Back from a Summer Internship in Florence: Surtitling for Italian Opera Festivals (2016)

Angelena Agresta at the the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma during the rehearsal of Linda di Chamounix (June 2016)

One day she was attending a conference on the role of sub/surtitling in the performing arts, a few months later trying her hand at a remote subtitling project for Milan’s Expo 2015, and less than two years from the initial event in the control room of major Italian theaters helping run the titles of world-renowned operas. This, in a nutshell, is the trajectory of Angelene Agresta, a major in Italian, who was selected for the five-week summer internship in Italy (June-July 2016) offered by The Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies and the Italian Program at Montclair State University in collaboration with Prescott Studio, an established surtitling agency based in Florence, Italy.


After developing her core skills on campus during AY 2015-16 under the attentive supervision of Dr. Marisa Trubiano (Italian Program), Agresta has worked hands-on with the founder and director of Prescott, Mauro Conti, on the following operas: Linda di Chamounix  and L’elisir d’amore (Donizetti); Proserpina (Rihm); Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart); Traviata, Giovanna d’Arco and Un ballo in maschera (Verdi); Semiramide (Rossini); and Evgenij Onegin (Puškin), presented at prestigious venues such as the Terme di Caracalla, Teatro Nazionale, and Teatro dell’Opera in Rome , the Teatro Nuovo in Spoleto as part of the Festival dei Due Mondi and the Arena di Verona during over 9 weeks. The impact of these surtitles cannot be underestimated: the Arena Opera Festival in Verona and the Caracalla Summer Opera Season in Rome alone has produced in 2016 61 shows, with 18.500 seats each, almost always sold out.

The host institution in Florence provided enthusiastic feedback on this collaboration. In Conti’s words: “The contribution of intern students is a great opportunity to test our systems of linguistic mediation for live theater. It also allows us to benefit from fresh technical and creative input from the future generation of professionals in the field. In fact, Prescott has maintained a relationship with all the interns that have collaborated with us over the years, creating a professional and personal community. Our goal is to make the interns aware of the many stages entailed in the process of surtitling, following step by step the creation of each project, but also giving them a sense of the bigger picture. Surtitles are a service for a growing international audience and it is exciting to see how many young people are looking into it for a future career. The experience with Angelene has been a success and we at Prescott are looking forward to continuing our collaboration with MSU.”

Angelene described the experience as a mutual exchange, and a greatly enriching opportunity: “I embraced the internship with the experience coming from the courses and special projects offered at Montclair State where I learned about the importance of self-awareness in translation. Observing Mauro Conti and his team, I have learned how to anticipate the way the audience will react to the projected titles and how to be prepared for anything that could potentially go wrong or cause any delay regarding the timing of the surtitles. At the same time, I feel that as a native English speaker, I was definitely a great asset to their team in creating English subtitles. When you’re “there” at the venues and at the studio, everything is firsthand experience: you work as an artisan, as Mauro says, because you create something when you help the storytelling across languages. I was very fortunate: this internship  awarded the opportunity to work for five weeks in a field that I am greatly passionate about, and to do so abroad in a city where after your shift you can visit the Boboli Gardens, the Uffizi Gallery, and Ponte Vecchio! So, please, possible future intern, say “yes” to something different and you will be greatly rewarded in the end!”

In fact, this internship does reflect the desire to create a different experience for majors and minors in the Italian program. Dr. Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair, describes its launching last May. “In the Italian program we have been keen on creating pre-professional opportunities for our students: creating them in Italy and in a field where knowledge of the Italian language and culture has concrete applicability was a clear objective. We are delighted to have done it for the first time not only in a field that has fast become an area of concentration for us (titling/translation) and is an ever-growing field in communication, but also with a highly regarded agency such as Prescott which continues to open great partnerships with some of the most prestigious theaters in Italy. We are lucky that the endowment linked to the Inserra Chair allows us to create programs such as this one, and we plan on repeating the experience in summer 2017.”


Stressing the importance of programs such as this, Dr. Marisa Trubiano adds: “It has been very heartening to see that what began as an ad hoc faculty-student project with Prescott for the Milan Expo 2015 with Il Piccolo Teatro in Milan has blossomed into a multi-year project involving a number of opera houses, directly linking Montclair State University and its Italian Program to some of the most prestigious venues in Italy and Europe. Rendering Italian cultural production accessible to an ever larger international audience is just one application of an Italian major that deserves greater attention.”

“In the meantime, - concludes Dr. Fiore - the Inserra Chair’s and Italian Program’s efforts in the field of surtitling have received the support of Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation: some of the costs for next year’s surtitling projects will be defrayed thanks to a mini-grant the Ministry awarded this summer.