It was a somber crowd that meandered back into the auditorium after the intermission of Cav & Cat. But we didn’t stay somber very long. It. All of us Pocket Opera regulars know that the combination of Donald Pippin’s translation and Jacques Offenbach’s music will leave us laughing and humming regardless of the particular title. And it only took Donald’s two-sentence introduction to start the new members of the audience chuckling. And no, I’m not going to quote those two sentences – come to the repeat performance on Sunday May 22 2011 at 2 pm and you can hear them for yourself.
Between 1855 and 1858 Offenbach wrote almost a hundred one-act operettas, each with at most 4 characters. These restrictions were part of his permit to give public performances and were instigated by the politically powerful Opéra-Comique which wanted to preserve its monopoly on serious opera in Paris and was jealous of his popularity. According to Donald Pippin who has read the libretti of most of them, La chatte métamorphosée en femme is the best of them – and after seeing it Sunday I won’t argue with him.
Offenbach gets away with 5 characters here, but only four of them are human. The title role of a cat named Minette is shared by a cute little stuffed toy (silently) and later by the even cuter soprano Elise Kennedy (not silently).
Next is Guido, played by Justin Marsh. He’s a troubled young man and owner of Minette. He and Elise Kennedy were also in the chorus of townspeople in Cav – can you identify them in the first photo of my Cav review?
Marianne, Guido’s elderly housekeeper played by Sonia Gariaeff (she was Mamma Lucia in Cav) and Dig-Dig, a Hindu juggler and philosopher played by Nicolas Aliaga (he also doubled as stage director and production manager) complete the cast. All four of them were excellent singers and actors.
Let’s look at this opera as we did at Cav for it’s beginning, middle, and end. At curtain rise Marianne is bustling about the one-room apartment whose chief furnishing is a bed enclosed by a draw curtain. Marianne informs us by song that the household consists of herself, her master Guido, and their beloved cat Minette. However, they are so desperately poor that she is going to have to sell Minette to the mayor’s son for 3 crowns or else they will all three starve to death. She knows that Guido would never stand for that so she will wait until the deal is completed to inform him.
Guido comes in and lets everyone know that he is infinitely sad and depressed, that he wants nothing to do with humanity, and that he is hopelessly in love – with whom he will not say. But after Marianne has left to complete her deal with the mayor’s son, he opens the bed curtains, cradles the cat in his hands, and informs the audience in song that Minette is his one true love.
That’s the beginning. Then the action begins with a knock on the door. Guido hurriedly puts Minette back on the bed, closes the curtain, and opens the door to admit a perfect stranger, Dig-Dig the Hindu. Dig-Dig explains that he is a juggler but that he is available for various assignments and comes as an emissary of Guido’s late uncle. He brings with him a bag of gold coins as a bequest from said uncle, and sings a delightful Offenbach tune Ting ting. With every “ting” he bobs the sack up and down – and Guido, mouth agape, bobs his head up and down in perfect synchronization while snatching unsuccessfully at the gold.
After eventually delivering the sack of coins to Guido, Dig-Dig leads the conversation to transmigration and confesses that he remembers several reincarnations including a stint as a camel which he does not recommend. Guido is fascinated by the concept, particularly when he learns that Dig-Dig has a magic medallion with which one can petition Brahma to do an instant specified transmigration. He manages to get the medallion for himself, but as Dig-Dig is leaving he advises Guido to think long and hard before using it because there might be all sorts of consequences.
Of course this warning only incites Guido who wastes no time petitioning Brahma to change Minette into a human girl. With trembling hands he pulls back the bed curtains and lo and behold the stuffed toy that we last saw on the bed in nowhere to be seen and the bed occupant is the lovely Elise Kennedy!
This middle part of the story continues quite a while developing the theme that although Minette is a girl in appearance, there is still a great deal of cat in her behavior. At first she is totally grateful to Guido and expresses her love for him in ways that are more feline than lady-like. But when Guido says he will do or get anything for her, she asks for – a looking glass.
She becomes completely absorbed in looking at herself, totally ignoring Guido, much to his discomfiture.
It his first, but far from his last, intimation that having an ex-cat for a girlfriend has its drawbacks.
Marianne returns bringing “tea” and the news that she has sold Minetta. Guido and Minnetta are, of course, amused by this and tell the housekeeper she'll first have to find the cat. There is a great deal of joyous singing and delightful antics to complete the middle.
The end comes at just the right time and with happiness for every one. You might find it surprising, so I’ll say no more about it.
Do come to the final performance Sunday May 22 at 2 pm. I’d sure like to see it again, but I am faced with a difficult choice of riches: Pocket Opera doing a repeat of Cav & Cat; West Bay Opera doing a double bill of Dido and Aeneas & La Vida Breve; or a European HD performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company with As You Like It. Which are you going to choose?
The Opera Nut
POCKET OPERA Marine’s Memorial Theatre
469 Bryant Street 609 Suttter Street
415.972.8930 San Francisco, CA
Photos by Yen Bachmeier