Friday, October 21, 2005

Opera in English

At this address is a nice article about opera in English. My recent visit to the Washington National Opera featured an act translated into English which worked well. Placido Domingo performed his aria untranslated, and this serves to point out the main reason for not doing it: the people you are hiring to do the opera, assuming you are talking about the top rung of singers, know the opera in its original language and aren't about to learn it in yours. So do you do without them?

The second problem is that singers are often not understandable in any language so the advantages of translating the text are often lost. It is still recommended to show the supertitles.

I would think the advantages of translation would apply most to comedy so your eyes would stay on the performers and comic business would not be lost. Just a thought.

What do you think?


Paul said...

I generally dislike opera translated into English, and for many of the reasons you've posted. One of the delights of having an opera performed in its original language is to match the rhythms of the words (generally rhymed) with the cadence of the music, exactly as the composer intended. Oftentimes translations are inaccurate at best and totally misleading at worst, the latter especially true if the translator feels compelled to make the couplets rhyme.

And with the proliferation of Supertitles, I'm still surprised when they remain undeployed for operas performed in English. It's true that one often cannot understand the singers' words, especially if the composition is a unfamiliar one.

Many years ago, my wife tells me that she attended a performance of "La Traviata" in Tel Aviv where the chorus sang in Hebrew, the soprano sang in Russian, the baritone sang in Italian, and the tenor sang in English. That's just TOO weird.

Dr.B said...

I love that. I cannot top that story.

Dr.B said...

I am most familiar with the English translations of Donald Pippin of San Francisco's Pocket Opera. They reflect his interest in opera for the masses and are often humerous, occasionally unsuitably humerous.

Anonymous said...

Call me old-fashioned (ok, so I AM over 50!)but I much prefer Opera sung in languages other than English.
Could be that most English language productions are relatively new so their style is post-modern or whatever that barely melodic, non-lyrical, rather atonal style is called. Doesn't mean I don't enjoy the full scope of the English language operatic performance - for Opera is more than music/lyric.
Just that phrasing seems to flow so much more euphoniously in Romance tongues. If Russian and German aren't strictly "roman" based, they still sound more pleasing than English. KC