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…

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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on December 28, 2014, in acting in opera, baroque, countertenors, mezzos & contraltos and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks so much for linking to this article, Dehggial – a very interesting question which I’m sure is only going to crop up more and more as we see more creative and imaginative productions. I was ever so slightly surprised, of course, by the comment that “in opera men only ever play women for comedy” (what about Artaserse? Or Sant’ Alessio? Or the forthcoming Catone? Or perhaps the comment just refers to mixed casts? In which case, it’s true, I can’t think of any exceptions in what I’ve seen so far).

    Although I know I’m repeating myself, I’m going once again to plug my cunning plan of having Hasse’s Antony and Cleopatra with Sarah Connolly as Antony and Valer Sabadus as Cleopatra. After all, we know they’re both very good at travesti roles. It’d be brilliant! (And if anyone decides to run with that, incidentally, I demand to be involved. Somehow. As… um… art historical adviser. Or coffee-wrangler. Or something…) 😉

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    • When you go on your amazing month of countertenor extravaganza you should try and talk to VS about your Antony and Cleopatra vision – you never know 😉

      I think the article did refer to mixed casts, as single cast productions seem to be doing well. I definitely hope this trend continues and branches out in more an more creative ways.

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      • Ha, ha, that’d be very smooth, wouldn’t it? “I’ve never met you before, but I’ve got this great skirt role for you, if only you can find someone to fund it…” I’m really not sure I have the guts for that, sadly. However, I’ll be seeing Sarah C at the end of January in her ROH masterclass so maybe if I can screw up my courage afterwards I’ll playfully suggest the idea to her. At the very least I think it would make her laugh. She seems to have a pretty wicked sense of humour.

        By the way, I’ve spent the evening watching the first half of your favourite Tito (my first Tito!). Second half tomorrow. 🙂 And on that note, Happy New Year and catch up soon!

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        • you: hey gorgeous, how about I buy you a drink and we talk about this great skirt role I envisioned for you 😉
          VS: marry me now!

          😀

          (TIto: no better way to start the year that with the Salzburg Tito!)

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  1. Pingback: La Clemenza di Tito: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791) – The Idle Woman

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