How Opera Challenges Translators

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How Opera Challenges Translators

Poet J. D. McClatchy excels at translating librettos into English, as witnessed by the recent performance of the Metropolitan Opera’s performance of his translation of “The Magic Flute.” Translating opera is a formidable challenge that requires unusual skills. The translation has to precisely align with the rhythm, bounce, and flow of the existing melodic lines, and often that means straying from the literal meaning of the original text to find something comparable in “performable English.” Many feel the trade-off necessary in the translation of a libretto into the audience’s language is well worth it. Only when a listener understands what is being sung can the full drama of the words and music together be fully appreciated. However, in his new book of English verse translations of Mozart operas, McClatchy wanted to return to the content alone to show the humor and poetic richness of the originals without the concerns the music imposes on the words. The verse translations in his Seven Mozart Librettos are only meant to be read and enjoyed for their literary value, never sung. Here, in contrast to his translations for the stage, McClatchy makes a point of staying as close as possible to the original meaning. Not everyone agrees, of course. After all, critics say, Mozart never meant for the librettos to be read, and without the music the words have lost much of their meaning.

From "How Opera Challenges Translators"
New York Times (NY) (12/24/10) Tommasini, Anthony
 

Source: ATA Newsbriefs - January 2011


 

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