Men and women singing women and men – together
For those who have not seen this, it’s an good piece that highlights some of the aspects of gender roles in opera.
We have gone past women simply singing male roles and men simply singing female roles because their particular tessitura allows. The more engrossing take is having a man singing a/the (main) female role and the woman singing a/the (main) male role within the same production. But not just for the sake of it, argues the author: shouldn’t a commanding character be sung by the singer with the more authoritative voice/presence, which might well be the mezzo? If there is a heroic role in an opera and you’ve got, say, Sarah Connolly in your cast it might be hard resisting the temptation and giving her the role of the (relatively) demure damsel instead (there’s a reason why type-casting happens). Not that it’s not happening (the author mentions last February’s Theodora at the Barbican).
He argues that part of the public can do suspension of disbelief unless it involves gender. Here he reminds us of some of Handel’s original casting that has not been adhered to nowadays because it doesn’t follow traditional gender roles. He also notes how swapping gender is practically dealt with, especially when men are singing (older) women: usually as comic relief. I agree that’s as limiting as imagining all male characters sung by women as soft and delicate young men.
I fully agree with his conclusion:
Perhaps that might be a bit too much for some people, but we do have to give more consideration to voice types and casting and not simply have a knee jerk reaction – Didymus = hero = man. Irene = passive = woman.
I’m not sure what the big deal is about gender roles in society and why people (still) care so much beyond personal qualities (strong women and delicate men coexisting with soft women and heroic men). Society aside, the stage is a place where people play so stretching your imagination is only natural.
Edit: …but then there are straight men vs straight women’s perceptions of what works as feminine and masculine vs gay men’s vs gay women’s…