Site present – how to read this site (literally)

Web design has never really been this site's forte, but nonetheless I'm going to leave the (non-)design as it is, for three reasons: one, because I'm unable to create a better design myself; two, because I cannot pay anyone who is able to do so; and three, because I want to preserve this fantastic site from the internet's early days just the way it is, as a website museum, if you want.
A living museum, though, since I'll continue to add new content – not just new pages on tenors that have so far been missing from the site, but also additional information or recordings on tenor pages that already exist. Here, the problem was how to offset the new content against the old one. The solution is simple, and perfectly congruent with the site's, ahem, modest design:

Whatever was published under Mr. Nouvion's ownership (even if it was written by myself, since I had already been a contributor for many years) is typeset in Times New Roman.

Whatever has been, or will be published under my ownership is typeset in Georgia. Not pretty, but effective, I think.

Opera titles are always given in the libretto's original language; if that language is likely to be unknown to most readers, the title may be translated into English. English is the site's main language, but the ability to read Italian, German and French (and, occasionally, Spanish or Dutch) is expected (Google Translate is your friend if you fail to meet that expectation).
Aria and song titles are given in the original language, as far as the sound index is concerned; but in the recorded language on the individual singer's page.

Capitalization in names follows the rules of the respective language; so it's De Negri, but de Trévi, it's D'Alessio, but d'Albert, and so forth.

Transliterating Cyrillic script is of course always a thorny problem. Transliteration means to render one letter (or a fixed combination of letters) as one – and always the same – letter or letter combination. The alternative would be transcription, which means to achieve with standard alphabet what science achieves with phonetic script: a notation of sounds, independent from how the word is written in the original language. That's what Russian does when dealing with names and words from Latin alphabet languages: Jan Peerce is written in Russian, in Cyrillic letters of course, "Dzhan Pirs", and Villebois, a Russian composer of French descent, becomes "Vilboa" in Russian (and that's how you find his name sometimes in re-transliteration from Russian-Cyrillic script).
However, in Western languages, we use transliteration, not transcription. Of course, also transliteration is not unrelated to pronunciation, and you wouldn't render an "a" sound as "x". Nevertheless, it can serve as a pronunciation guideline only for languages with plain pronunciation, where a letter is always pronounced precisely the same way, no matter in which context, no exceptions, no nonsense. If one had to transliterate Hungarian, Italian or Turkish, the result would be transcription at the same time.
Unfortunately, a great many languages pronounce their letters in quite different ways in different words and contexts. Just think of how many sounds can be denoted by one English letter, for instance by "a": think how it's pronounced in "angel", "large", "shadow" and "ball" – four completely different sounds, one letter. If you have to transliterate such a language, you try to capture only the basic sound of a letter (for instance the English "ah" sound that you hear in "large"), without explaining its variations in different words and contexts.
And unfortunately again, Russian (which is of course the most important language written in Cyrillic script) is not one of those no-nonsense languages like Italian; it's not as bad as English re pronunciation (not to speak of French, where orthography and pronunciation can seem totally unrelated at times), but still bad enough, and even with the clues given by transliteration, you'll still pronounce most Russian words irrecognizably wrong without knowledge of that (incredibly difficult) language.
In different Western languages, there are pretty different systems of transliterating Cyrillic script, and they all have their shortcomings. (There is also the scientific transliteration standard, which is no doubt superior to all others, but lacking in readability and hence not considered here.) For example, German has no means of differentiating, in orthography, between voiced and unvoiced sounds, and so German transliteration from Cyrillic renders both "ж" (zh) and "ш" (sh) as "sch", as well as both "з" (z) and "с" (s) as "s" – an outrageous solution.

I basically use the English transliteration, which is certainly the most descriptive. But it, too, violates the rule "one Cyrillic letter – one Latin letter" in two instances:
a) The use of Latin y is totally arbitrary in English transliteration from Cyrillic. It's used for й, for ий and for ы, which is just as outrageous as the German zh/sh confusion.
b) The other way round, Cyrilic е is not rendered by just one Latin letter in English transliteration, but haphazardly as "e" or "ye", think of "Yeltsin" vs. "Eltsin". To make things worse, that inconsequence occurs very often in the same word (if you write Yevgeny, you've rendered the first Cyrillic е as ye, and the second as e).
Problem a) is easy to solve, albeit the solution will be unusual for English, French and Spanish speakers. The principal sound denoted by English (but also French and Spanish) "y", like in "you" (or "Yonne" or "yo") is rendered by "j" in most other languages: German, Hungarian, Italian, Czech, Polish, Swedish, you name it; and that's how we're transliterating Cyrillic script on this site. Borrowing from the Italian or German transliteration of Cyrillic, й will be rendered as j and ий as ij; so it's not Evgeny, but Evgenij, it's Pechkovskij, and so forth. Please, dear English, Spanish and French speakers, if you see any "j" in Russian, Ukrainian or Bulgarian names or words on this site, pronounce it like you would "y" in your languages (in this case, there aren't even any exceptions, and you're always on the safe side with that pronunciation).
Consequently, what English transliteration gives as ya, yu and yo, will be given as ja (for я), ju (for ю) and jo (for ё).
The reason for all this is that we need Latin "y" for rendering Russian ы – a completely different sound somewhere between i (ee, for English speakers), e (eh) and ΓΌ, a bit similar to Turkish ı, and above all, very similar to Polish y, which is why it is obvious to use y for it in transliteration.
Building on this, I've invented a solution for ья, ью and so on – letter combinations denoted by apostrophs in the middle of the word in scientific transliteration (Prokof'ev, Il'ich), and simply left out in most other transliteration systems. If ы is y, why not render ья – where basically mute ь produces a faintly similar effect to what it does in ы – as ya, ью as yu, ье as ye, and ьи as yi? And that's precisely what I'm going to do on this site; so if you read Prokofyev, you know that his name ends, in original script, on -ьев.
Things differ a bit in Ukrainian; they don't have the ы letter nor the sound denoted by it (which is actually one of the characteristics by which you can distinguish sung or spoken Ukrainian from Russian even if you understand neither of those languages), but they still have two kinds of i (ee), one more strident (they use the same letter i for it as we do, a letter unheard of in Russian Cyrillic script), one more muffled (rendered by и in Ukrainian Cyrillic, and by y in transliteration). So we arrive not at Kozlovsky and not at Kozlovskij (which would be the transliteration of his Russified name), but at Kozlovskyj.

