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John Rosselli

In opera as in the straight theatre, matinées (extra afternoon performances) became possible when the main performance time shifted from early afternoon to about 7 p.m. or later, in the second half of the 18th century. Opera matinées were, however, long seen as fit only for plebeian audiences. In Naples, the Bourbon government forbade them at the leading theatre, the S Carlo; but from 1817 at least they were common at small opera houses with lower-class audiences, not only on Sundays (when the working population was most likely to be free) but as part of a twice-daily schedule on other days. In Paris, the Sunday matinée became established from 1868 as the occasion for family visits to the national theatres, opera houses included; it has generally been favoured in continental and Latin American countries. In the English-speaking countries, where Sunday performances have at most times been ruled out by custom or by law, American opera companies have been readier than British to put on Saturday and sometimes other matinée performances of heavyweight works; the New York Metropolitan gave in ...

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Opera company formed in Paris in 1714 through the amalgamation of various fairground troupes. It operated seasonally at the Foires St Germain and St Laurent until 1762, when it merged with the Comédie-Italienne and moved to that company’s base at the Hôtel de Bourgogne. It then moved to the Salle Favart, merging again in ...

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Elisabeth Cook and Stanley Sadie

The term is used in opera to signify a number of devices which have in common that they make reference to pre-existing material, and thereby make some specific effect through the relationship with the parodied model. The word can thus stand, for example, for an entire work based in some way (by drawing on the music, the characters or the text) on an existing one, or for one that alludes to aspects of an existing one, or for such devices as the quotation of themes that are familiar in themselves or evocative of a different milieu. The objective is to create a special effect, humorous, ironic or satirical; it may often involve ridiculing either the work that is drawn upon (or parodied) or some element within the work that itself embodies the parody.

Elements of parody appear in early Venetian opera through the juxtaposition of comic scenes with ones where serious characters express themselves in elevated fashion; they serve to ridicule those who take themselves over-seriously. This tradition persisted into the comic intermezzos of the early 18th century where, very often, their plots ran in parallel in some way with those of the parent, serious opera within which they were performed. Their characters, closely linked with those of the ...

Article

Poster  

(Fr. affiche; Ger. Plakat; It. manifesto, cartello, cartellone)

A placard or ‘great bill’, normally printed in eye-catching style, to be displayed in prominent positions for the purpose of announcing details of a forthcoming event and attracting the public. The word originates from the custom of attaching bills to the posts that marked the area for pedestrians in London streets before the Great Fire. ...

Article

Edward A. Langhans

(Fr., Ger. souffleur; It. rammentatore, suggeritore)

One who assists performers with their lines and cues. In My Life in Art the Russian actor-director Constantin Stanisklavsky wrote:

If you look into the kennel of the prompter you are reminded of mediaeval inquisition. The prompter in the theatre is sentenced to eternal torture that makes one fear for his life. He has a dirty box lined with dusty felt. Half of his body is beneath the floor of the stage in the dampness of a cellar, the other half, at the level of the stage, is heated by the hundreds of lamps in the footlights on both sides of him. All the dust created at the rising of the curtain or the sweeping of robes across the stage strikes him square in the mouth. And he is forced to speak without stop during performance and rehearsal in an unnaturally squeezed and often strained voice so that he may be heard by the actors alone, and not by the spectators....

Article

Edward A. Langhans

[props] (Fr. accessoires; Ger. Requisiten; It. accessori; Sp. utilería)

Any objects used on stage that cannot be designated as costumes, scenery or lights: furniture, table lamps, food, flowers, carried spears, statuary and the like. A property may be as small as a snuff box or as large as a fabricated horse; it may be part of a costume (like a cap, which is a costume if worn but a prop if handled); it may be a personal or a hand prop, used by performers (carried, thrown, eaten from, read etc.); or it may serve only as trim or ‘dressing’ (such as pictures on a wall or chairs that are not used but decorate the stage and complete the design).

The dividing lines between properties, scenery and costumes are sometimes hazy. But the Scene Shop will usually see to the horse in Les Troyens, Siegfried’s anvil or a cannon, which are as much machines as props or scenic units, while the Costume Shop will probably take care of canes, sceptres, magic wands and Desdemona’s handkerchief. Many theatres have in-house departments for wigs, costumes, properties and scenery, but some have such shops scattered around town and/or use outside suppliers. Though some props can be purchased, many are specially designed and built, just as are costumes and wigs. Since most operas are set in past periods or realms of the imagination, they rarely call for modern costumes and properties. In his own day Mozart might have seen ...

Article

Theatre in Venice, built by the Grimani in 1678. The largest and most exclusive opera house in the city, it was renamed after Malibran in 1834, then used for all kinds of popular entertainment; it was restructured in 1919 but soon became a cinema. See Venice (opera) §3 and Venice (opera) §8...

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Julian Budden

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Any piece of music within an opera that forms a self-sufficient unit, marked off from its surroundings by a recognizable beginning and end. From about 1680 operas consisted, generally speaking, entirely of numbers linked by passages of recitative or, in opéra comique, Singspiel and other vernacular genres, spoken dialogue. In tragédie lyrique the boundaries were generally more fluid. During most of the 18th and 19th centuries set pieces (each followed by applause for performers and composer, except where composers specifically avoided it for dramatic reasons), formed the staple of operatic construction, first losing their identity in the music dramas of Wagner, extracts from which, when given in the concert hall, have to be furnished with special endings. Elsewhere the rule of set pieces within a continuous texture remained in force, although they decreased in number as operas increasingly came to be organized in whole acts. By the 20th century they are exceptional outside operetta, being confined mostly to the occasional aria, for example ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ (...