Stephen Sondheim On Writing Opera Librettos

"When I first heard that the libretto of Philip Glass's 1979 opera Satyagraha was written in Sanskrit (by him and Constance de Jong), I giggled inwardly at what I deemed its pretentiousness and, delightedly reverting to my snotty adolescence, made many a witty remark at its expense.  Then I saw it.  Not only was I mesmerized for most of it, I was brought up short by the realization that Sanskrit was the best possible language for an opera libretto.

"It has the two necessary qualities: it utilizes predominantly open vowel sounds (listen to the title), and it doesn't invite you to try to understand the language, which is something you automatically do at the opera if you know a smattering of German or Italian or French.  With Sanskrit, you are relieved of every bit of concentration except where it counts: on the music and the singing – and, if you're interested in the story, on the surtitles.  Even librettos in English need surtitles, since distended vowels, vocal counterpoint and the over-trained diction of many performers make it difficult to understand.  Every librettist should have a smattering of Sanskrit. It will save them, and their audiences, a huge amount of work."

-- from Look, I Made A Hat by Stephen Sondheim

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