman who is seemingly in love with two men at the same time. That was in 1919, not 2019 where a consensual polyamory trifecta would not have been accepted. In order for this lusty, bloody story to work, passionate and expressionist acting is required from the three leads. Arturo Chacón-Cruz, a Mexican tenor has enough spunk and swagger playing the beloved matador Rafael Ruiz. But the chemistry between Cruz and his leading lady, Ana Maria Martinez, soprano (Solea) does not intoxicate the spectators. The character Rafael Ruiz is a man deeply in love. In fact the writing dictates that he is obsessed with Solea. Mostly because he doubts his love is reciprocated–and this is what tortures him, boiling his blood at the site of his competitor Juanillo, “The Wildcat.” The duet with Cruz and Martinez, “Torero quiero ser,” is sung tenderly by both.It is a beautiful aria that is romantic in the Spanish tradition of zarzuela. Zarzuela is a lyric genre combining spoken and sung scenes−a Spanish version of musical theatre. Rubén Amoretti (bass) made his LA Opera debut playing Padre Antón. Amoretti showed quite a bit of stage presence as the priest and audiences will want to see more of his energy in future productions. A notable performance was given by Nancy Fabiola Herrera (mezzo-soprano) as the Fortune Teller whose strong voice and acting skills enhanced the production. Conductor Jordi Bernacer led the orchestra with vigor and had a real understanding of the passionate music and libretto of the zarzuela style. At times, the orchestra drowned out the singers but the volume livened the atmosphere. This was Jorge Torres debut with LA Opera as stage director. He presented a colorful palette with scenic and lighting director Franciso Leal who also made his debut with this production. There was the right balance of staging for a large cast of dancers, chorus and actors. But, the sequence between Juanillo and Solea embracing on the ground was a bit clumsy. Although on the obscure side, composer Penella left us with the iconic pasodoble. A most memorable musical number played all over the world when a matador faces a bull in the traditional bullring. For more information on LA Opera. Placido Domingo’s upcoming engagements. This production was on closing night, May 19, 2019, LA Opera at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

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