Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Italian Job

Before I write about my Barbarina coaching this week, I guess I should finally blog about how I’ve been working on the Italian, see as how I’ve been saying I would do that for, oh, weeks! So, here’s what I’m doing:

I’m a fairly visual learner, so the more different ways I can get the text in front of me, the better. I started by (re-)reading the opera plot synopsis in my Grove Dictionary of Opera to make sure I had the order of events right in my head. Reading the original play helped with this, too, especially since so much of the Italian is translated almost word for word from the French (which meant that both English translations were almost identical).

I then picked up my Nico Castel Mozart Libretti book and read through the opera. These books are invaluable. Every line of the opera is laid out with a word for word translation and an IPA transcription, along with interesting side notes and tidbits. As I read, I treat it as a language exercise, paying close attention to words that appear often, verb forms, pronouns, etc.. This is rather slow going, but I’m reading for detail in this case, language detail, as opposed to general story. Since I haven’t officially studied Italian, this is part of my class. If there are words whose interpretations or conjugations I question or don’t understand, I look them up in my It-Eng dictionary and/or 501 Italian Verbs book.

Next – and this is the fun part for the former secretary in me – I find a copy of the libretto online and cut and paste it into a Word document. After playing with the formatting a bit and getting my tabs worked out (dork!), I type the translation, again paying attention to the language. I’m not just typing English words at 70wpm; I’m watching each word and it’s Italian counterpart, making them match up in my mind. I do this for the entire opera, not just my parts (of course, there isn’t much in Nozze that doesn’t involve Susanna!).

When I’m finished, it looks like this: (Click to enlarge.)These documents (one for each act, printed and stapled) are then carried around with me and read and read and read. When I’m home, I read them aloud. The information has been processed several times through my filters, through my brain, so it feels different than reading Castel’s translation or someone else’s. It’s mine, I relate to it, so it sticks better. At least, that’s my theory.

And now I’m in the middle of writing all of this into my score. Again, it’s not brainless writing, it’s processing exactly which English words match with which Italian words and what they are all coming together to say. It sounds tedious, but I’m kind of loving it. I can feel my learning curve getting shorter (steeper?).

So here’s my summary, very briefly, of how I’m learning all this Italian:
1. Read plot synopsis.
2. Read source material.
3. Read libretto translation in Castel libretto book.
4. Copy libretto into Word document, type in translation from Castel, continuing language analysis.
5. Read it over and over and over again! Aloud, preferably.
6. Write the translation into the score, word for word, not poetic.

As you see, there is nary a mention of singing or music in this process. The notes will come easily, especially since so many of the ensembles are familiar to me. The text needs my focus for these first few months. Then, once it has started to settle, it’ll be a matter of singing it over and over and over again instead of reading it aloud. I’ve learned some great tools in my coachings that will help the recit settle (I’m already feeling it with Barbarina, a command of the language), but more on that later.


Campbell Vertesi said...

This is almost exactly what I do... though I hadn't thought to TYPE the translation. Here I've been fighting hand cramps with WRITING the thing out! At least basses don't get too wordy.

Pardon me while I plagiarize and post about this on my own site. :)

David said...

Greetings from Seattle, AC!

I'm currently slogging through two new roles, each with a fair amount of Italian. For me, it has to be handwritten in order to seep into the brain. Too many years of being a typist, perhaps. I love hearing details about other singers' techniques - keep sharing!

I have a recommendation for you that also makes a great excuse to spend time in Italy: Italian is easy and fun to learn at the level that you need for comprehension of dialog! You may not be translating 17th century libretti after a year, but you certainly will be able to understand Figaro! And knowing the grammar can only help with delivery...

giorgia said...

Hey, I think I already said so some time ago, or maybe not, can't remember (brain like a sieve...), anyway if you need help with your Italian feel free to ask! :)

p.s.: David - this is the first time ever I've heard (alright, read... ah, whatevs.) somwbody saying "Italian is easy and fun to learn". Could I please quote you to my two half-English cousins whose Italian is so bad people find it hard to believe their dad is Italian and always spoke to them in Italian at home when they were little? Thanks. :)

Kim said...

The part about finding the libretto online, copying and pasting, and micromanaging tabs and columns is exactly what I do to set myself up to write supertitles for an opera. Yes, it's kinda sick how that part of the process also appeals to OCD tendencies...

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