Act (Fr. acte; Ger. Aufzug; It. atto).
- Michael Tilmouth
(Fr. acte; Ger. Aufzug; It. atto).
One of the main divisions of a drama, opera or ballet, usually completing a definite part of the action and often having a climax of its own. Although ancient Greek drama was not divided thus except by the periodic intervention of the chorus, and the division into acts of the plays of Roman authors such as Plautus is the work of later hands, Horace (Epistle to the Pisos) recommended five acts as the proper manner of dividing a play. In attempting to recreate the ancient drama this structure was adopted in early operas and was usually preserved in serious French opera of the 17th and 18th centuries even when the three-act form had become established in other types of opera. Rousseau (Dictionnaire de musique, 1768) insisted that the unities of time and place should be observed in each act even in the ‘genre merveilleux’. But there were already many exceptions (e.g. Rameau’s ...