by Ken Jakobs

Opera in translation

"is, in the main, just about as sensible as baseball in Italian."

-H. L. Mencken

With all due respect to Mr. Mencken, I couldn't disagree more. I believe most members of the audience in this country have a richer theatrical experience and are much more engaged, when they hear opera in their native tongue. In fact, there is no comparison between having a general idea of what someone is singing about, and comprehending each word as it is sung. The former can be beautiful; the latter, electrifying! Just ask any American singer who has sung the same role here in translation and in Italian.

In recent years, supertitles have all but obliterated opera in translation in this country. It is, incidentally, alive and well in the U.K., as is opera in the vernacular in Europe, though to a much lesser extent than in the past. Supertitles are certainly beneficial for those who don't know the libretto, but opera should be much more than a great read! Translation may offend purists, but I believe that an opera performance should be a living thing, not an historical reproduction.

I agree that most singing translations of Italian operas are not very successful. It takes a special set of skills to do it well: theatrical, musical, literary and poetic. My gold standard is that an opera performing translation should fit the music and the drama so perfectly, that it seems to the audience as if the opera was originally written in English! I strive to achieve that.

My performing translations are not just literary exercises. As an opera singer, producer and director, I have developed a keen appreciation for the dramatic elements of these pieces. My English translations are characterized by their theatrical vigor, emotional depth, humor, perfect synchrony of words and music, and for comedies, flawless rhyme schemes.

I invite you to use the links on the left to view my current offerings, and some samples of my work.