Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Lost in translation

Opera in English - save when that's the composer's language - perturbs me. The more so now that surtitles have become commonplace. Caroline and I were at the London Coliseum on Monday. Some magnificent orchestral playing - and singing, from principals in demand to sing their roles the world over. Was it "The Knight of the Rose" we saw? No. According to the programme, and as common sense dictates, it was Der Rosenkavalier. So why make someone as distinguished as a Sarah Connolly or a John Tomlinson learn their roles in English, rather than letting them and the rest of the cast sing in the original German? Is it really so as to make opera more accessible? We were very kindly given tickets, but with prices as they are, I really doubt whether the language factor is what brings a wider range of the public in. (Does the film industry dub foreign films? No, it surtitles them.) Is it so as to draw a line between ENO and Covent Garden? Why not just allow them to compete on musical and dramatic excellence? It can't surely be anything to do with the name "English National Opera"! Do Welsh National sing in Welsh? The late Alan Blyth's essay in the ENO programme book itself squishes any argument for performing Der Rosenkavalier in English: Hofmannsthal sets "standards of... literary excellence never before achieved... The text was written in an imaginary parlance... something inevitably lost in translation."

On the way to the Coliseum, we popped in to the recently reopened St Martin-in-the-Fields. Those short-listed for the commission for a new East window were asked to "animate the light" by a work which harmonised with the clear glass of the other church windows. I hope my photograph illustrates how nothing seems to have been lost by Iranian artist Shirazeh Houshiary in translating this brief.

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