First experience in libretto translation

First experience in libretto translation

by Helen Daniels

In November 2021 Andrei approached me asking if I could write an English libretto translation for a Russian aria which he had composed. Having no previous experience of working with libretti, I must admit I was nervous to take on the challenge. However, as someone with a passion for both opera and the English language, I hoped I would be up to the task.

With that in mind I set about creating a translation for ‘The Greatness’, the final aria heard in ‘Barabbas’. Using online translation tools, I aimed to construct a text that was loyal to the original libretto written by Vladimir Alkhovik, yet ebbed and flowed with the natural nuance of English language. I found Andrei’s music incredibly emotive and, unsurprisingly (!), well written for the voice. Creating an English libretto for this aria proved not to be so difficult!

Of course, writing a libretto translation for a single aria and writing a libretto translation for an entire opera are two very different things. In February 2022 Andrei asked whether I could write a full English libretto translation of his opera, ‘Barabbas’. Having enjoyed working so much on ‘The Greatness’, I agreed. We discussed the importance of the story of Barabbas and how the themes of revolution, sacrifice, family and love have as much meaning now in the 21st century as they did in 33 AD.

I hoped I would be able to write a text that expressed these concepts within the overarching story of Barabbas’ rebellion and Christ’s great sacrifice. I was raised in a Catholic family, meaning I was already very familiar with the stories of the opera’s leading characters - Barabbas, Pontius Pilate and Christ.

After writing an initial draft text Andrei and I worked collaboratively to transfer my libretto to the score. In places I adapted what I had written to sound more natural for the music and the voices, and elsewhere Andrei altered his scoring to suit my translation.

I believe we’ve created something moving and engaging with pertinent meaning for both Christians and non-Christians alike. I am excited to take this work into its next phase and get a sense of how the libretto lives and breathes when the performers bring it off the page in rehearsals. As a native English speaker, I will be on hand to give pronunciation and diction coaching as and when required.

The joy of creating a work such as this is that it can develop and evolve at every stage. With the librettist and composer present in rehearsals, alterations and adaptations can easily be made. The final product which will be a truly collaborative endeavor and I look forward to continuing on this journey and seeing how Barabbas will progress over the months to come.
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