Translating Wagner - A Stylistic Multimodal Challenge. A Translation and Commentary


  • Karen Tamara Wilson-deRoze Translation Studies, Leicester


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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 relationships 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, Wagner explains how musico-poetic synthesis is created through Versmelodie (verse-melody), from which melody grows organically, facilitated by the immediate auditory appeal of alliteration, concision and free rhythm.

This thesis examines the nexus of foregrounding 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 translations of these two operas from the tetralogy "Der Ring des Nibelungen" 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.






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