|Andrei Valenty as Prince Gremin in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin|
Boilshoi Belarus Opera & Ballet at Birgitta Festival 2016
photo Heiti Kruusmaa
Perhaps classic examples are the Puccini arias which I still think of as Thy tiny hand is frozen ('Che gelida manina' from La Boheme) and One fine day ('Un bel di' from Madama Butterfly). I have not heard either used in performance recently, but I first came across these when listening to my mother's record collection, and Thy tiny hand is frozen still comes to my ear in Heddle Nash's voice. The recordings of these two operas in Chandos's Opera in English series reflected the classic status of these English translations and both La Boheme and Madama Butterfly use modern revisions of classic translations, thus giving us 'Your tiny hand is frozen' and 'One fine day'.
|Rita Hunter, Norman Bailey|
Wagner The Valkyrie - ENO 1970
Another translation (or set of translations) which I admired are those which Andrew Porter did for The Ring of the Nibelungen, and for Tristan and Isolde. Those of The Ring were created for ENO's Ring cycle in the 1970's conducted by Reginald Goodall, and here I have to admit that I came to know the translations off record. When I heard the operas, when ENO was on tour in Manchester in the 1970s the English text did not come over very well in the theatre, but then we were sitting in the cheapest seats in the Gods. More recent performances at ENO have favoured a more contemporary less classical style, but I enjoy the poetry of Porter's translations, and it was heartening to hear his translation in use for the recent performances at ENO of Tristan and Isolde.
Of course translations can often impede the style of production too. I have lost count of the number of operettas whose subtlety has been marred by translations which seem to take Gilbert's word for Sullivan as a model. It would be interesting to return to the translations created for Wendy Toye's Offenbach productions for Sadlers' Wells Opera in the 1960s and see how they have weathered.
Perhaps too many modern directors are wary of the text having a poetic memorability which might distract the audience from the message of the production.