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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Screens plan for opera fans
Alexandra von der Weth and Par Lindskog as Manon and Armand
Henze's Boulevard Solitude at the ROH was surtitled
Audiences at the Royal Opera House may soon be treated to airline-style screens in the backs of chairs giving English translations.

Cuban-born billionaire Alberto Vilar has donated £6m to help develop surtitling facilities at the Royal Opera House.

US-based Vilar, 60, has already donated about £12m to the ROH, where Floral Hall was renamed for him.

At Covent Garden, opera is always sung in original language, with the English translation running in surtitles above the stage.

Tony Hall
New ROH director Tony Hall took over on 1 April
There has always been a problem with seeing these surtitles from certain sections of the auditorium.

The Opera House points out that the seat-back screens idea is just of the options that will be explored.

"What we're hoping to do is begin with a pilot scheme in the areas where visibility is reduced and the view of the surtitle system is not great," said a spokesman.

Furore

He added that the seating in the ROH is not only newly refurbished, but very diverse and a single solution will not be easy to find.

Vilar has already funded a seat-back system of translation at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, using a technology designed by one of his companies.

But the ROH spokesman said that it will be some time before any new system is installed because of the complicated nature of the technology.

Surtitles caused a furore when they were introduced at Covent Garden 15 years ago, but now they are accepted as part of the opera-in-original-language experience.

The Royal Opera House
The ROH is also home to the Royal Ballet
Vilar proposed installing seat-back screens when the ROH was being rebuilt but they were rejected as being too expensive.

Now he has provided the funds himself.

"I'm really big on this technological push," Vilar told The Daily Telegraph.

"I really want them to have these titles."

Vilar was penniless when he left Cuba with his family during Castro's revolution but now heads Amerindo Investment Advisors, a company he founded in 1980.

He invested in new technology stocks and shares and now estimates his portfolio at around $5bn (£3.44bn).

He is known as one of the most generous and influential arts patrons in the world.

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