Thursday, May 13, 2010

Supertitles Altercation at Opera Hong Kong

Sometimes I think that opera supertitles can be distracting instead of helpful, but here's a report from the Financial Times of an actual disturbance created by the supertitles at a recent performance Manon at Opera Hong Kong:
the translations ... sparked a near 10-minute altercation during the performance when an audience member began shouting in Mandarin that he couldn’t read the supertitles – Hong Kong uses traditional characters rather than the simplified form mandated on the mainland – while other people around him began calling equally loudly in Cantonese for his ejection from the hall.


y2k said...

Thanks for alerting us of this article. Apparently FT doesn't think this article deserves a tweet.

What happened was really a shame and an embarrassment! Perhaps the Opera Hong Kong venue should consider investing in personal screens?

While I prefer the presence of supertitles, I loathe the display systems used by the 2 opera companies in Boston. They offer 2 large flat screen TVs on both sides of the proscenium; but they are still tiny and awkward to read from my slightly-better-than-nosebleed seat.

Axel Feldheim said...

Yes, how negligent of the FT to bury this obviously significant article in its back pages. Given the small number of performances put on by Opera Hong Kong, I doubt that having personal screens in 3 languages is a priority.

The SF Opera started with supertitles over the stage, then switched to supertitles on either side of the stage, as you seem to have in Boston, then went back to supertitles over the stage. For selected performances, we also have large screens in the balcony, so that people in the nosebleed section can see live video close-ups of the action onstage, in the manner of a stadium rock show.

y2k said...

I have never been to the War Memorial Opera House, but I know it's much larger than the Boston venues (about 2x the size). I can imagine whereever the placement of supertitles (be it on top of the proscenium or on the sides) will be inconvenient to some audience.

I guess your idea of no supertitles could be the solution, just like those good ole days at the Met before they installed the fancy Met Titles.

Axel Feldheim said...

I think placement at the top of the stage provides the best over-all visibility, though I believe that stage designers dislike this arrangement as it interferes with the look of the set. At least with the Met titles one can simply turn them off & so not be distracted at all, which I have done on a couple of occasions. It is nice to be reminded that good singers & good direction communicate the dramatic situations just fine without us having to know the exact words they are singing.

y2k said...

Oooops, my last sentence in my previous comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. It's amazing that I still enjoy operas despite (years ago) suffering through 4+ hours of Les Troyens at the Met without knowing anything about the music. That was my first trip to the Met and I didn't know there would be no supertitles. Talk about how ignorant I was!

David Lasson said...

Thank you for this tidbit and for including a link to the original article on the FT site.

I have come to rely on supertitles more than I really ought to admit; indeed, I no longer prepare as I once did for a night at the opera. I was quite indignant the other evening when I attended a Mannes College production of Cosi at Hunter, where no titles were on offer. (I did return the following evening for an encore performance, the title situation notwithstanding.)

As to MET titles, I find it awkward in the extreme to have to continually change my focus from title to stage. The purists have had their way long enough; it is high time we Philistines took matters into our own sweaty hands and wrested the titles from the seat backs and placed them where our heathen god clearly intended: nestled squarely in the proscenium arch.

Axel Feldheim said...

David: It's totally true that we no longer need to do homework before going to the opera nowadays, & that is not a bad thing. I assume you showed up for the 2nd night of Cosi with libretto in hand?

No doubt the Met has a form letter on file in response to requests to move the supertitles to a more convenient location. I believe it begins, "Dear Sweaty Philistine."

y2k: The question is, would you sit through Les Troyens again? Or perhaps you already have!

y2k said...

Ha ha, good question. No, I haven't seen another performance of Les Troyens since. I suspect subconsciously, I am still suffering from PTSD every time I hear the name "Berlioz"!

Axel Feldheim said...

How unfortunate. I suppose that means that Robert Lepage's production of The Damnation of Faust at the Met is also out of the question.