Sunday, February 15, 2009

Michael Feingold On Translating Brecht

From Press Telegraph, Long Beach CA:

Q. A Google search turns up a director who criticizes your translation, comparing it unfavorably with the 1952 translation of the Threepenny Opera by Marc Blitzstein. How do you respond?

A. Most people have only vague notions of what's involved in translation. They don't know either the original language or the musical score. The fellow you quote is dealing in generalities and doesn't really say much about why Blitzstein's translation might or might not be preferable to mine. Blitzstein was a very great artist in his own way; what he did was right for his time, and a lot of it is still effective. But a lot of it has less to do with Brecht and Weill than one might wish. There's an additional problem in that Brecht loved to rework, and developed big disagreements with Weill, as many composer-writer teams do, about the shape of the work. Later versions published by Brecht have often been produced by people who mistakenly thought they were performing the work as seen in Berlin in 1928. The two estates specifically commissioned me to translate the original 1928 version.

Q. Do you incorporate Brecht's theories and instructions designed to keep the audience at a distance and teach them his social lessons rather than involving them in the characters?

A. Brecht's theories are mostly a matter for directors and actors to use in approaching the work. I translated his stage directions as I found them. The really hard part was capturing his poetry. Brecht was an extraordinary writer; it's possible to say that people put up with his theories for the sake of his poetry. Theory isn't really very important in art - it's something for academics to jaw over.

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