Jul 11, 2008


When I'm chatting with civilians (i.e. people who have never seen an opera) about opera, a common question I receive is "how do people understand what the singers are saying?!"

Surtitles, baby.
Operas are just like watching a foreign movie; English translations of the libretto are projected onto a screen above the stage. And I just found out that they've been around for 25 years.

According to this article in the New York Times, a guy named Lotfi Mansouri introduced surtitles in 1983 for a production of Strauss’s “Elektra” at the Canadian Opera Company. Beverly Sills, head of New York City Opera at the time, took note and incorporated the technology into a production later that year.

Not everyone was or is a fan of surtitles, though. A critic called Sills a "philistine" for introducing surtitles to productions. (Only a purist would be calling my Bubbles a philistine! Next, I'm gonna hear that it was a travesty that she sang with The Muppets. Some of my best friends are Muppets!)

I concede that surtitles can take away slightly from the action and emotion onstage. But I'm of the opinion that clarifying that action with words can only enhance someone's opera viewing. Opera is not just for purists; it is for everyone.

1 comment:

Angela said...

I personally am partial to surtitles. You can always just choose to ignore them if you do not want to look at the translation. Also, speaking from experience A LOT of work goes into putting those translations up for all to see!