Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Turkisch. Oper kann das!"

The question of subtitles, surtitles, English-or-no-English... is back on the table every now and then.

In theaters with a huge stage, such as the one at Opera Bastille in Paris, the surtitles are often a laughing matter. They are displayed like 5-6 meters above the stage floor and if you're seated in any of the first 15-20 rows, it is impossible to read the surtitle and see what's going on onstage. If you're far away, instead, then you see well the surtitles and can continuously watch the show but you're so far from the stage that  you miss most of the details/subtleties of the dramatic action [if there's any, that is!]

In Paris, the surtitle display board is set up so high, that the folks seated in the back rows of the first balcony cannot see it at all (hidden by the second balcony) ---> those seats are cheap. To double/triple the price of these seats, the Paris Opera decided to lower the surtitle display by 1 meter or so. The folks in the front seats will still have to either keep pretending they didn't care about translation (ha!), or to keep looking up for some translation and hope not to miss any of the onstage action.

The most reasonable solution to the problem --in this type of theater, at least-- is the one implemented at Opera Weimar. There they opted for subtitles, that you read on the thickness of the stage-floor (that separates the stage from the pit). You see them from everywhere, and it's more pleasant to read because you don't miss any action while reading the translation.

Another solution is to have a display on a seat in front of you, such as the case at Komische Oper in Berlin: you can choose the language (German or English), or to turn it off altogether. The novelty at the Komische (a theater I love so dearly!) is that starting from 2011-2012 two extra language options will be added to the existing ones: French and Turkish. The latter decision made some buzz in the media: immigration is a hot issue everywhere in the Western world, and Turks represent the largest immigration in Germany. With Berlin counting more than 300,000 German-Turks, this evolution is  totally reasonable, and it only enhances my admiration for Andreas Homoki, the current artistic director of the Komische.