Stage & Scene | Supertitles | Modern Era | Opera

Now an accepted part of going to any opera house, one of the more controversial additions to opera during the twentieth century was that of ‘supertitles’, the projection of a translation of the libretto to help audience members to understand the words that are being sung. Although supertitles are usually projected above the stage – antagonizing some lighting designers who are concerned about the light bleeding onto the stage and into the house – some venues feature them on small screens that are built into the backs of the theatre seats. The advantage of these built-in titles is that viewers have the option to turn them on or off, and in many houses they can also select a preferred language.

Since the size, acoustic or layout of certain opera houses already sets great challenges for singers’ audibility (English National Opera’s Coliseum is one example) even before one tackles the challenge of creating crystalline diction, it is often beneficial for supertitles to be used for English-language productions too. Marilyn Horne has even used them in her Lieder masterclasses.

While one concern is that supertitles can divert attention from the action or a singer’s nuanced performance, audience members soon adjust to focusing on the stage while noting the translation simultaneously. There is little doubt that supertitles can help new audiences to enter the world of opera – particularly people who might otherwise be intimidated by the idea of hearing words sung in a language that is unfamiliar to them.


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