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I received an email from an audience member asking why we were producing The Marriage of Figaro in English. This is a legitimate question and I take for granted if one person is asking, there are another hundred silently wondering the same thing.

The fact is, Opera Atelier has always produced comedy in English whenever possible. I firmly believe that comedy moves at a different pace than tragedy. There is less time for the audience to reflect on what is being said, rather the audience is drawn in to rapid-fire dialogue, particularly in eighteenth century scenarios. Revelations (such as Figaro discovering Marcellina is his mother) are instantaneous, word games involving sexual innuendo occur frequently and punch lines race by as fast as the actors can deliver them.

When we are forced to rely on surtitles during comic performances the audience is frequently ahead or behind the actor’s delivery. It is simply impossible for the surtitle operator to stay in perfect sync with the actors’ recitative. As a result, the actors on stage are left dealing with laughter occurring before a punch line is delivered or long after it hit its mark! The actor’s comic timing and spontaneity are compromised when the audience is reacting to the written text rather than to the actor’s delivery.

Translation was the order of the day in the eighteenth century. All of Mozart’s operas were translated into multiple languages so that they could be enjoyed by the extremely demanding and discriminating audiences of his day. What with expert translators such as Jeremy Sams at our disposal, we are happy to do the same.

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