28/11/2019 Confessions of an Opera Surtitler

(In 29 Surtitles)

Surtitles-in-the-The-Canadian-Opera-Company-Dialogues-des-Carmelites

 

Some love them, some hate them,

but if you get them wrong, they can derail an entire show

 

Punctuation is a delicate balance.

Many opera libretti are written in an overly punctuated style!

 

But the eye gets tired of endless rows of exclamatory text!

 It’s exhausting!

 

…as is mysterious…

 

…line-splitting…

 

Some places, like the wonderful Welsh National Opera

have bilingual surtitles, but in a previous production of Carmen,

 

this resulted in Mercédès singing about her future husband,

who, instead of being an army chief, became an army chef

 

Sometimes, sitting in the surtitling box for hours,

you can go a little mad

 

In a stage rehearsal for Madama Butterfly,

I once briefly surtitled the Humming Chorus

 

It looked like this:

 

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

 

I thought this was hilarious

 

Timing is everything. If you press the button too soon,

you have a choice:

 

Do you remove the title, and admit your error,

or keep the faith, and pray the singer comes in soon?

 

In fact, most audience members aren’t aware that there is

someone pressing a button, following the score every night

 

Sometimes the technology is against you.

I heard of a performance that had to stop because the titles got stuck

 

They read:

 

PORTUGAL PORTUGAL PORTUGAL PORTUGAL PORTUGAL

PORTUGAL PORTUGAL PORTUGAL PORTUGAL PORTUGAL

 

No one ever understood why

 

Fact: opera singers make up new words more frequently

if they are singing in their native language

 

Also true: they have an uncanny habit of singing the same mistake

multiple times in rehearsal…

 

…and then, as soon as you change the title to match them,

they revert to the original text

 

(The temptation to completely change the plot of the opera

is an urge that never entirely goes away)

 

But on the best days, you forget you are working at all

because the orchestra sounds so astonishing

 

And then a singer makes you weep

with the beauty and raw emotion of their performance

 

And that’s when you think

What a wonderful world to be working in,

 

What a joy to be alive,

What a privilege to work in this extraordinary industry

 

And then you think…

 

Oh s***!

That was my cue!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s