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“Women Playing Men Loving Women: An Exploration of Traditional Masculinity through Breeches Role in Opera” is the second installment of a two-part concert series I have performed on the exploration of gender through classical music, with particular emphasis to art song and aria. The first installment of the program, “Herstory: An Exploration of Femininity through Song”, discusses in depth how women are traditionally seen, treated, and understood using classical music as a lens for a dialogue on gender roles. This installment, “Women Playing Men Loving Women”, delves into the other half of the traditional gender binary: how male gender roles are perceived and perpetuated through music. A unique perspective to be able to take on traditional male gender roles is the “breeches role”, which is a role sung by a woman but cast as a man. When cast to play a breeches role, women, traditionally mezzo-sopranos but occasionally sopranos, are taught how to “act like a man.” We are instructed on how to sit, stand, walk, talk, and carry ourselves as a man would. We bind our chests and we slick back our hair, and we enjoy very briefly male privilege. This is a very real way additionally to explore gender roles in any given era based on how the director instructs us to “act like men.” These roles could require anything from comprehending chivalry on a societal level to grappling with what it means to a man to fall in love and what that looks like.
In the spirit of this, I constructed a concert that would look in detail at how men experience life using aria and art song as a medium by choosing exclusively breeches roles. I took this a step further by attempting to understand what it means to grow into those gender roles as well, by structuring my concert so that I am a boy growing into a man. To do so, I chose music at the beginning of a little boy singing and misbehaving, and a boy singing about how he doesn’t really know what love is and asks for help. I felt that one of the best ways to try to understand traditional male gender roles was to go through puberty as a male, so I chose a series of songs that felt as though they were trying to convey the diverse problems, triumphs, and curiosities that men experience during puberty. I end with becoming a man who has experienced much more of life in the way of love, and is currently experiencing loss. This loss comes in the form of pleading, sadness, and finally rage as I attempt to navigate the male emotional spectrum.
Overall, the exploration of male sentiment and emoting proved fascinated and crucial to becoming a better artist and understanding the importance of the changing environment in the conversation surrounding gender. Understanding the male version of myself has been important for widening my own emotional spectrum and for expanding my color palette as an artist. Mastering the breeches role is essential for the mezzo-soprano, as many roles are written for women playing men loving women.
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Dothard, Marisol Imani, "Women Playing Men Loving Women: An Analysis of Traditional Masculinity through “Breeches Role” Aria and Art Song" (2016). Senior Projects Fall 2016. 47.