Friday, September 17, 2010

Who Wears the Pants Around Here?

Dear AriaGirl:
I just went to see
The Marriage of Figaro and loved it! But I was confused by the character of Cherubino. It’s a male part played by a woman – why didn’t Mozart cast a man, or make him a her?
John F.

Dear John:

Because opera is supposed to be confusing! (I kid.) Seriously, you see this in quite a few operas. It’s called a trouser role (or pants role, or breeches role) and it’s when a woman plays the part of a man.

Unlike in Shakespeare’s time, when men played female parts because women weren’t allowed on stage, there were plenty of female opera singers. Some of these roles, however, were written for a castrato. As the practice faded, those roles began to be sung by mezzo-sopranos and some sopranos.

Now there are starting to be more male opera singers training their voices to go higher, so we may see some trouser roles actually being filled by men. But until then, the smaller parts of pages, servants, sprites and muses will probably continue to be sung by women.

Got a question about opera? Send it in to

Ciao for now!

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