Off-topic question on "breeches" roles in operas
Posted 07 February 2002 - 11:11 PM
I'm planning a new ballet for the next Dance as Ever concert and to do background research on it, I wanted to look into the "breeches" roles in opera, like Cherubino or Octavian. Are there more, and would people care to discuss them? Feel free to range outside of opera (to Shakespeare's plays for instance) if you wish - what I'm most interested in is the concept of a role done en travesti.
This is part of the fun of making a new ballet, going into "training" for it! I look forward to any information or opinions you'd all like to share.
Posted 07 February 2002 - 11:28 PM
In drama school, we were taught that these parts were prevalent because all the women were played by men. Hence, it was easier for the actor. He was a man playing a woman who was pretending to be a man and spent most of his time onstage as a man.
That always seemed too simple to me. I like to think that in all these roles, Shakespeare was saying something about illusion and reality and the confusion we all find in love.
Shakespeare's characters are among the most fully rounded we see onstage and maybe having woman pretend to be men was one way of showing the full range of human possibilities, so he did not have to limit female experience to the societal norm of his time.
In Marriage of Figaro, we see the reverse - a woman playing a man pretending to be a woman. Is that true of other "pants parts" in opera?
Posted 08 February 2002 - 12:06 AM
There were lots of breeches parts in ballet in the 19th century -- not the ones where a woman played a man (Frantz in Coppelia) and everyone knew, but, as Leigh mentions, where the characters in the ballet were unaware of the gender switch.
Petit did this in his "Diable Boiteux." I saw Ferri in it (I don't remember if she created the role). She was a reasonably convincing boy, not a bad fencer.
Are you looking for plot twist suggestions, Leigh?
Or something defined by technique? Would a contemporary Boy have to do double air turns, or some identifiably male step to pass? Or are you thinking retro?
Posted 08 February 2002 - 12:15 AM
Posted 08 February 2002 - 06:21 AM
Posted 08 February 2002 - 01:29 PM
Posted 08 February 2002 - 02:26 PM
Posted 08 February 2002 - 02:27 PM
Posted 08 February 2002 - 02:56 PM
Posted 09 February 2002 - 09:50 AM
Some of the male roles now sung by women were orginally written for castrati; there is a genre of opera popular during the Baroque and Classical periods called opera seria that focussed on the doings of heroes from history or mythology (e.g., Handel's Giulio Cesare or Mozart's Idomeneo). In the Italian flavor of this genre at least, it was thought that high voices -- i.e., soprano or alto -- were best suited to sing noble and heroic roles, and so the male roles were written for castrati or women, though not for male falsettists. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a castrato is a male singer castrated before puberty to retain his high voice. The good ones were the rock stars of their day. The practice died out around the time of Mozart, thank goodness.) Rossini and Donizetti wrote some works in the opera seria mold, and the lead male roles were written for women (e.g, the title role Rossini's Tancredi or Orsini in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia). I think this is a good example of artistic convention and an asthetic preference winning out over mere verisimilitude.
Posted 11 February 2002 - 03:43 PM
Posted 11 February 2002 - 05:54 PM
A lot of ideas are going around in my head, but I think I am leaning to the Shakesperean conceit of a woman forced to masquerade as a man (like Olivia) rather than a man's role played by a woman. But who knows!
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