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Opera Surtitling as a Special Case of Audiovisual Translation

Towards a Semiotic and Translation Based Framework for Opera Surtitling


Anna Rędzioch-Korkuz

Despite the growing interest in various translation activities, there is still a potentially vast area of research. The statement may be true for opera surtitling, which was introduced in the nineteen eighties and has been used in opera companies worldwide ever since. This book aims to offer a theoretical framework for opera surtitling, based on several factors, including the semiotics of opera, relevance theory, or fundamental rules of audiovisual translation. The author provides a more illuminating insight by means of practical research into surtitling in Poland, which proves that surtitling is not as simple a task as it may seem, demanding a multimodal and multifaceted analysis of an audiovisual complex and requiring a constant struggle to guarantee optimal relevance of the surtitled performance.

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Chapter Two: Semiotic Foundations of Opera


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Chapter Two: Semiotic Foundations of Opera

2.1  Opera as a Semiotic Fact

It has been mentioned several times that opera should be interpreted as a complex phenomenon entailing the word, music and visual spectacle, the elements which create a harmonious balance. Opera was depicted as “a lavish combination of various signs” built upon “a rich variety of operatic elements”.

The following semiotic analysis of opera may help to discuss these elements. It should be seen as an introduction rather than a comprehensive study, demonstrating the signs of opera and their relations. The analysis is based on the terminology of modes of signification introduced by Peirce (1997), the classical distinction langue versus parole, syntagmatic versus paradigmatic introduced by Saussure (1991), as well as certain aspects of cultural semiotics of the Tartu-Moscow School of Semiotics and the semiotics of theatre by Fischer-Lichte (1983a; 1983b).

2.1.1  Langue and Parole in Opera

The classical distinction between langue and parole was established by Saussure (1991). Since then it has been widely applied to a large array of concepts not only strictly linguistic ones. It may be thus interpreted more broadly as the opposition between abstract system and specific usage or basic framework and an event. Here, it should be understood as the opposition between the Language of opera (the two terms should be then used interchangeably) and the specific performance as an example of concrete usage of the former.

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