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A breeches role (also pants role or trouser role, travesti or "Hosenrolle") is a role in which an actress appears in male clothing. Breeches (, also "britches"), tight-fitting knee-length pants, were the standard male garment at the time breeches roles were introduced.
In opera it also refers to any male character that is sung and acted by a female singer. Most often the character is an adolescent or a very young man, sung by a mezzo-soprano or contralto. The operatic concept assumes that the character is male, and the audience accepts him as such, even knowing that the actor is not. Cross-dressing female characters (e.g., Leonore in Fidelio or Gilda in Act III of Rigoletto) are not considered breeches roles. The most frequently performed breeches roles are Cherubino (The Marriage of Figaro), Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier), Hansel (Hansel and Gretel) and Orpheus (Orpheus and Euridice), though the latter was originally written for a male singer, first a castrato and later, in the revised French version, an haute-contre.
Because non-musical stage plays generally have no requirements for vocal range, they do not usually contain breeches roles in the same sense as opera. Some plays do have male roles that were written for adult female actors, and (for other practical reasons) are usually played by women (e.g., Peter Pan); these could be considered modern-era breeches roles. However, in most cases, the choice of a female actor to play a male character is made at the production level; Hamlet is not a breeches role, but Sarah Bernhardt once played Hamlet as a breeches role. When a play is spoken of as "containing" a breeches role, this does mean a role where a female character pretends to be a man and uses male clothing as a disguise.
- You'l' hear with Patience a dull Scene, to see,
- In a contented lazy waggery,
- The Female Mountford bare above the knee.
Adès's The Tempest: "Ariel" is sung by a soprano
Arne's Artaxerxes: "Arbaces" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Adamo's Little Women: "Friedrich Bhaer" may be sung by a mezzo-soprano.
Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi: "Romeo" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini: "Ascanio" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Catalani's La Wally: "Walter" is sung by a soprano
Chabrier's L'étoile: "Lazuli" the peddler is sung by a soprano
- Chabrier's Une éducation manquée: "Gontran de Boismassif" is sung by a soprano
Charpentier's David et Jonathas: "Jonathas" is sung by a soprano; La Pythonisse is sung by a haute-contre, which is a high-pitched male voice, similar to a Countertenor.
Corigliano's "The Ghosts of Versailles": "Cherubino" (a recreation of the same character from Le nozze di Figaro) is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Donizetti's Alahor in Granata: "Muley-Hassem" is sung by a contralto
- Donizetti's Anna Bolena: "Smeton" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia: "Maffio Orsini" is sung by a contralto
Dvořák's Rusalka: "The Kitchen Boy" is sung by a soprano
Glinka's A Life for the Tsar: "Vanya" is sung by a contralto
- Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila: "Ratmir" is sung by a contralto
Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice: Originally written for a castrato, "Orfeo" is sung by a mezzo-soprano, contralto or counter-tenor
Gounod's Faust: "Siebel" is sung by a contralto, a mezzo-soprano or a soprano
- Gounod's Romeo and Juliet: "Stefano" is sung by a soprano
Hahn's Mozart: The title is sung by a soprano
Händel's Alcina: "Ruggiero" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Händel's Ariodante: The role of "Ariodante" was premiered by a soprano-castrato and is performed today by a mezzo-soprano; "Lurcanio" was originally written for contralto, but later rewritten by Handel for tenor. In modern performances it is generally left to the director to decide whether to use contralto (or countertenor) or a lyric tenor.
