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The Debate Over Surtitles and Their Effect on the Future of Opera

supertitle

The use of surtitles (or supertitles) during opera performances is over 30 years old, however there is still controversy on whether they are necessary or not. Some argue they are distracting and take focus away from the music, while others say surtitles are responsible for the survival of opera and have caused a major shift in audience demographics.

Former director of surtitles and dramaturg at New York City Opera and a creator of surtitles for the Metropolitan Opera, Cori Ellison, believes instant translations have made opera more accessible and have helped introduce opera to a new generation of potential fans, stating “…opera would be in a lot worse shape in terms of audiences coming to it.” (Source)

supertitles graph

Poll with responses from WQXR listeners/ blog readers

Writer for WQXR’s blog Operavore and opera expert, Fred Plotkin, has a contrasting opinion. He agrees projected translations fill seats, but “…they do not necessarily bring people closer… to opera.” He says surtitles have become “a crutch” and causes audiences to focus more on the plot, while the musical aspect becomes “…marginalized to being one element in the larger picture rather than being the main reason opera lovers go to live performances.” (Source)

One thing these two opera fans can agree on is the transformation opera has made due to the use of surtitles. With more people being exposed to opera through TV, DVD and stage performances, it has transitioned from a musical art form to a theatrical art form. “Now the perception is different,” said Ellison. “Nobody’s going to put that toothpaste back in the tube.”

What do you think?

Click here for Ellison’s interview about surtitles.

Click here for more of Plotkin’s opinion.

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