Saturday, April 7, 2012

Opera in America

From 2002 to 2004 I lived in a loft apartment in Center City Philadelphia.  I had always wanted to live the life of a city sophisticate, and I finally had the chance.  It was a lot of fun, but it was expensive.  One of the many cultural activities that I enjoyed while living in the city was the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  I had season tickets for a seat in one of the Proscenium Boxes.  It gave me an excuse to sew elegant evening gowns, make matching jewelry, and where the beaver coat that I inherited from my grandmother.  Even after I moved down to Virginia I maintained my box seat until they stopped offering the Saturday evening performance.  I loved going to the opera, but reading the surtitles was always awkward.

Then one day I saw The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein performed in English.  It was a revelation.  Why, I asked myself, don't they perform all operas in America in English?  It was hilarious, especially when the Grand Duchess snagged her costume on the scenery during one of her entrances and was briefly stuck.  When she pulled free she was trailing about 8 feet of trim, which the General promptly stepped into.  She actually lost it, doubling over in laughter, while the General gamely persevered.  It was then that I realized that forcing us to read translations vastly diminished our enjoyment of the performance for the simple reason that you can't really listen and read at the same time.  And you definitely can't watch what is going on on the stage while you are busy reading the surtitles.

So why don't the folks that produce operas in America translate them into English?  Is it some outmoded idea of remaining faithful to the original?  Or of maintaining the purity of the work?  Do they think it is too hard?  Or do they simply not think of it at all?  As I watch the Metropolitan Opera struggle to keep going it occurs to me that presenting opera in America in English could revitalize the art form and revitalize the Met.  And why stop with translating operas into English.  Why not make it a practice to translate the opera into the native tongue of whichever country it is being performed in?  After all, there is nothing magical about the language of the original, it just happened to be the language of the librettist.  I have a feeling the Wagner fans will think I am a heretic for saying that.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you.

    I think it unnecessarily elitist and makes the art form less inviting to potential patrons.