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College to perform ‘Puss in Boots’ opera

Bridget Feeney | Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dancing animals and a love story will be on stage this weekend at Saint Mary’s College as students and the music department put on a production of Xavier Montsalvage’s “El Gato con Botas.”

Sophomore Jessica Biek, performer and member of the backstage crew, said the opera, known in English as “Puss in Boots,” is sure to please audiences.

“[Puss in Boots] is a short opera with a never dull moment,” she said. “It is very funny and endearing.”

Laurel Thomas, chair of the Saint Mary’s music department and director of the production, said the opera should appeal to a wide range of ages.

“The performance will be entertaining for adults as well as young children,” she said.

Thomas said the performance is filled with twists and turns that will keep the audience captivated. She said the opera has a colorful cast of characters.

“In ‘Puss in Boots,’ the third son of a poor miller inherits nothing but a cat when his father dies,” she said. “The story involves rabbits, beautiful dancing by a lion, parrots and a mouse, a glamorous ogre and true love.”

Biek said while the performance may take its form in an adult medium, the content is jovial enough to amuse young audiences.

“This is sung elegantly like an opera, but there’s childlike play in it that adds humor,” she said.

Thomas said the opera is distinctive in several aspects.

“The opera is completely sung, and the inclusion of a lot of dance makes this opera unique,” Thomas said. “Also unique [is that the production features] two music majors who are also serious about dance studies and capable of doing the dancing in the show.”

Biek said she initially signed on to assist with backstage work but soon found out she had an additional role to master.

“I was originally told I would just do backstage crew,” she said. “I did not have to audition. But I ended up being [cast as] an extra in the queen’s court so I got a costume and everything.”

Thomas said balancing onstage and backstage duties presents a unique challenge for performers.

“The cast has had to take on backstage responsibilities when they aren’t performing, and it is difficult as a performer to have your focus split in this way,” she said.

Thomas said cast members were challenged with learning their lines and choreography in a short period of time, especially since some took on new roles after the audition process.

“We only began rehearsing for the opera at the beginning of this semester, a very tight rehearsal process to mount an opera, even a one-act like ‘Puss in Boots,’ she said. “The time crunch has been most difficult for us, as well as the fact that this is an incredibly busy semester in the scene shop.”

Despite the challenges of casting, backstage work and time limitations, Thomas said the student performers have stepped up to the challenge.

“I think my favorite aspect of this project is seeing such young students rise to the challenge of performing an opera for the first time, and seeing that they recognize their abilities,” she said.

“Puss in Boots” will be performed in the Little Theater of the Moreau Center for the Arts on Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. and again on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are free for students.