“Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix.” Die Zauberflöte. Il Barbiere
di Siviglia. I don’t intend to start a laundry list, but these are three
of the many language pronunciations I love to say on the air. There was
a time when I couldn’t say any of them, especially the aria from Samson
et Dalila. However, thanks to radio personalities, I learned how to say
them and enjoy sharing their beauty with the audience. I love languages,
even words and phrases I have no idea how to pronounce, because they represent
During the final moments of the movie Contact, an inquisitive student asks
Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie, if she thinks there are other people in
the universe. After contrasting the size of the universe with our realm
of understanding, she responds, “If it’s just us, it seems like an awful
waste of space.” If English were the only language, speaking would be rather
boring. Imagine that: one way of expressing every idea we know. There would
be no “voix” or “voce.” Only “voice.” No “amour” or “amore.” Just “love.”
It’s not the same as a different language, but, for years, I thought the
“Four Sea Interludes” from Peter Grimes were the “Four ‘C’ Interludes,”
meaning interludes in the key of C, because that’s how they were announced.
Then, one afternoon, I heard an announcer say, “Britten intended them to
evoke images of the sea.” I thought, “Oh! The four SEA interludes!” The
title became clear, and I clarify the word “sea” when I play them. Nothing
is quite as illuminating and satisfying as hearing someone give the information,
which I can pass along to others.
So, I know a pronunciation and want to use it on the air. Sometimes I wrestle
with myself about the best way to do it. When I consider that most people
say “Götterdämmerung” and not “The Twilight of the Gods” or “Der
Rosenkavalier” in-stead of “The Cavalier of the Rose,” it’s obvious that
some titles are better known in the original languages. I doubt anyone
thinks of Il Trovatore or Pagliacci in English. There are titles that don’t
have English equivalents, like “Così fan tutte,” which I have seen
and heard translated several ways, or “Largo al factotum.” My solution
is to give both because there’s no reason not to, people might not know
the original language, or people might not know what the title means. When
I announce Figaro’s aria, I give the title and explain who sings it, in
which opera and anything else I want to mention. When I announce operas,
I give the original language and English, usually in that order.
We don’t have to limit ourselves to opera, either. “The Three-Cornered
Hat,” “The Four Seasons,” and Debussy’s “Nocturnes” are examples from the
orchestral repertoire. When I mention “The Four Seasons,” I don’t mean
just the title. As I tell our audience, Vivaldi’s concerti are the first
four of his Opus 8: Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’ Invenzione, The Trial
Between Harmony and Invention.
As much as I love languages, as a radio announcer I have to acknowledge
that most listeners aren’t looking for a lesson in history, language, or
anything else, but to enjoy the music. Nevertheless, that information should
be part of the programming because it enriches what people hear. And what
better way for us to bring languages to people who might not know, than
At her session about air-checking during the 2001 Tucson Music Personnel
Conference, Marilyn Pittman used the analogy that an announcer’s break
is a “one-minute masterpiece.” Part of that masterpiece is providing perspective.
As naturally as we tell the listener what he or she is going to hear, in
terms of the composer, historical context and other details, we provide
the perspective of language. Consider this: when you hear a phrase both
in English and the original language, root words and similarities emerge,
like “Holländer” and “Dutchman” or “zauber” and “magic.” It’s fun,
and I’m sure that, just like when I experience an epiphany, the audience
appreciates the German, Italian, or French, because they had wondered what
the words sound like and mean.
There’s a theory in sociology that we are unable to express an idea until
we know it exists. I could say The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro,
or The Flying Dutchman every time, but I might as well let people know
there is another way of saying it—the way the composer said it and, arguably,
a more beautiful way.
Greg Waxberg is Music
Director of Public Radio in Mississippi in Jackson, Mississippi.