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Thread: Why the atrocious subtitles on the Met player and in Live in HD productions?

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    Default Why the atrocious subtitles on the Met player and in Live in HD productions?

    I'm sure a lot of you know what I'm talking about. Even on DVDs the subtitles aren't always perfect, but on the Met player and in the Live in HD productions, they do this weird thing where they simplify the english greatly, don't translate literally enough, don't even translate everything, and sometimes even skew the meaning. Literally, even the most simple sentences, they can't seem to translate clearly. Why not? Why do they do this? What's so hard about saying "Water, how you wanted" when you see german "Wasser, wie du gewollt." Even on the DVD this isn't translated exactly as it should be I don't think, but in the recent Live in HD production, it was like "Here is the refreshment you wanted." I mean, seriously? Why? What are they doing? What is their goal?

    edit: That line is from the first act of Die Walküre, for those who don't know.

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Well, I think this is a problem in pretty much all translations in visual media.
    Anytime I know well the original language of an opera, I'm appalled at the simplified and inaccurate translations.
    For those languages that I don't know, I keep wondering what I'm missing.
    Sometimes the singer sings a bunch of lines and the translation comes up with a couple of words, and one thinks, WTF? He said way more than that, what are they not telling us?
    I don't know any Russian and I was wondering the same about the Met Eugene Onegin, then one day I watched it again with a Russian friend of mine, and surely enough, she was dismayed at the poor translation.
    I don't think it's a Met problem, it's more like a universal problem.
    It probably has to do with the people they hire for these translations - probably, just some bilingual person with a college degree, to save money. They won't hire major poets.
    To translate some spectacularly literary rhyming libretti one would need an equally good poet (as skillful with language as the original author of the libretto) and bilingual to boot. These folks do exist but I imagine they are darn expensive to hire, so, we get the low-quality product instead.
    Last edited by Almaviva; Jul-27-2011 at 00:21. Reason: typos
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    But the subtitles on DVDs are much better. For the 1990s Met Ring cycle for example.. are you saying maybe DG hired more qualified translators for their DVDs? And that when it's a live in HD or an online streaming thing, they go with something much less adequate because it's not an actual product they're printing?

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    I noticed the same thing when I watched La Fille du Regiment on Met Player. Compared to the Covent Garden dvd version, the subs are bizarre -- figurative when they should be more literal, and at other times obnoxiously literal when it should be more poetic. Of course, even the best subtitles are generally poor in quality, forgoing any sense of meter or rhyme. Good translation is an art and good translators are unfortunately all too rare; my guess is that in an effort to keep down costs, translations are done as quickly and cheaply as possible and lose any sense of poetry in the process.
    -Ian

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    Quote Originally Posted by rgz View Post
    I noticed the same thing when I watched La Fille du Regiment on Met Player. Compared to the Covent Garden dvd version, the subs are bizarre -- figurative when they should be more literal, and at other times obnoxiously literal when it should be more poetic. Of course, even the best subtitles are generally poor in quality, forgoing any sense of meter or rhyme. Good translation is an art and good translators are unfortunately all too rare; my guess is that in an effort to keep down costs, translations are done as quickly and cheaply as possible and lose any sense of poetry in the process.
    It's not just not being poetic enough, they just put different words then what would be an accurate translation, when the original sentence is incredibly simple and easy to translate. I can't make sense of it. It's like they have an agenda to make sure that nothing gets translated over correctly. They can't even translate "I want to go" properly. I know all subtitles are a compromise, but these met player and live in HD subtitles are just something else. "Let's wander down through the green fields beneath the blue sky, towards your fathers castle" becomes "I want to go out into the beautiful spring and towards that dwelling there on the hill."

    If I were doing the translation, it would take More effort for me to skew the translation to the degree they do, than it would for me to translate it accurately.

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    Quote Originally Posted by macgeek2005 View Post
    But the subtitles on DVDs are much better.
    Are they? I've seen numerous bad translations on DVD. I know Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese (these last two, not common operatic languages with a few exceptions, but the problem is the same in movies), and most translations from these languages into English are pathetic, regardless of the medium - MetPlayer, MetTitles, DVDs, etc. There are good exceptions but they are true exceptions, not the rule. I don't know any German or Russian or Czech (the other major operatic languages) but I bet I'm missing a lot because of it. As a matter of fact, I'm planning to learn German for this very reason. I studied two years of German in high school but this was almost 40 years ago so little is left. But because opera is these days my number one interest and I love Wagner, Richard Strauss, Berg, etc., I should learn German, to avoid this problem because translations suck!
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Well, there certainly is a huge difference in subtitle quality between the met player (and Live in HD) and the 1990s ring cycle DVDs. The met player is even the same exact video, but they have atrocious subtitles compared to what's on the DVD. I could type up a few scenes side by side to illustrate my point, but I don't think that's necessary. You know the terrible quality I'm talking about, and in this case the physical DVDs by DG do happen to have substantially better subtitles. I've found that a lot of DG DVDs of the met with levine have decent subtitles.

