News | 28.04.2010

International curtain calls for multilingual operas

It is said that opera is an art form which transcends language barriers. This may be true, but it is bilingual and multilingual operas which seem to be taking centre stage recently. The advent of new technologies complement audience experiences and if you’re unable to physically go to the theatre, then there’s an app for that too – in French, German, Spanish

In the 1980s, the Canadian Opera Company made opera accessible to a wider audience when it developed Surtitles™ – the technique whereby a running translation of the singing and dialogue is projected above the stage. This innovative development was soon adopted by theatres worldwide and was responsible for a significant increase in audience figures and enjoyment.

In December 2009, The Translation People reported on the AirScript real-time subtitling handset premiered in the musical Hairspray in London’s West End. Although operas and musicals fall into different genres, AirScript’s ability to translate both dialogue and song could well mean that this device and others like it easily cross over into the world of opera.

There are many language products available to theatres and one market leader in this field is Radio Marconi plc. Popular products include their multilingual electronic librettos and seat-back technology – a multilingual audio-visual system providing simultaneous translation in text format of the opera. Such is the demand and popularity for multilingual services that their products are to be found in the Bolshoi Theatre in Russia and the new Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman, which is due to open later this year. Whereas in the UK in February 2010, the English National Opera staged bilingual performances with their The Elixir of Love. A mixture of Italian and English languages. ‘. . . the results were so exhilarating that the audience (were) left begging for repeat performances’ stated novelist and cultural commentator Norman Lebrecht in his blog.

But for those who cannot make it to the theatre, there is always the opera iPad app offering librettos and background information in both original language versions and English, along with a bilingual screen feature.

Evidently, calls for language services in this area of the arts remain high. As regards bilingual and multilingual operas and products – Encore! say the audience. And we couldn’t agree more.

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