So as to solve problem b), it's necessary to understand that Russian has two letters each for a, e, o and u: a (Cyrillic а) and ja (Cyrillic я), o (Cyrillic о) and jo (Cyrillic ё), u (Cyrillic у) and ju (Cyrillic ю), no problems so far; but it has also a letter for the eh sound (Cyrillic э), and one for the je sound (Cyrillic е). Of course, the obvious solution would be to transliterate the same way as for the other vowels: Latin je for Cyrillic е and Latin e for Cyrillic э. The problem is just that Russian-Cyrillic е is incomparably more frequent than (rare!) э, and if we'd put the "obvious" solution into practice, it would result in transliterations that were hardly if at all readable: Jevgjenij Onjegin, Anna Njetrjebko... tough on the eyes, no? So what I'm going to do is transliterate э, following an old Soviet transliteration standard, as "eh", and Russian е simply as "e". This results in some pretty weird transliterations, too; but I for one prefer "Rafaehl" or "Ehduard" over "Njetrjebko", hands down, particularly since э is so rarely encountered.
So we write Evgenij, Ershov and Netrebko, on this site (and Rafaehl... oh well, there are no perfect solutions!). Bear in mind, though, that pronunciation is really "Njetrjebko", more or less, and you have to say "Jevgenij" and "Jershov".
So far for Russian; in Ukrainian, things are much easier to put straight. Ukrainian-Cyrillic е is pronounced as eh, while for the je sound, they have a letter all their own and unheard of in Russian: є. Different from what I'm doing for Russian words, I'm transliterating, from Ukrainian, е as e and є as je, because in that language, е is far more frequent than є, and so we can transliterate the way we've already defined as "obvious" for Russian, but here without violating readability.

Exceptions from all these rules are made where singers transliterated their own names in a different way (thinking of Hvorostovsky, who would be Khvorostovskij in my system), except where – which goes only for very few names – they used different transliterations for every country where they sang: Chaliapine, Chaliapin, Schaljapin... becomes, strictly sticking to the system, Shaljapin on this site.

Finally, alphabetical order... a mystery to too many! The computer has totally ruined every sense of alphabetical order, always treating blank spaces like unsurmountable obstacles that inhibit alphabetical progress. That's completely wrong!! It has become customary to see "alphabetical" lists of, say, names that list first all "Di Xxx" names, and then the "Dixxx" ones, like in "Di Bernardo – Di Mazzei – Di Stefano – Di Tommaso – Dianni – Dister". Customary yes, but still painfully wrong; correct alphabetical order totally ignores all blank spaces, so it's "Dianni – Di Bernardo – Di Mazzei – Di Stefano – Dister – Di Tommaso". Same goes for aria/song titles: "Abbandonata" comes before (and not, like your computer fancies, after) "A buon mercato", because "A buon mercato" has to be sorted as if it were written "Abuonmercato".
A very special case is the Dutch tussenvoegsel, the ubiquitous "prefix" in Dutch names: de, van, van de, van der... in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, it is considered in alphabetical order; in the Netherlands, it isn't. So somebody called Van der Heyden will be filed under V in Belgium, but under H in the Netherlands. On this site, I'm following the respective rules, and sort Belgian singers the Belgian way, and Dutch singers the Dutch way.
Things are much easier for the German equivalent "von": in German, it's a gross mistake to file "von" names under V, and different from what you are used to read in international auction catalogs, it's never "von Bary, Alfred", but "Bary, Alfred von".
Last remark on alphabetical issues: in the sound index, aria and song titles are given in strict alphabetical order (articles included), but opera titles in scientific alphabetical order (articles not included, so La traviata is not filed under L but under T). That way, the respective indices are not only easier to use, but also exposing both important systems of alphabetical order, and thus hopefully contributing to the preservation of literacy in illiterate times.




Go to top of main page