- Händel's Giulio Cesare: "Julius Caesar" was originally written for an alto-castrato and is today sung by a mezzo-soprano or countertenor; "Sesto" is sung by a soprano
- Händel's Xerxes: the title role "Xerxes", sung at its premiere by a castrato, is currently sung by a mezzo-soprano or a countertenor
Haydn's La canterina: The role of "Don Ettore" is sung by a soprano
Lecocq's Le petit duc: the title role is sung by a soprano
Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel: "Hänsel" is sung by a mezzo-soprano; The Sand-Man and The Dew-Man sung by sopranos; The Witch often sung by a tenor
Janáček's From the House of the Dead: Aljeja, a young Tartar is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Massenet's Cendrillon: the role of "Le Prince Charmant" was written for a soprano (in some performances the role is taken by a tenor)
- Massenet's Chérubin: The title role is sung by a soprano
Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots : "Urbain" the page is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea: "Nero" is sung by a soprano (today the role is often sung by a male tenor or contratenor)
Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro: "Cherubino" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Mozart's La clemenza di Tito : "Sesto" and "Annio" are sung by sopranos
- Mozart's Idomeneo: "Idamante" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Mozart's Il re pastore: "Amintas" was originally written for soprano-castrato, and in modern performances is sung by a lyric soprano
- Mozart's Mitridate, re di Ponto: "Farnace" is sung by a mezzo-soprano or contralto, and "Sifare" is sung by a soprano. However, "Farnace" is commonly done by a countertenor.
- Mozart's La finta giardiniera: "Ramiro" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Offenbach's Mesdames de la Halle: Croûte-au-pot (the kitchen boy) is sung by a soprano; Madame Poiretapée, Madame Madou, and Madame Beurrefondu are sung by a tenor and two baritones
- Offenbach's Geneviève de Brabant: "Drogan" the young baker is sung by a soprano
- Offenbach's Daphnis et Chloé: "Daphnis" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Offenbach's Le pont des soupirs: The page "Amoroso" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Offenbach's Les bavards: The young poet "Roland" is sung by a contralto
- Offenbach's La belle Hélène: "Oreste" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Offenbach's Robinson Crusoé: "Friday" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Offenbach's Les brigands: The farmer "Fragoletto" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Offenbach's La jolie parfumeuse: The young clerk "Bavolet" is sung by a soprano
- Offenbach's Madame l'archiduc: "Fortunato, captain of the archduke's dragoons" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Offenbach's Le voyage dans la lune: "Prince Caprice" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann: "Nicklausse" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Offenbach's Orphée aux enfers: "Cupidon" (Cupid) is sung by a soprano
Pfitzner's Palestrina: Ighino is sung by a soprano; Silla by a mezzo-sporano
Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges: the title role of The Boy is written for a mezzo-soprano; The Shepherd is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Rossini's Tancredi: "Tancredi" and "Roggiero" are sung by mezzo-sopranos or contraltos
- Rossini's Bianca e Falliero: "Falliero" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Rossini's La donna del lago: "Malcolm" is sung by a contralto
- Rossini's Le comte Ory : "Isolier" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Rossini's Semiramide: "Arsace" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Rossini's Otello: the title role was written for a tenor, but also was sung by mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran
- Rossini's Guillaume Tell: Tell's son Jemmy is sung by a soprano
Gil Shohat's The Child Dreams: "The Child" is sung by a soprano; "The Crippled Youth" (i.e. The Poet) by a mezzo-soprano
Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus: "Prince Orlofsky" is sung by a mezzo-soprano (almost always)
Richard Strauss's Salome: "The Page of Herodias" is sung by a contralto
- Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos: "The Composer" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier: "Octavian" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
Verdi's Un ballo in maschera: "Oscar", Gustavus III's page, is sung by a soprano
- Verdi's 'Don Carlos: The page Thibault (Tebaldo) is sung by a soprano
Wagner's Rienzi: "Adriano" is sung by a mezzo-soprano
- Wagner's Tannhäuser: The Young Shepherd is sung by a soprano
- Wagner's Parsifal: Two novices in the all-male society of Knights of the Grail are sung by sopranos
- Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Several apprentices are sung by women
- Howe, Elizabeth (1992). The First English Actresses: Women and Drama 1660–1700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Maus, Katharine Eisaman (1979). "'Playhouse Flesh and Blood': Sexual Ideology and the Restoration Actress". New York: Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama (1996).
- Pearson, Jacqueline (1988). The Prostituted Muse: Images of Women and Women Dramatists 1642—1737. New York: St. Martin's Press.
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