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Translating Wagner: A Multimodal Stylistic Challenge

posted on 15.01.2018, 15:59 authored by Karen Tamara Wilson-deRoze
The translator tasked with providing a metrical (singing) translation of an opera libretto must consider that the opera, as a Gestalt, is ‘other’ than the sum of its individual verbal, musical and mimic-scenic parts and requires the translator to consider how the ‘web of relationships’ (Snell-Hornby, 1995: 450) between them is affected when one part is altered through translation. Translation, in this case, must go beyond copying the original prosody and rhyme schemes, so that the new words fit the notes, and consider the relationship between musical and poetic meaning as well as the resulting dramatic action on stage. As a composer, Richard Wagner was concerned with every thread in the semiotic web of his operas. He wrote the words and the music, provided copious stage directions, was involved with the production of his works, and went as far as building his own theatre at Bayreuth. His lengthy, and at times convoluted, theorising about the synthesis of poetry, music and the scenic-mimetic in his operas, serves as something of a functional blueprint of multimodality. In his 1851 monograph, Oper und Drama (1914a, 1914b), Wagner explains how musico-poetic synthesis is created through Versmelodie (verse-melody), from which melody grows organically, facilitated by the “direct sensory appeal” of alliteration, concision and free rhythm (Stein, 1960: 69). This thesis examines the “nexus of foregrounding” (Peer, 1986: 16) found in Wagner’s Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung and considers how three translations used in performance (Jameson c.1899, Porter 1977, Sams 2006) and my own respond to Wagner’s synthesis of verse and music. It will consider the constraints and influences which shape the translator’s recreation of Wagner’s musico-poetic style. My translation of these two operas from the Ring cycle has been produced for the aim of performance but unlike those of Jameson, Porter and Sams, they prioritize alliterative rhyme as an essential part of the musico-poetic intersemiosis.



Malmkjaer, Kirsten; Fayard, Nicole

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School of Modern Languages

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University of Leicester

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