Opera nerd meets grammar freak

Opera nerd meets grammar freak

Jenna Simeonov

I look at a lot of artist biographies, concert programs, season line-ups, and other lists of opera titles, and I keep noticing a small, nerdy detail that I’ve finally decided to address.

Can we discuss the right way to use capital letters in your opera titles?

In English, we use plenty of capital letters. The Turn of the Screw, Two Boys, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, etc. It’s an anomaly in that it uses capital letters consistently throughout a title, regardless of the function of each word.

German capitalizes initial title letters, and all nouns, proper or otherwise. So, Die Fledermaus and Die Entführung as dem Serail, but Die tote Stadt; the adjective “tote” stays in lower case, like Die lustige Witwe and Der fliegende Holländer.

In Italian and French, the only words that use capitals are initial letters and proper nouns. So, Le nozze di Figaro and Lucia di Lammermoor, but not La Clemenza di Tito or I Puritani. Les pêcheurs de perles and Les contes d’Hoffmann and not Le Roi D’Ys or La Belle Hélène.

For titles like La traviata and La bohème, there’s more of a grey area between using the words “traviata” and “bohème” as nouns (not proper ones), and using them as nicknames of sorts for the characters they describe. Both La traviata and La Traviata are correct, but it’s definitely Così fan tutte and Il barbiere di Siviglia.

Of course, if you’re using English translations of titles, The Magic Flute and The Barber of Seville are correct.

So, English speakers, as you proofread your biographies and type up recital programmes, keep your eye out for unneccessary capitalizations; if not for this detail-freak blogger, do it because it’s simply correct.


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