Contemplating opera in the ‘Age of Surtitles’

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of BAMirror’s goals is to be an online salon, a place where you can join in a conversation about the arts. I’m going to share some of my recent reflections and hope that you will chime in (like that musical allusion?) with some thoughts of your own.

Ever since the final curtain call of Tri-Cities Opera’s recent production of “The Elixir of Love,” I’ve been thinking about surtitles (those subtitles “over” the stage that translate the lyrics) and how they have affected my opera-going experience. I saw my first opera, “Tosca,” at TCO at age 10. I read the synopsis in the program, which gave the plot and a general gist of the famous arias. After that, I had to rely on the staging, the singers’ body language and the emotion of the music to follow the story, because I didn’t speak Italian. But that was fine. I was swept up, transported and completely hooked into a lifetime of loving opera.

As an adult, I joined the TCO chorus and found myself learning some of the scores twice, because shows were offered in both the original language and in English.  (There were six performances over two weekends in those days.) Comedies were always in English so that you could catch the verbal humor, a programming decision I heartily supported despite the sometimes awkward phrasing. But the dramas, the tragedies? Couldn’t they just let things be? Read the rest of this entry »