Translations

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vinteuil
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Translations

Post by vinteuil »

This year's NASAT gave me a chance to articulate an opinion over which I've been mulling for some time. Take the following:
One character in this work sings a ballatella about the freedom of the birds in the scene following the "Bell Chorus." In another scene, a character shouts "Name of God! Those same words" after hearing a woman say "I will always be yours!" for the second time. After discovering his wife's infidelity, one character tells himself to "laugh at the grief that poisons your heart" and perform the aria's title action "because people have paid money and want to be amused." That aria, "Vesti la giubba," is sung by Canio, who stabs Nedda while she is playing the role of Columbine. For 10 points, name this Leoncavallo opera frequently performed alongside Cavalleria Rusticana.
or, even worse,
One character in this work gives orders for a trumpeter to watch the road from Seville from a tower, and then sings the aria “Ha! What a moment!” The first act ends with the chorus bidding farewell to warm sunlight, and the second act begins with a tenor singing an aria about the “spring days of life.” After singing an aria about the necessity of money, Rocco allows the title character to come and help him dig a grave for a man who was imprisoned by Don Pizarro. Marzelline falls in love with the title character, unaware that "he" is actually a woman in disguise, on a mission to save her husband Florestan. For 10 points, name this work about Leonore, the only opera by Beethoven.
I can certainly buzz on the clue "Ha! Welch ein Augenblick!" but the extra step of having to process "In des Lebens Frühlingstagen" in English turned this question into a buzzer race for the first character named in the question. Obviously, question writers find "Vesti la giubba" and "Casta Diva" more buzzable than "Put on the Jacket" and "Chaste Goddess."

This kind of question writing to me seems to reward people who read summaries without listening to the music, seeing the opera, or studying a full score (which rarely if ever contains a word-for-word translation)—it is natural to reward actually knowing what the singers are saying, but the vagaries of translation make this less useful. Googling "name of god those same words" displays purely wikipedia-based results—this is not the behavior we want to encourage.

I can understand that writers want to avoid narrowing down the range of answers by language, but these examples are a bit ridiculous. This, I think, applies to poetry, too—Baudelaire and Neruda are particularly egregious offenders. I can't see an easy solution, but we certainly should not be punishing players who experience these works in the original languages.
Jacob Reed (he/him/his)
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Muriel Axon
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Re: Translations

Post by Muriel Axon »

perlnerd666 wrote:This kind of question writing to me seems to reward people who read summaries without listening to the music, seeing the opera, or studying a full score (which rarely if ever contains a word-for-word translation)—it is natural to reward actually knowing what the singers are saying, but the vagaries of translation make this less useful. Googling "name of god those same words" displays purely wikipedia-based results—this is not the behavior we want to encourage.
When I listen to an opera, I'm usually reading along with the English translation of the libretto. I happen to understand barely any French, German, or Italian, and I'm infinitely more likely to get anything out of the English than the original, which is just gibberish to me. My personal preference is that we should promote actually knowing things about a work to having people memorize lines in a language they probably don't understand - and high school kids least of all.

It's true that many scores lack a word-for-word translation into English, but considering that the examples you provided were from NASAT - well, you could probably could the number of high school quiz bowlers who study opera from full scores on one hand. On the other hand, Wikipedia often gives the original language along with the translation, or just the original, for key bits of dialogue that are often asked (e.g. the "Si puo? Si puo?" from Pagliacci), so it's not like giving the English specifically caters to people who only study Wikipedia. I think this is a far smaller problem than you're making it out to be. I'm not sure who googles this kind of thing anyway.

I see no problem with giving the translation when the translation is more famous/buzzable (for everyone, not just you), and the original when the original is more famous. This means that for the most part, relatively long snippets of dialogue ought to be in English, while "Vesti la giubba" can stay like that. (It's also annoying for moderators to have to splurt out a whole bunch of rough German syllables in the middle of a question.)

Here's a question for anybody: Say you were writing a text clue for a question (undoubtedly for a hard tournament) on a work like Stravinsky's Les Noces (an example I had handy), whose most common full score printing has the original Russian (Cyrillic alphabet) and a French translation - what would you use?
Shan Kothari

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Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN)
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Re: Translations

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

I simply wouldn't write a textual clue unless it was something EXTREMELY notable. I also disliked those same clues used in NASAT for a lot of the same reason Jacob found them annoying - there's nobody out there who is actually going to buzz on them, and they aren't even helpful for you to establish context, because if you've ever seen a couple operas, you realize the libretti tend to be awful and have tons of exclamations like the ones used. These clues are essentially the same, in my opinion, as when people use clues about musical notes in a melody: there are a select few people who can buzz on those clues in the first place, there are a select few examples of those clues that are actually notable enough for somebody to buzz on, and there are a select few writers in quizbowl who actually have enough knowledge of the topic to make an informed judgement about how to select those clues. Unless you are one of those people and you have a totally awesome clue, don't bother finding specific text from an opera to quote, much less in a translated form where literally nobody will have encountered it in the real world (incase you can't tell, I think the translation clues are extra bad because nobody ever reads opera texts, there's never a canonical translation anybody uses, and thus you're denied even the one way that using a crappy piece of dialogue from an opera can actually help you figure out the answer, namely, by narrowing it down due to the language).
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Cheynem
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Re: Translations

Post by Cheynem »

I wrote the Pagliacci question. I am not an experienced opera question writer with little experience in opera, so I won't defend it if people with real knowledge didn't like it, but I will note:

1. Yes, the translation of the Pagliacci quote ("name of god! those same words!") probably varies by translation. However, in my reading of the opera (which is all I could do, not having a chance to view the opera), it wasn't specifically the quote but rather the gist of the plot (the protagonist reacting to hearing "those same words") that I was trying to express, and indeed I saw someone buzz on that clue (whether or not it was from real knowledge, I have no idea).

