Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

"What then remains, but to bow your heads before such a wonder?"

I came very close to translating music. I did. The libretto is close, right? Right before Christmas, the New York Choral Society performed Hector Berlioz's L'enfance du Christ in Carnegie Hall, with supertitles translated by yours truly. The hall was packed. I was very lucky to be there.

There were some stunning reviews, and deservedly so, for the concert was fantastic. But one, this one, from Downtown Magazine, gave me such satisfaction. And I quote:

"The show’s epilogue was indelible all on its own. The whole company projected of Christ’s future and ultimate sacrifice with some very simple yet heart wrenching words: 'What then remains, but to bow your heads before such a wonder?'"

How could the reviewer possibly have known what was being said, without the supertitles projected for all the audience to see?

I don't need public acclaim for my work. It's nice, but I'd rather the notice fall on my work. The books, the poetry, the music, the work that should be seen and read and heard by as many people as possible.

So when people do notice the work, and especially when they notice it so seamlessly that they don't even consider there was a translator standing in between them and the original text, that is a very high compliment, indeed.

MA Meeting

(That's Musicaholics Anonymous.)

Hi, I'm Allison, and I'm addicted to music.

I think my music collection is too large.

I can't keep it organized. Not years ago, when tapes and CDs lined my bedroom shelves. Not now, even with iTunes and digital music.

For example, you'd think I'd know what was in my musical library, or at least have a vague idea. Yes, there are those times when friends give me 20 CDs worth of music all at once, but I generally know what they're giving me, even if it takes me months to get around to listening to all the new music.

But then I discover things that I had not the slightest clue that I possessed. It's a pleasant surprise, of course, but just a bit startling and confusing.

Three years ago, my first concert with a new chorus included the one-act opera "Cavalleria rusticana," which includes the heart-wrenching final tenor aria "Mamma, Quel Vino È Generoso." I had never heard this piece before. We were lucky enough to perform it with Roberto Alagna, a world-famous (and very attractive) tenor. After the concert, the aria was, of course, stuck in my head. I got home, typed "Cavalleria" into my iTunes search bar, looking for the rehearsal tapes we had been given to prepare for the concert. I also found that same aria. On a CD of operatic arias. By Roberto Alagna.


And now, it's happened again! Tomorrow, I go to perform Berlioz's "L'enfance du Christ," a wonderful holiday oratorio. The chorus has a lovely lullaby called "The Shepherds' Farewell" in the middle of the second part. It has, of course, been stuck in my head for weeks as we've been rehearsing this new-to-me music. But I wasn't even looking for it this time, I just have my 625-song Christmas playlist on shuffle. And what should come up, but the Illinois Brass Band's CD, which apparently includes a beautiful arrangement of that same tune, entitled "The Shepherds' Lullaby."

"Hey, I know that song!"

"Of course you do, dear, you're performing it tomorrow."

I also talk to myself. But that's another support group for another day.