A monodrama is a theatrical or operatic piece played by a single actor or singer, usually portraying one character.

In opera

In opera, a monodrama was originally a melodrama with one role such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Pygmalion, which was written in 1762 and first staged in Lyon in 1770, and Georg Benda's work of the same name (1779).

The term monodrama (sometimes mono-opera) is also applied to modern works with a single soloist, such as Arnold Schoenberg's Die glückliche Hand (1924), which besides the protagonist has two additional silent roles as well as a choral prologue and epilogue. Erwartung (1909) and La voix humaine (1959) closely follow the traditional definition, while in Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969) by Peter Maxwell Davies, the instrumentalists are brought to the stage to participate in the action. Twenty-first century examples can be found in Émilie (2008) by Kaija Saariaho and Four Sad Seasons Over Madrid (2008) or God's Sketches (2011) both of them by Jorge Grundman.

In spoken drama

In England the first example of monodrama was on a mythological theme, in this case Frank Sayers' Pandora (1790),[1] in the form of a recitation with off-stage voices. Robert Southey took up the new form, producing eleven pieces so titled between 1793-1804;[2] so did Matthew Lewis in his publicly performed and highly melodramatic The Captive.[3] Few others actually appeared on stage and monodrama soon lost its connection with music. The term "dramatic monologue" came to be applied to such works, although the term "monodrama" remained in critical currency. Half a century later Tennyson himself referred to his Maud (1855) as a monodrama,[4] and William Lancaster (John Warren, 3rd Baron de Tabley) published a verse collection titled Eclogues and Monodramas in 1864.[5]

Nevertheless, Nurul Momen (Nemesis, 1944), Samuel Beckett (Krapp's Last Tape, 1958) and Anton Chekhov (On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, 1886, 1902), among others, have written monodramas in this sense. Patrick Süskind has one person speak to the audience in Der Kontrabaß (1981). A more recent example is A Night in November (1994) by Irish playwright Marie Jones.

As developed by Russian symbolist Nikolai Evreinov (1879–1953) and encapsulated in his book The Theatre in Life (1927), it is a dramatic representation of what passes in an individual mind. Everything one witnesses on stage is portrayed from the mental state of the given protagonist.

The largest solo theatre festival in the world, United Solo takes place annually in New York City at Theatre Row. In 2013 it featured over 120 productions.[6] In Kiel, Germany, an international theatre festival for monodramas takes place regularly, the Thespis International Monodrama Festival.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Lucio Tufano, La ricezione italiana del melologo à la Rousseau, in D’un scène à l’autre, Mardaga 2009, p.134
  2. ^ Carrie J. Preston, Modernism's Mythic Pose, Oxford University 2011, note 18, p.262
  3. ^ George Taylor, The French Revolution and the London Stage, Cambridge University 2000, pp.110-12
  4. ^ Christopher Ricks, Tennyson: a selected edition, Routledge 2014, p.512
  5. ^ Forgotten Books
  6. ^ Playbill, Oct. 3, 2013
  7. ^ Thespis International Monodrama Festival
A Christmas Carol (play)

A Christmas Carol is a one-man stage performance by English actor Patrick Stewart of the Charles Dickens novel of the same title, which has been performed in the United Kingdom and the United States on occasion since 1988.

Stewart was originally inspired to create the adaptation during the production of the 1986 film Lady Jane. It is performed without costumes or props, and has Stewart playing more than 30 characters. Critics have praised Stewart's portrayal and compared them to the readings performed by Dickens during the 19th century.

A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf, first published in September 1929. The work is based on two lectures Woolf delivered in October 1928 at Newnham College and Girton College, women's constituent colleges at the University of Cambridge.An important feminist text, the essay is noted in its argument for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men.

Berlin (play)

Berlin is a 2009 play by David Hare, in the form of a 55-minute monologue on Berlin and its history. It was first performed in March 2009 at the Royal National Theatre by the author himself, directed by Stephen Daldry.

Der Kontrabaß

Der Kontrabaß (The Double Bass) is a play by Patrick Süskind. The monologue in one act premiered in 1981.

Eight Songs for a Mad King

Eight Songs for a Mad King is a monodrama by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies with a libretto by Randolph Stow, based on words of George III. The work was written for the South-African actor Roy Hart and the composer's ensemble, the Pierrot Players. It was premiered on 22 April 1969.

Lasting half an hour, it is scored for a baritone with an extraordinary command of extended techniques covering more than five octaves, and six players (Pierrot ensemble + percussion):

flute (doubling piccolo)


percussion (1 player): railway whistle, snare drum, 2 suspended cymbals, foot cymbal, 2 wood blocks, bass drum, chains, ratchet, tom-toms, tamtam, tambourine, rototoms, toy bird-calls, 2 temple blocks, wind chimes, crotales, sleigh bells, glockenspiel, steel bars, crow, didgeridoo

piano (doubling harpsichord and dulcimer)


celloThe songs derive from tunes played by an extant mechanical organ owned by George III, tunes that he attempted to train bullfinches to sing:

The Sentry (King Prussia's Minuet)

The Country Walk (La Promenade)

The Lady-In-Waiting (Miss Musgrave's Fancy)

To Be Sung on the Water (The Waterman)

The Phantom Queen (He's Ay A-Kissing Me)

The Counterfeit (Le Conterfaite)

Country Dance (Scotch Bonnett)

The Review (A Spanish March)The action unfolds as a soliloquy by the king, the players being placed on stage (ideally) in large birdcages, and climaxes in his snatching and smashing the violin.

