Entr'acte is French for "between the acts" (German: "Zwischenspiel", Italian: "
Intermezzo"). It can mean a pause between two parts of a stage production, synonymous to an intermission, but it more often indicates an a piece of music ( interlude) performed between acts of a theatrical production.
Originally "entr'actes" resulted from stage curtains being closed for set or costume changes: to fill time as not to halt the dramatic action, to make a transition from the mood of one act to the next, or to prevent the public from becoming restless. In front of the closed curtains, the action could be continued during these "entr'actes", albeit involving only players with no scenery other than the curtain, and a minimum of props.
Like an interquel, an "entr'acte" can take the action from one part of a large-scale drama to the next by completing the missing links. An interquel, however, is a much later innovation. In contrast to an "entr'acte", an interquel utilizes the same kind of resources and magnitude as the parts it joins.
The role of music
In traditional theatre,
incidental musiccould also bridge the 'closed curtain' periods: Ballet, operaand dramaeach have a rich tradition of such musical interludes. The etymology of the German word, "Verwandlungsmusik" refers to its original function – literally, "change music". Eventually, "entr'actes" (or "intermezzi") would develop into a separate genre of short theatrical realisations (often with a plot completely independent from the main piece), that could be produced with a minimum of requisites during intermissions of other elaborate theatre pieces. These later "entr'actes" were distinctly intended to "break" the action or mood with something different, such as comedy or dance. Such pieces also allowed the chief players of the main piece to have a break. Eventually the idea of being an insert into a greater whole became looser: "interlude" sometimes has no other connotation than a "short play".
Other dramatic devices
When the insert was intended only to shift the mood before returning to the main action, without a change of scene being necessary, authors could revert to a " [play within a play] " technique, or have some accidental guests in a ballroom perform a dance, etc. In this case the insert is a "
divertimento" (the term is Italian; the French "divertissement" is also used) rather than an "entr'acte". In the French opera tradition of the end of the 17th century and early 18th century ( Jean-Philippe Rameau, for example) such "divertissements" would become compulsory in the form of an inserted ballet passage, a tradition that continued till well in the 19th century. This was eventually parodied by Jacques Offenbach: for example, the cancanending " Orphée aux enfers". By the middle of the 18th century a "divertimento" had become a separate genre of light music as well. These "divertimenti" could be used as interludes in stage works, many of the "divertimenti" composed in the last half of the 18th century appears to have lost the relation to the theatre, the music in character only having to be a "diversion" in one or another way.
Some more or less elaborate and/or independent "entr'actes" or "intermezzi" became famous in their own right, in some cases eclipsing the theatre productions for which they were originally written:
La serva padrona", a two-act " opera buffa" by Pergolesi, was intended to break the seriousness of his " opera seria" "Il prigioner superbo" (1733). Eventually the "intermezzo" got more attention than the large-scale work to which it was added (see " Querelle des Bouffons").
* Mozart shows his mastery in the finale of the first act of "
Don Giovanni", where he mixes the "divertimento"-like dancing (accompanied by a small ensemble on the scene) with the actual singing. The characters mingle, performing light dances, while they're supposed to be chasing each other for murder and rape. The diversion and the drama become a single multi-layered item.
* A comparable 'filmic' interlude was foreseen in the early 1930s by
Alban Bergfor his opera "Lulu", between the two scenes of the central act. In this case Berg only composed the music and gave a short schematic scenario for a film, that was not yet realised when he died in 1935. The "Lulu" interlude film, in contrast to the previous example, was intended to chain the action between the first and second half of the opera. Because of the completely symmetrical structure of this opera, the filmic interlude of "Lulu" is, in a manner of speaking, the axis of the opera.
* Interludes of the "divertimento" kind can be found in
Leoš Janáček's last, sombre opera " From the House of the Dead" (1928): releasing the tension after Skuratov's disheartening tale at the centre of the second act, two an "opera" and a "pantomime" within the larger opera are executed consecutively by a cast of prisoners, both presentations farcical variations on the Don Juantheme, and mirroring the religious ceremony "divertimento" before the Skuratov tale.
* Also, the first publicly performed
furniture musiccomposed by Erik Satiewas premiered as "entr'acte" music (1920 - the play for which it was written fell into oblivion), with this variation that it was intended as background musicto the sounds the public would usually produce at intermission, walking around and talking. Allegedly, the public did not obey Satie's intention: they kept silently in their places and listened, trained by a habit of incidental music, much to the frustration of the " avant-garde" musicians, who tried to save their idea by inciting the public to get up, talk, and walk around.
* Most of the film adaptations of the
Rodgers and Hammersteinmusicals feature "entr'actes" during the intermission, which make use of music from the production.
*Fisher, Stephen C (1992), 'Interlude' in "The
New Grove Dictionary of Opera", ed. Stanley Sadie (London) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
* [http://www.ubu.com/film/clair.html Clair and Satie's "Entr'acte" online at Ubuweb]
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