El Gato Montés

[The Wild Cat]

Composed by Manuel Penella (1880-1939)
Libretto by the composer

First performed:  Teatro Principal, Valencia 23 February 1916

Other operas by the composer:

El día de reyes          1907
Las musas latinas        1913
La muñeca del amor       1914
Don Gil de Alcalá        1932
La Malquerida            1935

Cast of Characters

Soleá Soprano Frasquita Mezzo-soprano Loliya Soprano Father Antón Bass Rafael Ruiz Tenor Juanillo Baritone (El Gato Montés) Hormigón Baritone Caireles Baritone A Gypsy Woman Soprano


Act I

Casa de Rafael e Frasquita en Andalusia

Rafael Ruiz, an apprentice bullfighter, is off performing in the Madrid bullring while Soleá, a gypsy girl who has been taken in by Rafael, worries about him getting injured. He has, in fact, been hurt, but his mother, Frasquita, reports that his injuries are minor and that he performed so well that he has been promoted to matador. Soon, a group of his fans arrives to welcome Rafael, and the bullfighter, now known as "El Macareno," makes a triumphal entrance before going off with Soleá and his mother to give thanks to the Virgin. His friend Hormigón reads aloud the newspaper account of Rafael's great performance in the corrida and Father Antón, who has baptized many toreadores, takes full credit for Rafael's achievement.

When they return, Soleá and Rafael publicly declare their fondness for one another, and the group begins dancing and celebrating their love and his triumph. Soon, however, a gypsy woman emerges from the crowd, and offers to read Rafael's palm. Although she sees further success in his palmlines, she startles Soleá and his friends by predicting death. Rafael scoffs at the idea, and urges the crowd to drink and be merry as waiters serve vino manzanilla to all.

Just then, Juanillo, who is the mountain outlaw leader known as "El Gato Montés", The Wildcat, arrives with a group of armed henchmen. Juanillo tells the assemblage that Soleá really loves him, and that his life as an outlaw began when he killed a man in defense of her honor and out of love for her. "I am an outlaw because of whom I love", he says, and because he cannot have Soleá "his heart is accursed and his life is accursed." The crowd urges Juanillo to "flee bandit, flee to the Sierra," while Soleá declares that she will "let no man come between us!" But whom does she mean?

Alone with Father Antón, Soleá tells how she and Juanillo grew up together, that indeed El Gato had to flee because he had killed for her, and that he is her true love. Her tender feelings for Rafael are more out of gratitude than love, but as Rafael enters to tell her of his great passion for her, she responds with warmth and affection. Apparently when Soleá can't be with the man she loves, she's in love with the man she's with.

In the distant mountains, a shepherd boy's voice is heard singing of the bandit who "...loves the gypsy girl and will kill anyone who comes between them!" As if on cue, Juanillo returns and confronts Rafael as they both pull knives. At this point, Father Antón decides that discretion is the better part of valor, and slips out. Soleá takes Rafael's weapon and throws it down a well, pleading with Juanillo not to shoot him, for she will kill herself if he does. Not wishing to hurt an unarmed man, Juanillo now gives Rafael an option: he must fight six bulls in Seville on the following Sunday. However, he might as well be gored to death, for Juanillo will be there to kill him even if he survives all six. Now perceiving the depth of feeling between Soleá and Juanillo, Rafael turns to his mother for comfort.

Act II

Outside the Seville Bullring

As Rafael prepares for the bullfight, he tells Soleá that he fights for her sake and her love, and she responds by singing more of gratitude than love ("Me llamaba, Rafaelillo"). When Rafael stops to pray to the Virgin, Soleá tells Hormigón, who is one of the picadores, of Juanillo's threats, hoping that he will persuade Rafael not to fight. But Rafael enjoins Hormigón to brace himself with some manzarilla, and to pray for him. Hormigón does so, with the comment that he would not even be a picador were it not for the manzanilla. Rafael scoffs at the dangers awaiting him by declaring that he will kill all six bulls and The Wildcat.

Soleá and Frasquita remain alone in the chapel as the Matador and his procession enter the bullring. They hear the cheers from the crowd as Rafael starts his series of six bulls, and we hear the pasodoble. Tragically, the cheers turn to screams as a bull fatally gores him. When Soleá sees Rafael's body, she faints in the arms of Hormigón, but then goes into the infirmary to attend him as he lies in state. Frasquita and the other women, dressed in mourning, sing of their loss.


The Mountains

As mourners grieve for Rafael, Juanillo has taken Soleá, the gypsy, back to his mountain headquarters where she belongs. In the moonlight, they sing a duet in which we come to have a clearer understanding of their great happiness when they were young lovers, and of the tragedy of Juanillo's murderous conduct out of love for her. Because he became a fugitive, they were torn apart, and he was forced into the life of an outlaw. Always on the run, El Gato Montés could not ask Soleá to be with him, and she lived her lone gypsy life until Rafael rescued her from the streets.

The townspeople, who have followed Juanillo, arrive to rescue her. As The Wildcat confronts them, he professes his awareness that he is unforgiven and will always be unforgiven. He asks that they take his knife and kill him on the spot, but everyone now seems to understand his great love for Soleá, and none will do so. Then, Juanillo is surrounded by armed police who have come to arrest him, and there is clearly no escape. Rather than be taken alive, El Gato Montés pleads with one of his compadres to shoot him in the heart. As he falls, Soleá rushes to him and he dies in her arms as the curtain falls.

synopsis copyright Dan McGrath, 1997

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Monday, 08-Dec-2003 21:46:59 PST