10 Jun 2024

Braille surtitles for NZ Opera's Le comte Ory season 'life-changing'

12:12 pm on 10 June 2024
Manase as the Count Ory, for the Le comte Ory tour.

Manase as the Count Ory, for the Le comte Ory tour. Photo: NZ Opera

A blind person and life-long braille reader has called NZ Opera offering braille surtitles at its shows "life-changing."

Braille surtitles would be available at all performances of Rossini's Le comte Ory, taking place throughout June.

New technology - which sends surtitles to users' personal braille-reading machines as the action unfolds on stage - was trialled last week during the Auckland season of Le comte Ory.

Audio Described Aotearoa co-director Paul Brown, who was the first braille reader to test the technology, said surtitles would make a huge difference for blind and low-vision audience members.

Audio description was helpful, but he would prefer not to listen to the opera and audio description simultaneously, he said.

"I could follow for the first time what was happening at the opera without having to listen to something else."

Brown said he was pleased to have braille recognised by a major arts company and for people to have the choice of surtitles, audio description, or both.

NZ Opera general director Brad Cohen believed it was a world-first to provide this sort of accessibility during a live performance.

The braille reader program - called contexts.live, and developed by Cohen and colleague Hugh Glaser - would replace NZ Opera's existing PowerPoint system.

"We are committed to doing it for every show. It is not just a one-off for us."

NZ Opera wanted to share the technology with other opera and theatre companies, and eventually other mediums, Cohen said.

"The application of this goes beyond opera. Not just theatre but TV, film, and other media."

In addition to braille surtitles, Audio Described Aotearoa would continue to describe select performances. A free Touch Tour of the set, some costumes, and key props were also held two hours before audio-described shows, which were open to all audience members.

NZ Opera hoped to have audio description and special events available for all shows in the near future, Cohen said.

"We want blind and low-vision customers to come to the opera whenever they want and get the same experience as any other customer."

Le comte Ory is on at Wellington's St James Theatre on 13 June and 15 June, then at Christchurch's Isaac Theatre Royal on 27 June and 29 June.

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