And there is another inexcusable problem, which has to do with how the watch shapes the tone. The technical details would take too long to explain, but it’s clear that the rhythms of “Grow old with me” and “Don’t gently go to sleep” won’t produce the same kind of tunes. . Verdi had had a lifetime of experience imagining melodies for lines with seven, eight, or 10 syllables – but not nine syllables, which traditional Italian poetry does not use, and French does.
A very clear example is in that sad chant by the monks, heard at the beginning of Act II and recalled in the final act. Instrumental statements make it perfectly clear what Verdi thinks rhythm is and the Italian translation – provided in “otonario” meter (eight syllables) – allow it to be sung that way. But in the original French, an extra syllable had to be inserted, irregularly and somewhat awkwardly, in every second measure. The same problem affects the tenor aria and again the translator provides the familiar verse form from Verdi’s comfort zone, instead of “novenario” he has to go to Paris.
However, this is the policy of the devil. Yes, opera is generally better in French – but that’s a subtle edge. It emerges not from an obvious “gotcha” error, but as an accumulation of moments when the dramatic situation is precise in the original and lackluster in translation, where phrases breathe naturally as Verdi writes them. and must be rearranged or interrupted in Italian. It may affect the singer more than the listener, but the cumulative impact can be profound.
An example: King Philip and the Grand Inquisitor are discussing, with delicate caution, the inflammatory behavior of their son Philip Carlos. What punishment for his rebellion? ask the priest. “Tout – ou rien,” replied the king, “all – or nothing”. In Italian, to preserve those three lonely notes, he instead replied “Meo estrem” (“harsh measures”). He meant the choice between putting his son to death or allowing him to run away. God Himself, observing the holy man, chose him first.
All chilled in both languages. But the Italians are blunt, and the French are sharp. Multiply it by a hundred, and you have plenty of excuses for the Met’s massive shift after a century of epidemics. It is the time now.
Will Crutchfield, artistic director of Teatro Nuovo, performed “Don Carlos” in both Italian and French.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/arts/music/don-carlos-verdi-met-opera.html ‘Don Carlo’ or ‘Don Carlos’? Verdi came to meet in French