Watching opera often also means reading supertitles – translations of opera text projected on a screen high enough for the whole audience to see. It’s a debated subject. Are supertitles needed or antiquated? While you’ll enjoy the opera whether you speak the language being sung or not, supertitles help you follow along.
Linda Zoolalian knows this well. A fan of opera since she saw a production of La Bohème as a teenager, Zoolalian runs supertitles for LA Opera (a position she has held since 2003). Working supertitles has strengthened her belief that the marriage between voice and text is vital to effect emotion in audience members.
Imagine being unable to know what Canio says when he distressingly sings, “Vesti la giubba e la faccia infarina. La gente paga, e rider vuole qua. E se Arlecchin t’invola Colombina, ridi, Pagliaccio, e ognun applaudirà!” (which next to the anthem by Queen is arguably the best song about “the show going on” ever written)? Thanks to Zoolalian, audience members watching the upcoming production of Pagliacci will know Canio says, “Put on your costume, powder your face. The people pay to be here, and they want to laugh. And if Harlequin shall steal your Columbina? Laugh, clown, so the crowd will cheer!”
Zoolalian likes shows that are challenging. This includes last season’s The Ghosts of Versailles and Figaro 90210, the latter of which had 1300 titles and non-stop cues (Zoolalian prepared the cues and Dominic Domingo cued the show which involves manually running each cue). Zoolalian says Ghosts presents a challenge, because “it’s sung in English and the audience knows when there’s a mistake.” She relies a lot on her ears as she cannot clearly see the stage. There may be times when a singer comes in early or later. Zoolalian has to always stay focused and know the opera like the back of her hand.
Interestingly enough, Zoolalian recounts a time during a Tosca rehearsal when a slew of large moths flew onto her desk as she was cueing. One landed right on her score, preventing her from cueing. She motioned for someone to come and quickly help her remove the moths, but a few cues were missed. Luckily, it was only a tech rehearsal and no moths were present during the run of the show that season.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.