PSA: The Opera Has Subtitles So I Have No Excuse to Be a Cultureless Rube Anymore

While I’ve been too busy in the first three decades of my life to squeeze in attending the opera, I have somehow managed to find the time to make wild assumptions about the opera, namely that it wasn’t for me.

I love a musical (save for a certain self-entitiled end-of-the-millenium classic) but I just assumed that I wouldn’t be able to connect with an opera performance. I don’t speak Italian (I know, mama mia!) and given that I was barely able to keep up with what was happening during the Taming of the Shrew at Bard this summer (wait, which one is supposed to be Julia Styles’ 10 Things I Hate About You character again?) I’ve jumped to the conclusion that I would be sitting through three hours of high-brow nonsense.

“But music transcends all language,” you’re probably saying—or maybe singing, to prove a point?—to the computer screen right now. Maybe, but I have enough trouble keeping my mind from wandering during a particularly long guitar solo at a Vampire Weekend concert (when did Ezra Koenig get so jammy, by the way?). I’m a wordsmith! Me likely talky! So yes, I understand conceptually that I shouldn’t need to literally know what’s going on in an opera to know what’s going on, but here we are, 30 (plus) years into somehow never making it to the opera, just hoping someone will adapt the important ones into a graphic novel or something instead so I can just speed read it on the bus.

Now, though, I’m ready to break my streak, thanks to a stunning revelation that you probably all knew about already and didn’t tell me: the opera is subtitled. Well, technically they call it “surtitling,” because it’s actually above the action, projected on top of the stage, but to this culture-less rube, that’s potato potatoe. 

This empowering technology is a Canadian invention, created in 1983 and revealed to me personally three days ago as I got a sneak peek at the set of La Traviata at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Yes, the passionate young opera performers were hyping up the show (“It’s basically just like Moulin Rouge!”) and the Roaring ’20s-inspired sets and costumes were absolutely stunning and the promise of a Lady Gaga-level spectacle was intriguing— but the information that I could follow along in plain English is the real game changer for me. 

Vancouver Opera’s performance of La Traviata runs until October 27. I’ve got my tickets for next Sunday. And I’m already 100-percent sure this is going to be the very best opera I’ve ever read.