NEW YORK — The Metropolitan Opera, long the principal American holdout against the use of projected supertitles in live performance, is planning to reverse its policy "as soon as possible," according to Bruce Crawford, president of the Met's board of directors.
In a speech delivered to some of the Met's funders in June (and now printed in its entirety in the September issue of Opera News), Crawford said that management was "undertaking new efforts to render projected titles technically feasible at the Met."
"What stands in the way?" Crawford asked. "Not the intellectual arguments (titles are still superciliously referred to as 'idiot boards' by some professionals) but the technological barriers posed by the configuration of our theater."
Supertitles, which are similar to the subtitles used in foreign-language films, are generally projected on a strip of screen directly above the stage, and occasionally onto screens in other locations scattered through the opera house. Because the Met has an unusually high proscenium--five full stories, 54 feet from floor to ceiling--the projection of titles above the stage would result in very stiff necks for orchestra-level spectators.
"The height of the proscenium and the horseshoe layout present real barriers to visibility," Crawford acknowledged. "These problems, however, should not be insurmountable."
Calling titles an "imperfect and expedient tool," Crawford nevertheless insisted they were a "mechanism for encouraging opera-lovers to try new experiences." He cited such relatively unfamiliar operas as "Khovanschina" and "The Makropoulos Case" as works that would be made much more accessible with titles. "If the Met isn't going to restrict itself to the 'greatest hits' category, titles may be a necessity."
But Crawford added: "Limited use for non-mainstream repertory undoubtedly would lead to general use. A decision to employ them for some operas inevitably means they will be utilized for all operas. So be it. Times change."
The Los Angeles Music Center Opera has used supertitles since its inception in 1986 and they are used both at the San Diego Opera and the Opera Pacific in Orange County. The New York City Opera introduced supertitles to New York in 1983. Allowing an ongoing line-by-line translation of the operatic text, they are now common practice in most American opera houses. James Levine, the Met's artistic director, has on several occasions gone on record as vehemently opposed to the use of titles at the Met, although not within the past few years.
Levine could not immediately be reached for comment. But Crawford denied there was any schism between these two of the three most powerful administrators at the Met. "I can't speak for Levine but I think he's changed his mind about supertitles," Crawford said in an interview Wednesday. "I certainly have. I wasn't enthusiastic about them either, at first, but I've come around."