Based on a short story from Scenes of the Public and Private Lives of Animals by Honoré de Balzac, Hans Werner Henze’s The English Cat explores class division through the eyes of a group of bourgeois cats who form the Royal Society for the Protection of Rats. In 1986, USC Thornton faculty Tim Page reviewed the New York premiere, writing, “Mr. Henze is a spectacular craftsman. His music . . . is imbued with luminous clarity.”
The story concerns the great British tabby cat, Lord Puff ( pet of Mrs. Halifax), who has gathered his colleagues, the Board of Directors of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Rats (RSPCR), to meet and approve of his (arranged) fiancée, Minette. After the meeting, Minette is found on a rooftop, trying to get some fresh air when she meets and falls in love with Tom, a stray cat. Minette is subsequently tried for breach of promise (by a jury of birds) and convicted. Tom meets Minette’s sister, Babette, falls in love with her, and asks for Minette’s blessing. Minette gives her blessing as a final act while she is being tied in a sac to be thrown into the Thames River.