Opera On The High Seas

Imagine being seated with a global audience on a Spanish Island off the coast of Africa to see a German Opera played by a Russian orchestra—and understanding every single word because of a multilingual text display amenity installed at your plush seat.

Simultext® from Figaro Systems will do just that at the Teatro Pérez Galdós, a cultural port of call reopening in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on April 14, 2007 with Wagner’s Ring conducted by Valery Gergiev in April with an audience from more than a dozen countries in attendance.

By broadcasting up to seven channels of translation, information, and sponsorships to individual OLED displays at every seat, all theatregoers on land and sea can deepen their appreciation for the arts while theatres increase their attendance. OLED screens are the latest in display technology: very low in energy consumption, completely black when off, very crisp text and imagery, all timed perfectly with the action on the stage.

Now imagine watching a musical comedy—but each audience member gets the punch lines at slightly different times, instead of simultaneously as is possible with subtitles via Simultext®. You would hear a smatter of chuckles instead of an eruption of laughter, if not for the two very simple breakthrough ideas for which Figaro Systems holds patents. These ideas are helping a new generation get into opera, theatre, ballet, and symphony and they have traction beyond Royal House Covent Garden, La Scala, and the other prestigious institutions who together have acquired 20,000+ screens for their audiences.

“If they can embrace our advanced technology at the Opera house where many of Puccini’s and Verdi’s operas premiered, we must be doing something right,” says Patrick Markle, CEO of Figaro Systems.

One thing they’ve done perfectly is place their screens, just below an audience member’s view of the stage and well within their comfortable viewing angle. “We think of it as a dashboard for the performing arts and more,” says Markle, because Simultext® can do more than please patrons of the arts. Eight to ten percent of the US population is deaf or hard of hearing, a number that is expected to double in the next ten years. And the company is now in talks with venues to provide captioning at corporate conferences, for lectures and training, at sporting events, and to people in many contexts—and now they can have subtitles in multiple languages during live action events.

Q&A With Patrick Markle, Figaro Systems CEO

Q: Why would a theatre want multilingual text displays?

Subtitles make performances accessible to wider audiences—and that’s what the performing arts need to survive in an age of ever multiplying media choices.

Q: Do people really use it?

In the heart of opera terra patrons clamored for our screens to be installed in the La Scala’s Piermarini theatre. In the US, 84% of attendees to the Colorado Ballet said they will attend more often because of our text displays. And it’s true, they do.

Q: Does a theatre have to be new or renovate to install Figaro technology?

We can simply install a thin rail above the seats, and presto, audiences can choose subtitles in up to seven languages. For new buildings, we can create this same thin rail or seats with embedded screens.

Q: What languages can be displayed?

Any of the galaxy’s written languages, including Klingon.

Q: Where has Figaro installed seatback systems?

In some of the greatest showplaces on Earth. The Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Wiener Staatsoper in Wien, Austria to name a few.

Q: What audiences are next in line to experience simultaneous text translation?

The next project that debuts is in the Canaries. We’re in discussions with over two dozen theatres in Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

Q: Are there other industries that might find this useful?

When they’ve got a global audience, museums can use it for visitors who can’t read artwork plaques. Conference centers can use it for keynote speeches when audiences are internationalized. Houses of worship can use it when their community is diverse. Language is what makes us human. It’s endless.

Q: How did you get started?

We were all working in opera in the early ‘90s, and we realized we could do some good for the art we love with technology. Now we’re bound in nutshells and kings of infinite space, to paraphrase the Bard.

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