    It still is mystifying to me why the subtitles would be as bad as they are. They literally are the equivalent of someone sitting there trying to paraphrase for you what's going on, haphazardly, so that you aren't totally lost.

    Why can't they just (in the case of the ring at least) get their subtitles from here? http://www.rwagner.net/libretti/walkure/e-t-walk.html

    It would be much better than what they're currently doing on the met player.

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    Quote Originally Posted by macgeek2005 View Post

    Why can't they just (in the case of the ring at least) get their subtitles from here? http://www.rwagner.net/libretti/walkure/e-t-walk.html

    It would be much better than what they're currently doing on the met player.
    I don't know, but could it be a question of copyrights?
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    I don't know, but could it be a question of copyrights?
    That would suck. All the good translations are taken, so legally you're forced to come up with a bad one!

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    Quote Originally Posted by amfortas View Post
    That would suck. All the good translations are taken, so legally you're forced to come up with a bad one!
    Or else you can choose to pay the copyrights for the use of the good translations. But for this, we need a strong DVD market.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Translation is always a problem, and not only for opera. Poems are impossible to translate. Even novels may lose their original scent.
    In opera, it looks they are not paying attention. You don't need to be a poet for a good opera translation, but you have to be quite literate, and have a talent in languages. Motivation in doing your job is crucial.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sabrina View Post
    Translation is always a problem, and not only for opera. Poems are impossible to translate.
    I used to think this but then read an amazing book by Douglas Hofstadter, Le Ton Beau de Marot. It's a 500+ page book that deals with (among many other things) the challenge of translating an obscure 18th century French poem into English. It's a fascinating book (as are all of his works, the most well known being the Pulitzer Prize winning Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid).

    In any event, I've come to think that with a sufficiently talented translator, one who understands the poem thoroughly, and sufficient effort, a worthy translation is possible.
    -Ian

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    I'm just going to chime in here with a minority vote. I'm the person who does NOT sit reading the program at a concert/recital. I'll glance over the libretto before hand, but my real concentration is on the singer/s.

    Given that, I'm perfectly happy with a translation that just gives me the gist of what is being sung. I don't want it taking up too much real estate on the screen (example from ROH Carmen--in the final scene, Carmen and Don Jose are both on the ground after one of their skirmishes, and they look towards the arena, where we are given the translation of what is being sung 'in the arena'. It completely covers them up. Yes, it's important for the irony to know what the crowd is saying, but at the same time I want to see the singers. They should have moved the subtitles to the top that once).

    Yeah I know. I'm a minority.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FragendeFrau View Post
    I'm just going to chime in here with a minority vote. I'm the person who does NOT sit reading the program at a concert/recital. I'll glance over the libretto before hand, but my real concentration is on the singer/s.

    Given that, I'm perfectly happy with a translation that just gives me the gist of what is being sung. I don't want it taking up too much real estate on the screen (example from ROH Carmen--in the final scene, Carmen and Don Jose are both on the ground after one of their skirmishes, and they look towards the arena, where we are given the translation of what is being sung 'in the arena'. It completely covers them up. Yes, it's important for the irony to know what the crowd is saying, but at the same time I want to see the singers. They should have moved the subtitles to the top that once).

    Yeah I know. I'm a minority.
    Yes, sometimes subtitles are intrusive, and this is why I like them better when their are optional (when you can turn them off, which is usual possible with the newer DVDs). MetTitles is a good way to do with this - they can be turned off as well during the live performances, and they offer a choice of three languages (English, German, Spanish - it's unfortunate that they don't do French and Italian).

    I like to either read the original libretto if I can (if it's a language that I know) or a good translation if one is available, at least once (I don't do this for *all* operas that I see - but I often do it for my favorite ones) because the poetry is part of the enjoyment. Then in subsequent viewing I may either turn off the subtitles or set them to the original language to better follow the sounds of the words.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Quote Originally Posted by FragendeFrau View Post
    I'm just going to chime in here with a minority vote. I'm the person who does NOT sit reading the program at a concert/recital. I'll glance over the libretto before hand, but my real concentration is on the singer/s.
    Usually I there with you. For something like Handel, A quick look at the gist and then relax.

    But last night at Rheingold the surtitles were sketchy and silly and I was glad I had the library's new Solti Ring libretto (and my glasses!)
    Natalie

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