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An electronic libretto system is used primarily in opera houses and is a device which presents translations of lyrics into an audience's language or transcribes lyrics that may be difficult to understand in the sung form.
Since 1983, projected Supertitles or surtitles have been commonly used in opera or other theatrical and musical performances and they have proven to be a commercial success in art forms such as opera which are generally performed in their original language.
However, for many people, supertitles interfered with their enjoyment of a performance, because they tended to find themselves following the titles and not giving their full attention to the stage. This problem was solved by the development of an electronic libretto system, which utilizes individual screens placed on the back of each seat, thus allowing patrons either to view a translation or to switch them off during the performance.
Although initially developed by technicians at The Santa Fe Opera, the Metropolitan Opera was the first to install the system which they describe as Met Titles. In the US, the electronic libretto system was further developed and patented as "Simultext" by Figaro Systems of Santa Fe, New Mexico with The Santa Fe Opera becoming the second house to adopt it in 1999 after its 1997/98 refurbishment.
Opera houses such as the Valencia Opera House, the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo, the Vienna State Opera in Vienna, the Liceu in Barcelona, the Royal Opera House in London and the Teatro degli Arcimboldi and La Scala (both in Milan) have added the electronic titles, the latter providing English and Italian translations in addition to the original language of the opera.
Other companies have developed similar technologies, such as Sonoidea in Spain, Visutech in Denmark, Radio Marconi in Italy, 3Com in US and Rokko Denki in Japan.
In the United States, various of these systems are now to be found at the Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, Colorado, at the Des Moines Metro Opera, the Seattle Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and in the Roy O. Disney Theatre, a part of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
This technology, which costs about $1,000 per seat, has been added or planned for during initial construction (as was the case with Santa Fe where it was added one year after the opening of the third opera house in 1998) or during planned renovation (as with La Scala during its two-year closure period). The installations of the Met, La Scala and the Arcimboldi, the Vienna State Opera, Liceu, and the Royal Opera House were possible with the donations of the philanthropist Alberto Vilar, at the time a majority shareholder of Figaro Systems.
Today, a new trend is the Radio Marconi multimedia patented interactive electronic libretto technology, installed in 2011 in the Royal Opera House Muscat, Sultanate of Oman and in 2013 at the Musiktheater Linz, Austria. The event on stage become an interactive and multimedia experience that has the power to capture the audience's attention and involve people in the show. The audience can decide to view videos, texts, theatre information, surveys, or ask for assistance just by touching his/her personal screen. The video area will display the chosen content and, in the text multilanguage area, the related information appears as well as personal messages. This technology is able to shift the problem of the installation cost per seat to the revenue generation per seat thanks to its embedded marketing, donation and merchandising features.
- Edward Rothstein, New York Times, 9 April 1995 - see below
- Giuseppina Manin, "Al Teatro degli Arcimboldi alta tecnologia e i «sottotitoli»", Corriere della Sera, 20 July 2001, at archiviostorico.corriere.it (in Italian)
- "Screens plan for opera fans" 23 May 2001 at bbc.com
- on rohmuscat.org.om Retrieved 13 November 2011