In keeping with the MLA 2022 conference theme of Multilingual US, the
Executive Committee of the Media Studies Forum on Opera and Musical
Performance has announced the following guaranteed session:
Found in Translation: Opera Among Languages
Many libretti are written in a language other than that of their source
text. What interesting results arise from the movement between languages
(as well as into a musical register) in operatic production and reception?
It is common for those familiar with the original of a work – or sometimes
merely a phrase – to complain that something was “lost in translation.” Yet
is it not also possible for the new exposure made possible by the
translation to offer opportunities that seemed untenable for the original?
Sometimes a work of literature gains great prominence in its own language
but only leaps into melody or to the stage after being translated into
another. Perhaps just as often an established work in one language is
adapted and gains greater or renewed interest in another, its new audience
sometimes unaware of the work’s “other life.” For reasons not fully
explored, English language composers refrained from making operas of
Shakespeare’s *Othello* or *Macbeth*, yet Verdi created unforgettable
operas to enduring acclaim in Italian. Hugo’s *La dame aux Camélias* only
found its operatic incarnation in Italian as Verdi’s *La Traviata*,
although Verdi wrote other operas in French. Likewise, why is it that
Thomas Mann’s *Tod in Venedig* only came to the operatic stage in English
as Britten’s *Death in Venice*? Indeed, the very reimagining of the work as
an opera is a form of translation.
It might be important to distinguish between the examples above and what
may be termed opportunistic translations – one can find an Italian setting
of, for example, *Tristan und Isolde*, and of course English translations
of Mozart’s *Le nozze di Figaro* and *Die Zauberflöte*. As helpful as these
are to introducing a greater audience to major cultural monuments, they
must be seen differently, as they were undertaken without the inspiration
of the original work’s composer or librettist.
Deadline for submissions: Monday, 15 March 2021
Send 200-word abstracts and brief bios to John Pendergast, Russian Program
Director, West Point United States Military Academy (john.pendergast -at-
The 2022 MLA Annual Convention will be held in Washington, DC, from 6 to 9
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