MARK HERMAN & RONNIE APTER
Opera translators Mark Herman and Ronnie Apter met and married when Mark, a chemical engineer still chasing after a freshman romance, was caught by her roommate. They've been married for 46 years. Natives of New York City and Hartford, respectively, they have bounced around, living in California, New Jersey, and Michigan, where Ronnie was Professor of English at Central Michigan University. They recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be near their grand-daughter Charley (and, coincidentally, their son Dan, a veterinarian, and daughter-in-law Susan, a pediatric nurse-practitioner). Last November, while guest lecturing at the University College of Opera in Stockholm, Mark and Ronnie stopped in Edinburgh, Scotland to visit their other son Ry, a playwright and director, and daughter-in-law Beth, a Lecturer in Astrophysics at the University of Edinburgh. When in college, Dan acted in and staged-managed some of Ry's productions, and Ry, a liberal arts major, took astrophysics for fun.
Mark and Ronnie began translating operas almost accidentally, by translating a song from Orff's Carmina Burana in order to show their fellow chorus members just how raunchy and funny the lyrics are. Ronnie knew Latin and had translated some poems. Mark had written a couple of musicals. Together, they discovered they could whip translated lyrics into performable shape.
When asked to describe how their parents work on an opera translation, their sons once said, "They sit down at the piano and yell at each other." To be a little more specific, one of them writes an extremely literal translation with elaborate notes and commentary. Then one or both of them write drafts of a performable translation. Finally, they work together, testing every word by singing it themselves. Throughout the translation process, they refer as necessary to the score, recordings, and DVDs. A translation of a full-length work usually takes four to six months to complete.
The opera translation business is not easy to get into, and they are grateful to Michael Spierman of the Bronx Opera for giving them their first commission: a performable English translation of Mozart's Die Enführung aus dem Serail (performed 1979). That was followed by the 21 other performable English translations of operas, operettas, and choral works now in their catalogue. Ricordi in Milan commissioned and publishes seven of these translations, and Musica Russica in San Diego publishes one. Performances in the United States, Canada, England, and Scotland have garnered favorable reviews in publications ranging from The New York Times to The London Times.
The pair have also written poetry translations published in literary magazines, a literal translation that served as the basis for the surtitles used in the 2009 production of Charpentier's Louise at the Spoleto Festival USA, Mark's monthly humor column in the American Translators Association Chronicle, and articles and reviews regarding opera and translation. Their current projects are performable translation number 23 and a book on Translating for Singing to be published by Bloomsbury in England in 2015.