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Seeing opera through the ears

Opera seems quite inaccessible to the majority of us. It’s being made more accessible to one group though – the visually impaired.

Vision Australia has trained a number of volunteers to describe the on-stage action so visually impaired people can enjoy the full opera experience. The first opera seen in this way was The Pirates of Penzance, at Sydney’s famous Opera House.

Among the things pointed out are costumes details, small mannerisms and visual clues, rounding out the auditory experience. There are challenges for the audio describers:

For the audio describer, the challenge is to provide a picture of the action without getting bogged down in detail or interrupting the performance itself. Those involved in yesterday’s performance of The Pirates of Penzance had seen the show several times before describing it to others.

“You don’t want the audio describers cutting over the dialogue of the performers,” [Vision Australia’s Michael] Simpson says. “This is where there’s a particular challenge around opera, which is chock full of drama and performance, so it takes a particular skill for a describer to insert their descriptions of the visual aspects.” (Source: The Australian)

What a fantastic use of language.