2.02.2007

Odds and Ends

I thought I might take the time to address a few odds and ends while working today! Stay tuned for a more comprehensive post (with photos you can be assured) later.

1. Punxsutawney Phil has proclaimed that spring is on the way! However, there was a slight snow shower this morning during my morning commute (small, dry flakes that drifted down form the sky it fits and starts - it was not nearly as romantic as the huge wet flakes that fell Wednesday night, but neither was it as wet). Dare we believe the predictions of a ten-pound rodent? I'm fairly certain his track record is not so great. I will be disappointed if we pass a winter without a "major weather event".

2. For Anonymous (who are you? And will you be there?) – JDF had better sing Ah! Mes amis… or I will throw things at him from the balcony… :) Actually I think it is rather unlikely that he won’t sing it, given that it is such a big piece of the fame puzzle for him.

3. For Veronique - Lots of operas have been translated into lots of different languages. I believe the ability to do this (in modern times) rests on the status of the copyright. (Not that there was no such thing as copyrights in the past, but I’m speaking specifically to the issue of translation.) If there are any copyright lawyers out there that want to correct me feel free – I am merely speculating here. Copyright laws vary (I believe) from country to country, but I think the general “rule” is something like a work remains in copyright until 70 years after the composers’ death. There might be some other rule about date-from-composition as well (95 years rings a bell for some reason). Once a work is out of copyright, the presenting company does not have to pay royalties. I suppose this also means they can modify the work in any way in which they see fit, without getting the permission of the copyright holder. Since Mozart died in 1791, copyright would not seem to be an issue here. (Incidentally, I’ve heard talk that copyright issues are probably why we won’t hear Strauss on Sirius – the later works are too “new” and the Met won’t want to pay to play them.)

Interestingly, I’ve heard that composers in the past expected their works to be translated into the vernacular of the countries those works were exported to. This resulted in a lot of operas being translated into other languages. Verdi’s Don Carlo was originally presented in Paris, in French, as Don Carlos. It was a short while later translated, with Verdi’s blessing, if not help (I don’t know the exact circumstances) into Italian for performance in Italy. (Both versions are frequently performed today). Extant examples abound. For example, Gounod’s Faust, a French opera, was presented in Italian for the opening gala at the Old Met in 1883. In fact, it seems in the early years of the Met, many operas were presented in languages other than their originals. The Met opera database notes that *Romeo et Juliette, another work by Gounod, presented on November 16, 1891 was the first instance of a French opera being presented at the Met in French, instead of Italian or German. Prior to that time we see Faust (Gounod), Robert le Diable (Meyerbeer), Mignon (Thomas), and Carmen (Bizet) presented in Italian and Les Huguenots (Meyerbeer), La Dame Blanche (Boeildieu), Guillaume Tell (Rossini), Les Prophete (Meyerbeer), and Carmen (again) presented in German. We also see some German operas like Lohengrin, Tannhauser, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, Der Fliegende Hollander (all by Wagner), and Martha (von Flotow) presented in Italian. However, some non-Italian operas retained their original languages early-on; for example, Der Freischutz (von Weber) and Die Walkurie (Wagner) both premiered at the Met in German.

In terms of opera in English, there seems to be some history of this at New York City Opera has done its share of English-language productions (Rossini’s La Cenerentola in 1980, Der Freishutz in 1981, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel in 2006 are just a few). The Met has also done some famous English-language productions in the past, including Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in the 1950s and 1960s, Strauss’ Die Fledermaus in the 1950s and 1960s, and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel beginning in 1946 and continuing all the way through to 1997. Incidentally, Hansel and Gretel will be revived again next season. (I assume it is a revival since there is no mention of a new production in the works.)

This post has gone on far longer than I had intended. My point is that operas in English is not a new idea, and certainly translating certain operas into English can have a positive effect on attracting new patrons to the theaters. Certainly the prospect of sitting through a performance of anything in a language they are unfamiliar with can be daunting to one who has never been to an opera before. Opera in translation does loose something, especially when the text is tied inextricably to the music, as it often is. One can argue it is not what the composer intended. But the tradeoff may be a fair one. The Met Magic Flute, though a tad odd-sounding at times (and I don't even speak German!) and missing some beautiful music (it was abridged as well as in translation) was a thoroughly charming piece of work.



*Sorry purists – it will take too long for me to look up all the proper accents using a character map, so this post will be sans marks!

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