Vienna Opera will show surtitles in six languages

Vienna Opera will show surtitles in six languages


norman lebrecht

September 04, 2017

Most opera houses make do with one or two languages.

But the Vienna State Opera, obliged to replace an ageing seatback system, is offering a choice of English, German, Italian, French, Russian and Japanese from tomorrow. No other house comes close.

Press release follows.



For several reasons, after 16 years it was necessary to replace the subtitle system commissioned in September 2001
(two languages, no information programme): increasing number of faults, decreasing brightness of displays, unavailability of spare parts, etc.
 – available immediately in six languages: English, German, Italian, French, Russian, Japanese
– shortly before the beginning of an opera performance, the system switches automatically from the information programme to the subtitles, or turns off for ballet performances
– choice of six subtitle languages or optional shutdown
– available before opera and ballet performances and during the intervals (in English and German)
– brief synopses of the works performed
– cast of the performance
– general current information
– FAQs
– newsletter registration
– in the near future: ordering drinks and snacks for the intervals



  • Operatraveller says:

    Norman, the headline is inaccurate as these are not ‘surtitles’ but ‘seat-back’ titles. Secondly to your claim that ‘no other house comes close’ is also incorrect. The magnificent Palau de les Arts in València offers seat-back titles in Valencian Catalan, Castilian, English, French, Italian, German, Japanese and has done for some years. The Berlin Komische Oper also offers seat-back titles in German, English, French and Turkish – less numerous than the Viennese but an important gesture of inclusion to the city.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I know they are seatback. They are still referred to as surtitles. Thank you for the Valencia information.

      • Nik says:

        The press release you posted above refers to subtitles.

        • Max Grimm says:

          When speaking/writing English, we generally don’t use the term “surtitles” when the text is displayed below the stage or in the seat-back, but use “subtitles” instead.
          I’ve noticed the custom of using “surtitles” regardless of the text’s placement in relation to the stage by many Anglophones.

  • Fritz Curzon says:

    Glad to hear it’s a choice rather than having to read all of them at once!

  • herrera says:

    I am 🙁 that there is no Emoticon for millennials.

  • herrera says:

    ❤️ = L’amour est un oiseau rebelle
    = Libiamo, libiamo ne’lieti calici
    ‍♀️ = Das ist kein Mann

  • Robert Holmén says:

    The most ironic thing about these subtitles is that you need them even when the opera is in your own language. The singing is basically incomprehensible.

    How did audiences of old ever catch enough of the text of these things to drum up the raucous approval/disapproval that of such legend in opera history.

  • Bob says:

    Rather strange that there’s Japanese but not Chinese…

  • How about this Liebestod emoticon subtitle 🙂

  • Bryan says:

    Just confirming that the Palau in Valencia offers all those languages on the seatback screen.