2. That's an interesting point about using the original language; I think I was trying to avoid linguistic fraud when I wrote it, but if that's not a problem in such questions, I'll defer.
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Auroni
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Re: Translations

Post by Auroni »

I thought that the rule of thumb was just to use whichever translation people are more likely to know? I don't particularly know about the German-language arias that Jacob was describing in his opening post, but maybe a compromise would be to use the German name for the aria and add a contextual clue, like "One character in this opera sings about the 'spring days of life' in 'In des Lebens Fruhlingstagen.'"
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Re: Translations

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Tokyo Sex Whale wrote:I thought that the rule of thumb was just to use whichever translation people are more likely to know?
That's not helpful when there's no translation people are most likely to know. Let me reiterate this as its own point: NOBODY reads libretti on their own. There is rarely an instance where you even publish translations of libretti (most opera albums don't have them, and when you go to the opera, they are never included in the programs). The only time most people will ever read an entire libretto is when they watch an opera and read the subtitles, and there's no way to tell whose translation they're using for that. I would posit that there is practically 0 real knowledge that these kinds of clues can reward other than, perhaps, specific VERY carefully selected pieces of extremely notable dialogue, because nobody is going to ever actually encounter those.
Charlie Dees, North Kansas City HS '08
"I won't say more because I know some of you parse everything I say." - Jeremy Gibbs

"At one TJ tournament the neg prize was the Hampshire College ultimate frisbee team (nude) calender featuring one Evan Silberman. In retrospect that could have been a disaster." - Harry White

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The King's Flight to the Scots
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Re: Translations

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots »

Oh boy, the music mafia is back in action.

I personally prefer to use original language titles when practical, but I raise an eyebrow whenever I hear somebody claim that it somehow rewards wikipedia memorization to require players to know what a phrase actually means instead of having a few words of gobbledygook floating around in their brains. If you can buzz on a foreign language aria title, good for you, but plenty of flashcard hoarders can do the same thing; both methods are prone to "fraud."

Charlie, I'm not clear on what exactly you're proposing. Are "textual clues" just dialogue, or do they include anything in the libretto--i.e. aria titles, characters, plot? Moreover, as you haven't really demonstrated what you think a good opera clue would be, nobody can put your suggestions into action. If you're suggesting that distinctive clues about the opera's music, performance history, etc. could be used to a greater extent, then I agree with you.

I'll wrap this post up by reiterating the Cardinal Rule of Manifestos: if you want the quizbowl community to implement your ideas, your best bet is to contribute many good questions that follow them.
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Re: Translations

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Charlie, I'm not clear on what exactly you're proposing. Are "textual clues" just dialogue, or do they include anything in the libretto--i.e. aria titles, characters, plot? Moreover, as you haven't really demonstrated what you think a good opera clue would be, nobody can put your suggestions into action. If you're suggesting that distinctive clues about the opera's music, performance history, etc. could be used to a greater extent, then I agree with you.
I'm saying that using specific lines of dialogue is pretty unbuzzable in most cases. The reason why I haven't posted examples of how they can be good is because I'm convinced there are very few examples that do exist in the first place. It would be retarded to say nobody knows famous aria titles or plot details from an opera, that's obviously wrong
Charlie Dees, North Kansas City HS '08
"I won't say more because I know some of you parse everything I say." - Jeremy Gibbs

"At one TJ tournament the neg prize was the Hampshire College ultimate frisbee team (nude) calender featuring one Evan Silberman. In retrospect that could have been a disaster." - Harry White

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Re: Translations

Post by cvdwightw »

This is what happened the last time the music mafia got into the question.

A more updated version of the discussion starts at this post and continues for about six posts.

Given that a lot of the arguments there are basically being rehashed here, I'm more interested in whether the arguments advanced in those threads apply at the high school level.

I suppose it's time for my annual plea to update the Best of the Best forum.
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Re: Translations

Post by Maxwell Sniffingwell »

Tokyo Sex Whale wrote:I thought that the rule of thumb was just to use whichever translation people are more likely to know? I don't particularly know about the German-language arias that Jacob was describing in his opening post, but maybe a compromise would be to use the German name for the aria and add a contextual clue, like "One character in this opera sings about the 'spring days of life' in 'In des Lebens Fruhlingstagen.'"
As a big fan of opera, I really like when questions do this - and it's the most helpful for me when I'm playing questions.
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