Parlando: The COC Blog


The Opera That Changed My Life: The Tale of SURTITLES™

New technologies constantly allow us to absorb information and ideas where we had previously lacked exposure. In this regard, the opera world has become much more accessible in the past several decades. With the company's invention of SURTITLES™, the technology which provides a simultaneous translation of an opera’s text projected over the proscenium arch, the Canadian Opera Company transformed the opera-going experience.

Michael and Linda Hutcheon

Going to the opera once meant a lot of work: first, you had to read the libretto (and often in translation); then you had to listen to recordings (vinyl, of course); then you had to listen to the recording with the libretto; then you were ready. All of that changed in January of 1983. Our date with a one-act, two-hour violent domestic squabble in German was accompanied by something brand new—a running translation projected across the top of the proscenium. SURTITLES™ had been invented for the COC’s production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra. What would have been quasi-incomprehensible without the above preparatory work became a riveting drama in real time that kept us on the edge of our seats. Despite the rear-guard disapproval of some conservatives who saw themselves as opera “purists,” SURTITLES™ quickly spread around the world, making the art form newly accessible, no matter one’s language limitations. SURTITLES™ are now a significant part of what makes ours a “golden age” of opera.


Above: the first ever use of SURTITLES™ in the COC's 1983 production of Elektra.

Michael and Linda Hutcheon are both long-time supporters of the COC, with Linda currently serving on the Board of Directors. Michael is a pulmonologist and professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and Linda is university professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto. Together, through their diverse professional backgrounds and shared love of opera, they have written several books on opera and medical culture.

Photo credits: Scenes from Elektra (COC, 1983), photos by Michael Cooper.

Posted by Tanner Davies / in TOTCML / comments (0) / permalink

Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001



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