Gioachino Rossini: Duetto buffo di due gatti
Context & Music
Also famously known as the ‘Cat Duet’, Rossini’s Duetto buffo di due gatti (‘Humorous duet for cats’) is now a popular performance piece. Originally for two sopranos, this comical encore is a popular duet for any two voice types. Consisting of one lyric ‘miau’ (‘meow’), the piece depicts a conversation between two cats who don’t seem to like each other very much!
Whilst this work is often attributed to Rossini, it was not actually written by him, instead it has been suggested that it was compiled by vocal composer Robert Lucas de Pearsall. The reason for Rossini’s association with the feline-themed piece is that its melodies draw principally from his 1816 opera Otello. Duetto buffo di due gatti takes melodic kernels from the Katte-Cavatine, part of the Act 2 duet between Otello and Iago in and part of the aria sung by Rodrigo in Act 2.
The piano accompaniment to the song is a simple repetitive sequence based on crotchet movement. The chords sometimes move chromatically to build the tension and support the voices above. The voices start with a simple motif that then develops into a much more bouncy and fast-paced moving meow.
The cats become entangled in a conversation with one another, with each performer adding their own comical spin on the feline characters. There is a sense of competition between the two cats too, which comes across in the ridiculous development of the main themes.
With only one word being sung at any one time the way that the voices are made interesting is by the use of melismas. This technique is when a vocalist moves around different notes on one syllable. This becomes much longer and more dramatic as the song moves along, with the two cats coming together on the longest melismatic phrase at the end before the climax. The song ends abruptly and the cats take their leave off of the stage.
This comical song is a concert favourite with both singers and audiences and gives the performers a keen opportunity to perform and take liberties. There have been many different arrangements of this song, with there also being a famous orchestral version.
Ⓒ Alex Burns