Review: El Gato Montés (The Wildcat) at L.A. Opera

Plácido Domingo as Juanillo and Ana María Martínez as Soleá in LA Opera's 2019 production of "El Gato Montés: The Wildcat" Photo: Cory Weaver

With music and lyrics by Manuel Penella (1880-1939), and under the watchful eye of stage director Jorge Torres, this star-studded production of The Wildcat is packed with all you’d expect in a quintessential Spanish tale including a passionate love triangle, a bullfighter, flamenco dancers, a mountain bandit, and, of course, a beautiful woman at the root of it all.  Known as a zarzuela (a Spanish opera), it still shows clear influences of Italian, French, and Viennese operas.

Ana María Martínez as Soleá and Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rafael in LA Opera’s 2019 production of “El Gato Montés: The Wildcat” Photo: Cory Weaver

In earlier productions, Plácido Domingo played the role of the bullfighter Rafael, the Macareno, to rave reviews, but this time he passes the torch to tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz (La Boheme, Rigoletto), and instead explores the more adventurous, titular role of Juanillo, El Gato Montes.

The plot centers on the relationship of a young “matador”, the Gypsy girl he loves, and the bandit she’s in love with. Soprano Ana María Martínez (La Traviata, Carmen) as the reticent, tormented Solea, caught between her love for both Juanillo and Rafael, is the driving force of the story. We learn from her admission to a priest that she and Juanillo grew up together, that he had fled because he had killed someone to defend her honor, but that he remains the true love of her life. Her tender feelings for Rafael are more out of gratitude than love, more affection than passion. The consequence of this are fateful. Spoiler alert — all three end up dead: Rafael gored in the bullring, Solea from taking a bullet meant for Juanillo, and Juanillo plunging a knife into his own heart. Melodrama reigns supreme, but is rendered magnificently.

Nancy Fabiola Herrera as the Fortune Teller (with Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rafael) in LA Opera’s 2019 production of “El Gato Montés: The Wildcat” Photo: Cory Weaver

There are standout performances by mezzosoprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera (Nabucco, Carmen) who shines as the sassy fortune teller that foresees death and doom in the near future; and by baritone Juan Carlos Heredia (Rigoletto, Moses) who plays Hormigon, Rafael’s best friend; Ruben Amoretti (Don Carlo, Hamlet) brings humor and wit as Father Anton. And of course, the 50-piece orchestra conducted by Jodi Bernacer keeps the music spicy and pulsating.

— Victor Riobo

El Gato Montés, The Wildcat will roam the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage through May 19th. Tickets HERE.