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Thread: Opera in English

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    Senior Member sospiro's Avatar
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    Default Opera in English

    English National Opera has opened a debate on opera sung in English.

    My own view is that with surtitles and with libretti and synopses widely available on the internet there is no need now for opera to be sung in any other than its original language. I saw ENO's Rigoletto and while the singing was superb, the words were clumsy. Looking at it from another angle, I'm seeing Peter Grimes in Lyon later this year and I'd be terribly disappointed if it was sung in French. (It's not)

    Also I actually enjoy hearing the language being sung even if I don't know what all the words mean.

    However the theatre was full for Rigelotto, so maybe I'm in the minority.
    Ann

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    Senior Member Revenant's Avatar
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    I wouldn't care to listen to Handel's operas sung in English or to listen to his oratorios in other language than English. Words fuse with the music at the moment of composition.
    Last edited by Revenant; Mar-03-2014 at 07:22.
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    I usually can't understand the English anyway.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

    "Life's a long song, but the tune ends too soon for us all." Ian Anderson lyric

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet

    "Man does not live by bread alone......"

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    Senior Member opus55's Avatar
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    The original language is very much a part of the art. Why meddle with it?

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    Whilst I enjoy hearing the Italian, German, French, Czech and Russian operas I do have a huge soft spot for opera in English.

    I am a big fan of the Chandos opera in English label.

    Nowadays with so many of us downloading from iTunes, deezer, spotify et al....we don't get synposes or libretti.

    Listening in English often opens our ears and expands our understanding and enjoyment of the opera in its original language.

    Not all operas work in translation to English. Some on the Chandos series are wonderful...the La Boheme, Tosca, Turandot, Werther and La Traviata to name a few.

    I am all for opera in English.

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    Senior Member Oreb's Avatar
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    In general I don't like the idea of operas being translated for singing - it seems to me that the composers had a certain set of words (i.e. vowel and consonant combinations) in mind when they wrote the music and I can't help but think that changing those vowels and consonants must on some level change the composition.

    I also think that particular notes are intended to go with particular emotion/word clusters and I very much doubt that it's generally possible to accurately replicate those in the course of a coherent translation.

    All that said, some performances transcend this limitation. Goodall's Wagner, for example, while saddled with an English version (which is, admittedly, better than most) is of such majesty that I can overlook the problem. Still, for me in general, original language is the best.

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    Original language is the only way for me. If people have difficulty with subtitles, what is wrong with familiarising oneself with the story beforehand?

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    Senior Member deggial's Avatar
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    I like foreign languages. The easiest way to learn is when you get a "song" stuck in your head and the words run on a loop until you find out what's it all about

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    Senior Member Levanda's Avatar
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    I can speak and read fluent in Russian but operas I need subtitles does matter in English or Russian, or Lithuanian I need subtitles.

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    Senior Member Don Fatale's Avatar
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    I appear to be in a minority. Perhaps it was because ENO first got me into opera. Good singers, good orchestra, good production and (hopefully) an excellent translation won't leave anyone wanting.

    Translation (in its many areas) is an artform of its own, particularly when the words need to be sung. I enjoy finding out how certain passages are rendered, and have occasionally had a go at it myself. Comic operas seem particularly suitable for English translations, especially as the audience will laugh at what is sung/spoken rather than when something appears in the surtitles. (Singers seem to hate that!) Whether every translation is a well done? That's another matter.

    Look, now you've gone and made me put on the Goodall Ring records! Act I of Twilight of the Gods, I think it will be.
    Last edited by Don Fatale; Mar-03-2014 at 16:22.

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    Senior Member SilenceIsGolden's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levanda View Post
    I can speak and read fluent in Russian but operas I need subtitles does matter in English or Russian, or Lithuanian I need subtitles.
    Quote Originally Posted by Itullian View Post
    I usually can't understand the English anyway.

