Breeches role  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A breeches role (also pants role or trouser role or "hosenrolle") is a role in which an actress appears in male clothing (breeches being tight-fitting knee-length pants, the standard male garment at the time breeches roles were introduced). In opera it can also refer 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, or, occasionally, a male countertenor.

The operatic concept of the breeches role 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 often-performed breeches roles are Cherubino, Octavian, and Orpheus.

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, the reverse of its usage in opera.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Breeches role" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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