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date: 19 August 2019

Act (opera) (Fr. acte; Ger. Aufzug; It. atto)locked

  • Julian Budden

Extract

(Fr. acte; Ger. Aufzug; It. atto)

A self-contained section of an opera or music drama marked off by an interval (normally with applause and curtain-calls for the artists). It may last anything between 15–20 minutes (Act 3 of La bohème, 1896) and more than two hours (Act 1 of Götterdämmerung, 1876). The number of acts in an opera may vary from one to five. Five is common in early operas, in the French tragédie lyrique and in grand opera. Three is the standard number in 18th-century Italian opera, both serious and comic. In the early part of the century the first two acts of a serious opera each normally ended with a bravura aria for a main character, sometimes a pathetic one or a duet; the last act generally ended with a ‘coro’ sung by all the principals. Comic operas rarely had more than three acts (an exception is Le nozze di Figaro, 1786...

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