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