Techniques | Greek Tragedy | Roots of Opera
The performers in the Greek tragedy were of two distinct types: the choros and the solo actors. The choros was a group of 12 or 15 adult men drawn from the general citizenry of Athens. Its role was largely passive in the drama, usually commenting upon the action or sympathizing with the solo characters.
Although the choros (and particularly its leader, the choregos) engaged in dialogue with the solo actors, its most important role was the performance of lyric songs. These were formal episodes in the tragedy, reflecting upon the action, and involved dancing, poetry and singing, often to the accompaniment of the aulos – a type of wind instrument rather like an oboe.
Sometimes the choros was divided into two groups, with one answering or debating with the other. The solo actors in the tragedy (no more than three) were also all adult males, even when representing female characters. They were professional performers, skilled in acting and singing. They wore masks over their faces that showed the essential character of their role. Although they did perform formal songs, such as laments, their singing was probably more a kind of chant – more musical than everyday speech, but not quite the same as song.
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