    Haha, yeah, exactly. I find that even in watching/listening some of my most beloved English language operas -- Porgy and Bess or Peter Grimes for instance -- I can usually only approximate what the singers are saying without the assistance of the libretto or surtitles. So singing foreign language operas in English in and of itself doesn't help me understand the nuances of the drama any better. Besides, there are many times where a translation can't possibly capture the essence of the original, like in the scene in Act III of Die Meistersinger where Beckmesser jumbles the words of the prize song. The way Wagner plays different words off each other in a humorous mash-up in German cannot be communicated to a foreign audience. And you're losing something invaluable in the translation process, the perfect lyrical beauty that's achieved by the great composers who seamlessly blend the words and music.

    Not that I'm completely against it in concept, but in weighing the pros and cons I'd choose to listen to the original if possible almost every time.
    Last edited by SilenceIsGolden; Mar-03-2014 at 17:39.

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    Senior Member deggial's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander View Post
    Translation (in its many areas) is an artform of its own, particularly when the words need to be sung. I enjoy finding out how certain passages are rendered, and have occasionally had a go at it myself.
    I agree, it's fun. Especially trying to make sense of the mess google translate throws at you! but in the opera house I prefer the original. That being said, I would have gone to see ENO's Rigoletto if the production didn't look so iffy.

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    Senior Member Don Fatale's Avatar
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    I was rooting around for the Wagner quote I was thinking of, then I clicked the ENO link above and read it there. I think that article (although it's nothing new) puts the translation issue into a historical context.

    To some degree the Wagner quote (below) counteracts the view about honouring the composers' intentions, and the tendency of many modern opera-goers to be too precious about it, certainly lacking the openness of Wagner and Verdi. Both were passionate about communicating with the audience.

    Wagner to an Australian journalist: I hope you will see to it that my works are performed in 'English': only in this way can they be intimately understood by an English-speaking audience. We are hoping that they will be so performed in London. Given that opera-goers frequently came armed with librettos and translations back then I don't think the advent of surtitles would have altered Wagner's view on this.
    Last edited by Don Fatale; Mar-03-2014 at 20:44.

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  26. #14
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    To borrow an old phrase, so much gets lost in translation. Especially in an opera, when you try to translate, some of the meaning is going to be lost in the effort to fit the translation into the music, in terms of the sounds, rhyming, as well as the time span. Some have done this effectively, but it adds too much complexity. Yes, with digital downloads, you don't always get libretti with your download, but if you have the ability to download music, then it should be a piece of cake to also find and download the libretto - a simple google search will provide numerous choices.

    I say keep it in the original language.

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    Senior Member SilenceIsGolden's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander View Post
    I was rooting around for the Wagner quote I was thinking of, then I clicked the ENO link above and read it there. I think that article (although it's nothing new) puts the translation issue into a historical context.

    To some degree the Wagner quote (below) counteracts the view about honouring the composers' intentions, and the tendency of many modern opera-goers to be too precious about it, certainly lacking the openness of Wagner and Verdi. Both were passionate about communicating with the audience.

    Wagner to an Australian journalist: I hope you will see to it that my works are performed in 'English': only in this way can they be intimately understood by an English-speaking audience. We are hoping that they will be so performed in London. Given that opera-goers frequently came armed with librettos and translations back then I don't think the advent of surtitles would have changes Wagner's view on this.

    There's certainly a legitimate argument to be made for it, and ideally it could help an audience member more "intimately" understand the story. It definitely has it's advantages over surtitles, which often give basic summaries of what's being said in more wordy passages. In a way it's a simple matter of give and take and what you value more; greater dramatic clarity or aesthetic harmony. Unfortunately I find for me, in practice, it isn't that simple of an exchange. I usually misunderstand or simply fail to interpret words or entire phrases even in English due to the characteristics of classical singing; complex rhythmic deliveries, the elongation of vowels, characters singing in ensembles, etc. For me, following a libretto with the original language and translation side by side is the most effective way to thoroughly understand the intricacies of the poetic drama.
    Last edited by SilenceIsGolden; Mar-03-2014 at 18:29.

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