You’re probably not interested in hearing the involved backstory of this exciting post, but I’m going to tell you anyway.
Forty years ago, I was working for OPERA America, a service organization for opera companies. That was how I came by a commission from Lotfi Mansouri of the Canadian Opera Company to translate Tchaikovsky’s Russian libretto for his opera “Maid of Orleans.” To be sung in English, their production (1978) in Toronto and Ottawa was called more simply “Joan of Arc.” Attending its rehearsals, revelling in the performances, and lecturing about the work were the pinnacle of my academic career in Russian (which I’d abandoned some years before).
The next year (1979) David DiChiera of the Michigan Opera Theatre chose to mount another production, which I attended with greatest pleasure. And then the translation lay on my shelf for four decades. In January of this year, probably because forty years is a somehow hallowed cycle, I must have sensed that the iron was hot and decided to strike.
Out of the New Mexico blue I wrote a concise letter proposing that in view of the city’s great connection with La Pucelle de Orleans, the New Orleans Opera should do a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera. As encouragement, I added that the company would be welcome to use my English translation gratis.
Robert Lyall of NOO and I had phone conversations of great interest, and in May he called me to say that they had indeed decided to produce the opera in their 2019-2020 season—using my translation. I was totally delighted and offered to “polish” the translation up a bit—after forty years, I figured I might have matured a mite as a poet—especially the love duet…
So that’s my rather large whoop! JOAN OF ARC WILL RIDE AGAIN! Exact dates TBA.
“Polishing” the translation has been a renewed joy. I can still hear the singers from forty years ago singing the lines and can easily make the words sound better! Perversely, perhaps the most fulfilling part of re-translating is using my graphics program to set the printed language in the score. In 1978, over white-out tape, I had hand-printed the translation on the pages, quite legible but still sloppy. Now it looks for printed real!
I waited till July when my schedule with the YE GODS! show had normalized to start in on Joan again, and by the end of that month had completed Act I, which is one big honking act. This month I’ve been plugging along on the hefty Act II and hope to finish it in a couple weeks. Acts III and IV are shorter, about the length of Act II, so I’ll be able to knock them off in September. If the creek don’t rise…
For example, here is a page of the angels singing from Joan’s Aria with the Angels (the lines of which I included in my public library as an example of my translations). There were only minor language changes in this new version:
But that’s not all! Apropos YE GODS!, I fully intend to finagle somehow doing an exhibition at New Orleans’ Delgado Museum of Art (in City Park) at the same time as the Joan production (in the Mahalia Jackson Theater). Why not make it a double-barreled homecoming? Prodigal New Orleans son (more or less) and Tulane grad brings a spectacular opera and an exceptional art show back home!
I insist on thinking positively!