Opera House, Asleep, by Gunther Geltinger
in: Anja Schlamann: Encanto ©2014 Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin, Anja Schlamann and authors [and translator]
I didn’t want this to turn into another plea for better translator / copy editor / author collaboration. But it has.
She* would have forgiven him everything. Some brief inattentiveness, a scolding sideward glance because, next to him, someone is whispering. A thought, stealing furtively away. His working day in** the firm was long, and the important meetings tomorrow;*** nevertheless he came. Yet already during the prelude, his concentration had not been at its best. His eyelids became heavy in the second act. He forced himself to sit upright,**** burst with a stumbling gaze into the chorus of tavern guests and, for a moment, thought that the spoken dialogue between Zuniga, Pastia, and Moralès had been cut – it had always bored him somewhat. It must have happened at the beginning of the third act, then. The gypsy women had just told fortunes with their cards: cards which promised Frasquita and Mercédès love and happiness, but the desperate Carmen only death: “Le désespoir!” she sang in her dark, already death-tinged mezzo-soprano, “La mort! la mort!”, and he was asleep.*****
Opera is his great love, his little self-indulgent addiction. With the passion of the ardent lover, and yet as disciplined as a civil servant,****** with sometimes daily, though at least weekly visits to performances, he satisfies******* his longing for ever-new productions, works by old masters and little known contemporaries, which, shielded against the outside world by the soundproof walls, deliver his noble drug, the all-encompassing intoxication: everything big and enlarged to supernatural proportions, sublime and inspiring; life in its pure form, dining on the pettiness of human existence and its never-changing dramas; yet at the same time, here in the darkened theater, dissolving everything that paralyzes and encumbers existence outside into a fleeting moment of pure happiness, happiness which hangs not on a silken thread, but rather on the strong cables of the fly loft, that opera wheelwork which seems to him a congenial translation of human consciousness. The up and down, back and forth, crisscross of times and places, people and things, conducted by cable winders, counterweights, and slides, an ingenious plan thought out to the last detail, supervised by the stage manager at his control desk, where all threads come together as in the hand of God. He had always had a rather sober notion of the Creator, more technician than artist; God, he is fairly certain of this, only reveals himself – if at all – in the opera, as the string-puller of everything incomprehensible.
He blinks into the darkness. Extinguished is the gleam of things strewn by the the spotlights, the silvery corona not only on the surfaces of the precision-lit stage constructions and props; the twilight-wrapped furnishings of the auditorium, engulfed in the moment when the stage blazes with light in a dusk of semi-somnolence and blurriness, had also, out of the corners of his eyes, as his gaze was transfixed by events on the stage, always been dusted with this shimmer as by a magic powder: the wood paneling on the walls, the light-gray paint on the overhanging balconies, the black-painted ramp of the orchestra pit ducking into the darkness like the tailed back of a waiter, bowing before his master’s dazzling entrance. Even the door handles, worn brass still in the house lights, suddenly appear to be of gold; precious dark-blue velvet the tattered upholstery covers, and made of precious metals the innumerable fittings on the walls, steps and boxes, some of them already beginning to fall off. Indeed, even the polished bald heads of the men in the rows of seats, the gray newly-coiffed perms of the lady subscribers, the dandruff on their companions’ shoulders, the greasy napes on fatty backrests: every structural and human flaw appeared to him in the reflected splendor of the stage perhaps not quite sublime but yet, doused in this mild and flattering light, touching and forgivable.
Now, though, not a person far or wide. Nothing which, even in the most enraptured moment of an evening at the opera, had still reminded him that, despite all the soaring emotions, he was one of the ones who stared in anticipation down there in the parquet seating: already slightly gray-haired, shedding dandruff and sweating in the overheated theater like everybody else, a small part of the mass of addicts, without whom the paradise on the stage would perhaps be perfect, but pointless and joyless, the lonesome chanting of angels in a heaven without an earth. Now, however, the opera god had turned him angrily out of the first row straight into hell.
[Continues to page 31]
* Alles hätte sie ihm verziehen. Originally, the translation ran: It would have forgiven him everything. Who’s right, in this case? I had chosen ‘It’ because I had the feminine die Oper in mind – a choice which would match the beginning of the next paragraph, Opera is his great love,… Did the ‘It’ strike as inappropriate, and that’s why the change was made? Consultation with the author clearly would have been called for, here.
** I had written at the firm. Does the copy editor’s alteration make the protagonist sound like a member of a gang or the British royal family?
*** Originally: His day at work at the firm was long, the important meetings are tomorrow;… The copy editor’s choice is disjointed.
****He tore himself upright in the original translation. Er riss sich hoch,… The copy editor’s change has none of this dynamism.
***** Originally: and he was away. und weg war er.
****** Originally: and accurately: as disciplined as a civil servant at the same time
******* Originally: assuages. Which appears to match the German verb, stillt, more closely.