Leyerle, Language and Libretti

Anyone who uses google translate knows that it takes nuance, experience, and patience to fully grasp the deeper meaning of a different language. In the twenty-first century, singers have multiple tools at their disposal for language learning. For hundreds of years before the era of language apps, students of opera had to sit down with a dictionary and painstakingly look up each foreign word for translation. Through careful study and work with a polyglot coach, singers could grasp the meaning of an opera libretto not written in one’s native language.

In 1977, Nico Castel and Bill Leyerle joined forces to revolutionize the classical singing world with their innovative three- and four-line translation system that most opera singers know well from the Castel libretto translations. Leyerle Publications still carries on this vital tradition of well-researched language study, with opera and song translations in French, German, Italian, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Greek, Yiddish, Romanian, Chinese, Hebrew, and more. Paul J. Morrell, president of Leyerle Publications, recently shared his thoughts on Leyerle’s legacy.


How do you choose your opera and art song translators for your publications?


Paul J. Morrell: First and foremost, our authors and editors are native speakers with years of experience in the field of opera and singing. Translating is a very difficult job that requires an intimate knowledge of both languages. In the case of our publications, we also provide a complete IPA transliteration of each work, which requires an author to understand how phonetics of a given language work and how they translate onto a page. Thus, we seek out people with extensive experience in the field of Lyric Diction. 


In the age of translation apps, do you see changes in the way singers research and prepare roles?

Not in particular, but practice, practice, practice with our Leyerle Castel Opera Libretti! Singers and Directors in the US and around the world rely on Leyerle’s Opera Libretti IPA to prepare roles and/or individual arias and scenes. In addition, with our content growing each year, we don’t see it changing anytime soon. For example, in Spring 2022 we will be publishing the next volume of Libretti of Russian Operas, Libretti Volume 2, that will include 6 complete operas!


How did the Leyerle and Castel partnership begin, and how has the company evolved since it began in 1977?


The story Bill provided, though I regret not having particular details, is that after writing Vocal Development through Organic Imagery and editing several Song Anthologies with his wife Anne, he established his publishing company Leyerle Publications, and he contacted Nico Castel about a project to publish and develop translations and phonetic transcriptions. As I understand it, Nico did not respond favorably at first, but their relationship developed into the Castel Opera Libretti today.


Since 1977, the publications have expanded into song anthologies, song texts, and various song groups, and we continue to be contacted by brilliant authors and composers for consideration of publishing their work. We have watched the world develop into a digital and remote online experience where information is needed and required to be on-demand and portable on various devices. Therefore, we undertook a two-year process where we transitioned the Opera Libretti book series into a digital format. We then proceeded with reconstructing and totally redeveloping our website to allow our customers worldwide the ability to purchase a printed or digital copy of the complete Opera Libretti book or an individual opera! The digital option is a seamless download transaction that is all completed online!    


When learning a new role or piece in a foreign language, what do you think are the most important resources beyond a printed libretto?

Recordings of native speakers singing that repertoire are essential and, of course, native speaker coaches if available.


What is one thing that you wish more people knew about Leyerle Publications?

Although we have been in business since 1977, the digital transition of our Opera Libretti has taken a while to develop; we want all aspiring singers and directors and teachers to become aware that this great resource is available in digital format. I also think people should know the fact that Leyerle Publication doesn’t just have Castel Opera Libretti, but other content useful to the younger singers and voice teachers, such as song anthologies. 


For more information, visit leyerlepublications.com

Jonathan Blalock

Jonathan Blalock has sung with The Santa Fe Opera, The Dallas Opera, Washington National Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, The Pacific Symphony, Memphis Symphony, PROTOTYPE Festival and Opera Hong Kong. He currently serves as Individual Giving Officer at The Atlanta Opera, and he is a member of the Classical Singer Magazine editorial board.