'Describers' to help visually impaired opera lovers

JESS MCALLEN
Last updated 14:56 16/06/2014

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Visually impaired opera-lovers are about to get a taste - and a feel - of the full operatic experience.

New Zealand Opera is offering a free audio description service for blind or visually impaired people attending La Traviata.

The production, which debuts in Auckland this week, boasts a tactile experience with facilities for people to literally "get a feel" for costumes and scenery.

Visually impaired users will receive headphones which deliver a live voiceover describing what's happening on stage.

Two specially-trained "describers" will sit in a booth with microphones, taking turns to vividly narrate what is taking place.

"Our voiceovers are very discreet, we do not talk over the singing or detract from the music," says Nicola Owen, one of the describers.

They develop their script by attending several rehearsals. The final version will go through a dry run using 'test patrons' - both blind and sighted - to provide feedback.

People who request the service also can book a guided pre-performance "touch tour" of the set.

"This gives them a real sense of where the furniture is and pace the stage to work out the layout. They can also feel the costumers and lavish material," says Owen.

The move is applauded by Arts Access Aotearoa Executive Director Richard Benge.

"Blind patrons who already love the music will have the opportunity to understand what others are seeing on stage - it's about being able to enjoy the whole event."

The national opera company will also be using surtitles - illuminated text appearing above the stage in sync with the performance to translate the Italian singers' words.

La Traviata

ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland, 19, 21, 25, 27 June: 7.30pm; 29 June: 2.30pm St James Theatre, Wellington, 11, 17, 19 July 7.30pm, 13 July 2.30pm and 15 July 6pm. 

More information: NZopera.com

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