Words, Music, Opera
Opera buffs have conducted a spirited debate over the merits of the Metropolitan Opera’s new “Met Titles” system, introduced in October, in which line-by-line English translations of libretti are flashed on computer-controlled screens mounted on the backs of seats. But the debate, while interesting, is also meaningless. All of the arguments for titles are cogent; all of the arguments against them are cogent; and all are irrelevant.
In America as elsewhere, opera is a cruelly expensive business; in this country in particular, it is undertaken with the most modest of subsidies, meaning in effect that it must pay its way. In the entire modern history of opera, titles have done more than anything else to increase the size of the audience. Hence, their survival is assured. Like them or not—and most operagoers appear to like them very much—titles are here to stay.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.