A Supertitle Sunday

Photo by Eric Melear

My Easter Sunday was probably not like yours.

In my down time yesterday morning (I’ve been a church musician for 47 years, so this isn’t my first rodeo…), I tried to catch up on work by writing supertitles. But it was a little disorienting to sandwich Scarpia between services, and translating Tosca while in a church does create a bit of psychic dissonance.

Random thoughts:

Scarpia is evil in more ways than any of us give him credit for. And Puccini’s ability to encompass this wickedness and the glorious text of the Te Deum in a single piece of music is breathtaking.

No one who translates Tosca can avoid a wry chuckle when approaching “Ma falle gli occhi neri” in Act I. Thirty-three years ago (!), when supertitles were in their infancy, a well-meaning translation of this line backfired. Of course, Tosca is asking her Mario to re-paint the blue eyes in the Madonna’s portrait so they look more like her own dark eyes. Unfortunately, the “Give her black eyes” translation became legend.

It was a walk in the park to translate this opera on the heels of having finished supertitles for Romanelli’s libretto for Rossini’s Pietra del paragoneThe Italians of 1900 are a lot easier to understand than the ones from 1812… [Oh, and P.S. if anyone can suggest a good modern-day translation for civetta (screech owl) yelled in the context of a cat fight, leave it in the comments.]

Photo by Eric Melear









That’s a good one. :) I hesitate a bit because I wonder if a typical 21st century audience would recognize it. Those of us immersed in opera and mythology would get it for sure. And perhaps I underestimate my audience!

Stephanie van Reigersberg

Flirt! As in…Fa la civetta con il mio marito..

Joel E Hoffman

Anyone giving up a summer Sunday afternoon to see a Rossini opera no one ever heard of must surely know what a harpy is. In any case, I think the term is a reasonably common synonym for “shrew.”

And please don’t tell me you think even Shakespeare might be outside the audience’s ken. Have you noticed their typical age?

I await your final choice with bated breath, if necessary until June 25.


Good points, Joel. As for the typical age of the audience, well, it’s an unavoidable reality, but I’m always keenly aware of trying to avoid doing things that contribute to the reluctance of younger people (and non-Shakespeareans, for that matter:)) feeling at home in our opera house.


Thanks Stephie! “Flirt” is a safe option, but it somehow doesn’t have as many fangs in it as this scene calls for :)


“Hussy” seems like it might go with the costume style? Also vixen, floozy, tease, or (gasp) tramp?

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