Hans Werner Henze (born Gütersloh, 1 July 1926; died Dresden, 27 October 2012).
Story Peines de coeur d’une chatte anglaise (1840) by Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850).
First performance: Schwetzingen (Schlosstheater), 2 June 1983.
First UK performance: Edinburgh (Leith Theatre), 19 August 1987.
First performance in Scotland: As above.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.
The English Cat is derived from Balzac’s satirical tales The Heartaches of an English Pussycat, which were dramatized in a production by the company Group TSE Paris, directed by Alfredo Arias. This had a great success when it came to the Edinburgh Festival, and it seems that Henze was equally taken with it, when he saw the production in Paris. The result, not long afterwards, was this excellent dark comedy in which the archetypes of human society are transmoggified in an appropriate way. Perhaps Edward Bond’s text lacks the ideal degree of wit which might have been supplied had Auden and Kallman still been available as collaborators. Most of the long cast of characters are cats, though there are some exceptions – a few dogs, a fox, and, of course, a mouse. No humans appear at all.
Lord Puff, President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Rats (tenor)
Arnold, his nephew (tenor)
Louise, a mouse (soprano)
Lady Toodle (contralto)
Babette, her sister (mezzo-soprano)
The action occurs in London, mainly in various parts of the home of Mrs Halifax. A meeting is in progress of the RSPR, or Royal Society for the Protection of Rats. A number of cats are present, as well as Louise, a mouse who has been adopted by the RSPR. Lord Puff, Mrs Halifax’s cat, is an elderly bachelor, and his dissolute nephew hopes he will soon die. However Mrs H has arranged for the arrival of Minette from the country as a prospective bride for Lord Puff. Minette’s sister Babette is concerned to find that the RSPR members are all vegetarian – not at all like the country cats they know. Up on the roof, Minette meets Tom, not a vegetarian, and far more to her taste, but she feels that to reject Lord Puff would be contrary to the moral advice given by her parson back home. Arnold fails in his attempt to poison his uncle, who duly marries Minette. Her new environment and her life of music and charitable works quickly bore the new Lady Puff. Tom has deserted from the army because of his obsession with her, and they are found together by the RSPR members. Lord Puff decides on divorce and Tom is sent for trial. At the Old Bailey Tom is recognised by the prosecutor as the long lost son and heir to the late Lord Fairport, and therefore the richest cat in England. Mrs H has decided to have Minette put out of her misery, and she is to be drowned. Tom transfers his affections to Babette. However he is murdered by his lawyer’s clerk (a fox) and the members of the RSPR steal his fortune. Louise decides she does not like her life with the Society, and decides to leave them and lead the life of an ordinary mouse.
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