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Les demoiselles de la nuit
'The ladies of the night', a ballet for cats in two scenes after an idea by Jean Anouilh

'Françaix: Orchestral Music' (CDA67489)
Françaix: Orchestral Music
Scene 1 Part 01: Nocturne
Scene 1 Part 02: Dance of the servant cats and the young man …
Scene 1 Part 03: Entrance of the female kittens …
Scene 1 Part 04: Pursuit of the mouse …
Scene 1 Part 05: Entrance of Agathe, the coquettish white kitten …
Scene 1 Part 06: Entrance of the lady cats … Battle …
Scene 1 Part 07: Entrance of Madame, the leading female cat …
Scene 1 Part 08: Entrance of Baron de Grotius, the alpha male …
Scene 1 Part 09: General procession … the marriage …
Scene 1 Part 10: Nocturne
Scene 2 Part 1: Dance of the bill …
Scene 2 Part 2: Agathe and the young man …
Scene 2 Part 3: Agathe kills a caged bird …
Scene 2 Part 4: Pas de deux … to bed …
Scene 2 Part 5: The Baron and his entourage summon Agathe …
Scene 2 Part 6: The company dances on the rooftops

Les demoiselles de la nuit
Whereas Le roi nu is a cheerful burlesque, Les demoiselles de la nuit (‘The ladies of the night’) – described as a ‘cat-ballet in one act’ – is an altogether moodier, though eventually quite as witty, affair. This work was written to a scenario by Jean Anouilh and choreographed by Roland Petit, who staged the first performance with his own company, Les Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit, with elaborate designs and costumes by the leading woman surrealist Leonor Fini, at the Théâtre Marigny on 21 May 1948. A leading member of the company was the young Margot Fonteyn, who danced the part of the white kitten, Agathe. She at first refused to wear a cat mask on the grounds that she would never do such a thing at Covent Garden. In retaliation, Fini threatened to set the theatre on fire, and Petit finally persuaded Fonteyn to wear the mask because, he claimed, Fini was capable of anything! In the event the ballet was a resounding success, and was subsequently staged in London and New York.

Here the action is set among a decadent society of cats, whose activities underground seem a mirror for the human life in the city above. The alpha male, called Baron de Grotius, intends to wed the frivolous and gorgeous white kitten, Agathe; but she falls in love with a human violinist who has lost himself in the cellars. Through the love of a human, she becomes human herself, and they flee the wedding celebrations and make their home above ground in a poor garret, where they have difficulty paying the rent. Agathe finds herself falling back into her feline nature – she kills a caged bird, and when the Baron traces her she leaves her sleeping lover and follows the other cats. The violinist tries to chase them over the rooftops but falls to his death; Agathe returns, finds his body and curls up beneath it ‘in animal devotion and human love’.

This is certainly a more varied ballet than Le roi nu, with episodes of romance and pathos, while the humorous numbers have a delicacy and stylishness appropriate to their feline subject (not to mention the frequent occurrences of ‘miaow’-type glissandi in the strings). The melancholic nocturne that opens the ballet, with its evocative horn solo, is one of the most memorable pages in Françaix’s output, and this music returns as an interlude two-thirds of the way through the score. Other highlights include the rapid, gossamer-light flute solo in ‘Parsuite de la souris’, so evocative of the breathless flight of the mouse hunted by the cats; the exquisitely soulful oboe solo that characterizes Agathe’s entrance; and the pomposity of the Baron, in whose music we may recognize several brief quotations from other composers, such as the Rakóczy March. The final Pas de deux, as the cat lovers prepare for their nocturnal nuptials, and the elegiac final bars, radiate a quality of tenderness that many human protagonists might envy.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2005

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67489 track 16
Scene 1 Part 4: Pursuit of the mouse …
Recording date
23 March 2004
Recording venue
Ulster Hall, Belfast, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Chris Hazell
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Franηaix: Orchestral Music (CDA67489)
    Disc 1 Track 16
    Release date: March 2005
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