The score is published by Boosey & Hawkes, and its cover shows a famous excerpt in which the staves are arranged like the bars of a birdcage.Besides Hart, exponents of this work have included William Pearson, Michael Rippon, Thomas Meglioranza, Julius Eastman and Vincent Ranallo. The Swedish baritone Olle Persson performed the work in Stockholm in the 1990s. The British baritone Richard Suart has performed the piece in Gelsenkirchen‚ Milan‚ Helsinki‚ Strasbourg‚ Stavanger and Paris; in 1987 The Musical Times described Suart's take as "compelling from start to finish". Welsh baritone Kelvin Thomas sang the role at Munich's Kammerspiele Schauspielhaus in 2011, and in a production by Music Theatre Wales in 2013.


Erwartung (Expectation), Op. 17, is a one-act monodrama in four scenes by Arnold Schoenberg to a libretto by Marie Pappenheim. Composed in 1909, it was not premiered until 6 June 1924 in Prague conducted by Alexander Zemlinsky with Marie Gutheil-Schoder as the soprano. The opera takes the unusual form of a monologue for solo soprano accompanied by a large orchestra. In performance, it lasts for about half an hour. It is sometimes paired with Béla Bartók's opera Bluebeard's Castle (1911), as the two works were roughly contemporary and share similar psychological themes. Schoenberg's succinct description of Erwartung was as follows:

In Erwartung the aim is to represent in slow motion everything that occurs during a single second of maximum spiritual excitement, stretching it out to half an hour.

Philip Friedheim has described Erwartung as Schoenberg's "only lengthy work in an athematic style", where no musical material returns once stated over the course of 426 measures. In his analysis of the structure, one indication of the complexity of the music is that the first scene of over 30 bars contains 9 meter changes and 16 tempo changes. Herbert Buchanan has countered this description of the work as "athematic", and the general impression of it as "atonal", in his own analysis.The musicologist Charles Rosen has said that Erwartung, along with Berg's Wozzeck and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, is among the "impregnable" "great monuments of modernism."

Freak (film)

Freak is a 1998 film directed by Spike Lee. The film is a live performance of John Leguizamo's one man show on Broadway of the same name. Leguizamo's show was semi-autobiographical as he would talk about many aspects of his life. In the performance piece, he also talks about family members such as his parents, grandparents, uncle, and his younger brother. The film premiered on HBO.

The show was a commercial and critical success and garnered Leguizamo and members of the production crew several awards and nominations. The making of this film prompted Lee to cast Leguizamo in the lead role of his next film the following year, Summer of Sam. Leguizamo followed this performance up with the Broadway show Sexaholix: A Love Story in 2001.

Give 'em Hell, Harry!

Give 'em Hell, Harry! is a biographical play and 1975 film, written by playwright Samuel Gallu. Both the play and film are a one-man show about former President of the United States Harry S. Truman. Give 'em Hell, Harry! stars James Whitmore, and was directed by Steve Binder and Peter H. Hunt.

I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife is a play by Doug Wright based on his conversations with German Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. The one-man play premiered Off-Broadway in 2003 at Playwrights Horizons. It opened on Broadway later that year. The play was developed with Moisés Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Project, and Kaufman also acted as director. Jefferson Mays starred in the Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, playing some forty roles. Wright received the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work.

I Am My Own Wife (or I Am My Own Woman) is also the English title of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf's autobiography, first issued in 1992, translated in 1995.

Kicking a Dead Horse

Kicking a Dead Horse (2007) is an American play written by Sam Shepard. It is an example of a dramatic monologue for one man for most of the play, until a woman shows up, in all lasting approximately 80 minutes.

Mark Twain Tonight!

Mark Twain Tonight! is a one-man play devised by Hal Holbrook, in which he depicts Mark Twain giving a dramatic recitation selected from several of Twain's writings, with an emphasis on the comic ones.

Maud, and Other Poems

Maud and other poems was Alfred Tennyson's first collection after becoming poet laureate in 1850, published in 1855.

Among the "other poems" was "The Charge of the Light Brigade", which had already been published in the Examiner a few months before. It was considered a disgrace to society in the early days of its release and was banned for eight and a half years, until popular demand made it available to read once more. The ban was reportedly commissioned due to suggestive themes and supposedly biased opinions toward the current government opposition, which were later confirmed false by Tennyson, while also expressing his own judgement on the whole event as "a bit of a joke".

Monodrama (song)

"Monodrama" (Chinese: 独角戏; Korean: 모노드라마) is a single recorded by Chinese singer Lay. It was released on May 27, 2016, by S.M. Entertainment through SM Station.

