Did you know that the word “patter” comes from the Catholic “Pater Noster,” which was apparently recited as fast as possible by the congregation? Equal in hilarity to the image of a monotone group of Catholics speeding through holy texts out of sheer rote/boredom are all the “patter songs” that steal the show in opera and music theatre. Here are some of our favourites:
“À un dottor della mia sorte”
If you’re looking for patter, Rossini’s operas are a prime place to start. A Mount Everest of sorts for basses and bass-baritones, Don Bartolo’s aria from Il barbiere di Siviglia demands mind-numbing speed that even Italians have to practice. We love Alfonso Antoniozzi’s performance from La Scala in 1999. Big breath…and go!
“My eyes are fully open to this awful situation”
If it’s not Rossini, the stars of patter are Misters Gilbert & Sullivan. Sure, there’s the whole “I am the very model of a modern Major General” bit, but patter seems to get even funnier when there are more people involved. So, check out the trio from G&S’ Ruddigore, where you’ll hear one of our favourite lines from a show: “This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter isn’t generally heard, and if it is, it doesn’t matter.”
“Udite, udite, o rustici”
Back in italiano, Donizetti takes a cue from Rossini with Dulcamara’s aria from L’elisir d’amore. Just like Harold Hill in The Music Man, the shameless salesman lures a crowd of small-townsfolk with the (literally) unbelievable list of health benefits they can get from drinking his “elixir”. (Spoiler: it’s really just wine, arguably another cure-all.)
”(Not) Getting Married Today”
Sondheim, that master of words and all-too-real moments of humanity, also sees the comedic possibilities in patter songs. Brilliantly delivered by Carol Burnett, Sondheim captures a bride-to-be’s pre-wedding panic:
“Look at me now” (cover by Karmin)
Just to give you all a taste of a 21st-century patter song, have a listen to this cover of Chris Brown’s “Look at me now” (feat. Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes) by Amy & Nick of Karmin. Four lungs, Amy has.