At English Touring Opera we try to make opera accessible to all, particularly when it comes to making opera for children. We worked with the brilliant musician and performer Paul Whittaker OBE to create a new British Sign Language translation of our new children's opera Aidan, a new work for families from Noah Mosley that draws on Handel's Amadigi to create a vibrant musical adventure.
We asked Paul how goes about translating a musical work for BSL:
Earlier this year I saw something on social media about ETO’s production of “Aidan”. As a deaf musician myself, and a performer in BSL with various choirs, opera companies and ensembles, I’m passionate about making music accessible for Deaf people and “Aidan” seemed an ideal resource for adding BSL. Fortunately, ETO agreed and, as far as we know, this is the first video opera for children that has been made accessible in this way.
My approach to translating the piece starts with getting the score, reading that and devising a BSL translation. However, it’s far more than just matching a sign to a word: you need to convey the musical and emotional elements and get the meaning across. BSL is a language in its own right and you have to respect both that and those who use it. But that’s still only half the process, as my translation then has to match the actual video - getting the characters in the right place and making sure you know who’s singing at any given point , for example - and ensuring that my signing is delivered at an appropriate level for a young audience to understand. It’s hard work!
Hopefully both Deaf and hearing audiences will enjoy watching it and want to learn more about the magic of opera.