Book review
Gottfried R. Marshall, dir. La traduction des livrets: Aspects théoriques, historiques et pragmatiques
Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2004. 663 pp. ISBN 2-84050-328-X € 35 (Musiques / Écritures).

Reviewed by Dinda L. Gorlée
The Hague

Table of contents

Vocal translation breaks new and adventuring ground in the impressive range of Translation Studies today. This artistic skill has been constantly practiced by musicologists or singers. They had no translational practice, but were actively involved in the performance of singability to create (or better, metacreate) musicoverbal lyrics of musical genres. This book about the translation of the music-word symbiosis is written in French (with a few articles in other languages) focusing on the translation of the text of opera libretti. This volume offers the non-French speakers an insight in vocal translation of opera from a French perspective, often using French references on “international” composers, such as Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Offenbach. The editor of the Proceedings, Gottfried R. Marshall (Paris) wrote the introduction, meaningfully subtitled “Traduire l’opéra: quel défi!”. Vocal translation is not only a real challenge in defiance of the “general” translator, with no training in musical backgrounds yet “guidé par son flair autant que par son métier” (p. 13). Vocal translation is also a confrontational challenge as seen in Roman Jakobson’s intersemiotic translation-theoreticians. Both challenges help to judge the effects of translated libretti according to dramatic and operatic traditions. Marshall is theoretically guided by, among others, Klaus Kaindl’s multimedial text (1995), rooted in Katharina Reiß (1995: 68ff.), where the vocal translator is a (semiotic) mediator between text and music (pp. 13–14). Practically, the (sub)division of the articles in La traduction des livrets raises some classificatory problems, since the subtitle, Aspects théoretiques, historiques et pragmatiques, represents the broad framework of this collective book, but according to Marshall, the social allusions of words, geographical connotations in the libretto, “couleur locale” of the target language vs. source language, as interplayed in the translated lyrics of opera libretti, perform a functional [ p. 192 ]role to deal with by both the translators and the critics. Social “exoticism” in the vocal translation would in fact also integrate the political attitudes of alienness: Marshall’s examples are Carmen, Boris Godunov, Porgy and Bess, but see also the performances today of Madama Butterfly, Der Freischütz, and Three penny opera.

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