Sonya Friedman

Photo by Herman J. Engel

In addition to her groundbreaking work subtitling operas, Sonya Friedman is an award-winning documentary filmmaker: Academy Award nominee; frequent Emmy awards; frequent winner of the American Film Festival's Blue Ribbon; Cine Golden Eagle(s); Best Film(s) American Library Association; NAACP Image Award. Her films have been broadcast nationally on PBS. Her most recent film is Grace, about writer and activist Grace Paley.

Friedman started her subtitle career in films at MGM and went on, as an independent writer, to subtitle numerous foreign films by directors including Fellini, Rossellini, DeSica, Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Buñuel, Truffaut, and many, many others.

Sonya Friedman created the book, libretto, and video projections for Memoirs of Uliana Rooney, a chamber opera with music by the celebrated composer Vivian Fine. Friedman’s translation of Carmen, with vintage illustrations by René Bull, was published by Random House.

Sonya Friedman’s notes on her approach to titling opera

"The craft of writing titles involves working with the individual style and content of each opera. It requires knowing the opera cold, sensitive timing, and the ability to write lively English. I believe knowing what to title, and what not to title, is almost as important as the writing itself.

"I title lightly, whenever possible. It's important for the audience to experience the opera fully – and they can't do so if they're constantly reading. Watching the singer and stage action has a greater impact than an unnecessary and/or repetitious title.

"My titles weave in and out of the opera. I title for plot development, character delineation, and for dramatic and humorous impact. If I title one line, and the next line is very similar in meaning, I usually do not include that second line. And I rarely include repeats within arias, or repeats of individual lines. I don't title insignificant short phrases, such as "What?" "Who?" "When?" – unless they have dramatic importance. I imply the answer to these questions in the title preceding or following the question, so the omitted text is entirely understandable. And I don't title a single line of greeting like "buona sera" (except when it is an important part of a sequence, such as in Il Barbiere di Siviglia). I also do not usually title a line with only a single name (such as Aida or Don Carlo) if it is understandable.

"In my experience, audiences quickly get used to the style, rhythm, and pace of the titles and – with the language barrier removed – relax and enjoy opera to the fullest."