Pygmalion (Rousseau)

Pygmalion (French: Pygmalion) is the most influential dramatic work by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, other than his opera Le devin du village. Though now rarely performed, it was one of the first ever melodramas (that is, a play consisting of pantomime gestures and the spoken word, both with a musical accompaniment). It is formed of spoken monodrama with instrumental musical interludes and thus can be credited with spreading a new theatrical genre, especially in German-speaking areas of Europe. He wrote it in 1762, with music by Horace Coignet. It was first performed at the Hôtel de Ville, Lyon in 1770. The work is considered a turning point for its author, who also wrote The Social Contract that same year.

Pygmalion (opera)

Pygmalion is a monodrama in one act by composer Georg Benda with a German libretto by Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter. The opera's first performance was at the Ekhof Theater, the court theatre in Gotha, on September 20, 1779. Pygmalion was the fourth of the five theatrical collaborations of Benda and Gotter. Gotter based his text on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 1762 play Pygmalion. Benda's melodrama is unusual as it has three characters but only one spoken role. Two of the parts are silently acted on stage.

Shirley Valentine

Shirley Valentine is a one-character play by Willy Russell. Taking the form of a monologue by a middle-aged, working class Liverpool housewife, it focuses on her life before and after a transforming holiday abroad.

The Belle of Amherst

The Belle of Amherst is a one-woman play by William Luce.

Based on the life of poet Emily Dickinson from 1830 to 1886, and set in her Amherst, Massachusetts home, the 1976 play makes use of her work, diaries, and letters to recollect her encounters with the significant people in her life – family, close friends, and acquaintances. It balances the agony of her seclusion with the brief bright moments when she was able to experience some joy.

After one preview, the original Broadway production, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly and starring Julie Harris, opened on April 28, 1976 at the Longacre Theatre, where it ran for 116 performances. The Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote "With her technical ability and her emotional range, Miss Harris can convey profound inner turmoil at the same time that she displays irrepressible gaiety of spirit."Harris, who portrayed 15 different characters in the play, won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for Unique Theatrical Experience, and won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording. She appeared in a televised PBS production and extensively toured the country with the play for a number of years.Dickinson biographer Lyndall Gordon criticized the play for perpetuating Mabel Loomis Todd's chaste, hermit-like image of Dickinson, as opposed to the lively, witty, provocative, and sometimes erotic Dickinson present in her work and known to those who knew her more personally.The Spanish translation of the play was done by Argentinean poet Silvina Ocampo for the Buenos Aires premiere starring China Zorrilla on January 1981. The production ran for more than 500 performances and Zorrilla embarked on a Latin American tour that ended at New York's Hunter College in 1983 and Washington's Kennedy Center. With Emily, the Uruguayan actress made a triumphant comeback to her country after 10 years of proscription for political reasons.

Wall (play)

Wall is a 2009 play by David Hare, in the form of a monologue. It was first performed in March 2009 at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre by the author himself, directed by Stephen Daldry. Its topic is the Israeli Security Barriers in the West Bank and Gaza and it is intended by Hare as a companion piece to his monologue Berlin and its passages on the Berlin Wall.

Émilie (opera)

Émilie is an opera – specifically a 9-scene, 75-minute monodrama for soprano – by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952) to a libretto by Amin Maalouf. It was written in 2008. Based on the life and writings of Marquise Émilie du Châtelet (1706-1749), the work premiered at the Opéra de Lyon, France, on 1 March 2010, with Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, its dedicatee. It recounts the achievements of the mathematician, physicist, and mistress of Voltaire: the first woman to establish an international scientific reputation, with pioneering work in the study of fire.

The opera Émilíe is based on the actual biography of Émilie du Châtelet, who was a contemporary intellectual to, as well as the mistress of, Voltaire. She also took another lover later who fathered her child. The childbirth led to her death. In the plot of the opera, her character's arias are linked to the birth of the child and of her significant scholarship. The soprano soloist is seen in character pregnant and penning new ideas as the opera begins. The subject of the work depicted in the opera was an actual French translation of technical writing in Eléments de la philosophie de Newton (1738). Though her French translation of what is also known simply as Principia by Isaac Newton was published posthumously in 1759, it remains a definitive text. Châtelet died 10 years prior to its publication. Composer Saariaho uses creative license to dramatically and sonically set the two births for solo soprano in a historical monodrama.The context of women characters and roles in operas from the 17th century to the present rarely address their role as scientists or scholars, not to mention childbirth, making this composition and performance an intervention that expands the genre as studied in new or feminist musicology. Émilie is one of three "female-centered operas" by Saariaho exhibiting a sonic world that feminist musicologist Susan McClary opines as "a 'sensual version of modernism,' one in which 'smoldering intensities' of desire find voice."Since Châtelet was actually tutored in mathematics by leading European scholars and her exceptional skills were thought to influence Voltaire's work, the scenery in the 2008 Opera de Lyon production of the opera featured images of mathematical equations as significant aspects of the set and scenery for the monodrama.

Reviews dubbed it a "blue-stocking monodrama about the tension between intellect and nature." Billed as the third opera by Saariaho, Emilie is more accurately a sister-piece to the oratorio La Passion de Simone (2006). The actual score is accessible online.

Opera terms by origin

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.