Breeches role by Sarah

One concept of opera that always intrigued me was the ‘breeches role’. At first I didn’t understand why there was a woman dressed up as a man on stage; then I became fascinated by the concept. Here is a character who is not cross-dressing, but is for the duration of the performance assumed and accepted as male. There’s debate on whether this was liberating or sexually demeaning and explotative for the actresses involved, showing off their bodies to scandalous advantage.

I think the ‘breeches role’ creates a kind of liminal point, a bridge between concepts. When in the role the actress takes on a male persona and thus a certain power, transcending her sex for as long as the performance lasts – yet she’s often wearing costumes that show off her figure in a way that her ordinary clothes wouldn’t permit, and she’s singing songs that only a female voice is trained for. It creates a spectacle that enthralled the audiences of the day; a beautiful talented woman, singing like an angel yet given the chance to roister on stage just like the callow youths of the day; in a way, a curious and temporary kind of freedom.

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Copyright © 2011 Marina Bychkova.