The Verge on OSO’s use Google Glass supertitles!
In 1983, at a showing of Strauss’ Elektra, the Canadian Opera Company changed opera forever. It introduced a concept that its creator termed surtitles, which projected translated lyrics alongside the performers. It allowed viewers to read the dialogue as they heard it sung in German, rather than having to read the plot beforehand or buy a paper libretto with the text. It also launched a veritable culture war.
To some, projections allowed audiences to appreciate operas on a new level. To others, they were a pointless, tasteless, even “pathetic” distraction. Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine was quoted in 1985 saying that the Met would show surtitles (often known as supertitles) “over my dead body.” But today, supertitles are ubiquitous. Levine himself came around in 1995, when seat-back systems let individual patrons turn the titles off. A technology that was once despised had become indispensable.
The underlying lesson is not lost on Eric Einhorn, the founder and artistic director of On Site Opera. The New York-based company, founded in 2012, performs operas that eschew the traditional stage. For its latest project — an adaptation of Rameau’s Pygmalion performed amidst wax statues and mannequins — it tested a new kind of translation, projected not on a wall but on the lens of Google Glass. Working with veteran supertitling company Figaro Systems, On Site Opera streamed its lyrics through a web app called MobiText, allowing them to be played on Glass or a cellphone. It’s not just an experiment, it’s a way for On Site Opera to expand beyond an English-only repertoire. “There are some companies that do translations in English, singing translations, and that’s not something that we want to do. We like the idea of doing it in the original language,” says Einhorn. But the venues it picks — including Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club and the Bronx Zoo — can’t effectively support projectors. “It became a real question for us — how do we do that? How do we get titles to people effectively?”