The “magic” of braille surtitles for live performance


NZ Opera has developed what it believes is world-first technology, enabling  the provision of Braille surtitles for live performance. It’s technology that has already been used  in the Auckland performances of Rossini’s Le comte Ory and will be available in the Wellington and Christchurch seasons this month.

Using a programme called, developed by NZ Opera General Director Brad Cohen working with colleague Hugh Glaser, the technology delivers the opera’s surtitles directly to patrons’ Braille-reading devices. 

It’s also able to deliver the surtitles to personal tablets for people with low vision.

“NZ Opera is delighted to confirm that Braille surtitles will be accessible for all of our performances of Le Comte Ory,” Brad Cohen says. “In recent months, we were pleased to work with Audio Described Aotearoa to develop this technology and we’re incredibly proud to be making our productions more accessible for our blind and low-vision audiences.”

Paul Brown, who is blind and co-founded Audio Described Aotearoa with Nicola Owen, attended an Auckland performance of Le Comte Ory, where he was able to read the surtitles in real time on his Braille-reading device.

Reading opera surtitles in real time

“It felt like I was really included,” he says. “Braille is my reading medium and to read the surtitles in real time on my braille display was awesome. The surtitles refreshed when the singer got to the next line without me having to do anything. It was magic.

“You want to listen to an opera: it’s about the singing and the music. I could have followed the opera with the surtitles and not listened to the audio description. This new innovation gives us choice: the choice to read only the surtitles, to listen to only the audio description – or to do both. I did both.” 

Paul says that he now knows what the sighted audience is getting in terms of surtitles. “For this opera, this was particularly important as the surtitles weren’t a literal translation: they were translated into Kiwi slang. The audience was laughing at the surtitles and I was able to laugh with them as I was reading them too.”

Audio Described Aotearoa will be describing performances in Wellington and Christchurch. There will also be a free touch tour of the set, some costumes and key props two hours before each audio-described show, giving patrons a chance to gain a behind-the-scenes insight into the production.

NZ Opera’s production of Rossini’s comic opera, Le Comte Ory, presents a contemporary (and very Kiwi) staging by Simon Phillips and Tracy Grant Lord. The cast includes Manase Latu, Moses Mackay, Hanna Hipp and Emma Pearson.

Wellington and Christchurch performances

St James Theatre, Wellington

Thursday 13 June: 7:30pm Braille surtitles available

Saturday 15 June: 5:30pm touch tour, 7:30pm audio-described performance

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

Thursday 27 June: 7:30pm Braille surtitles available

Saturday 29 June: 5:30pm touch tour, 7:30pm audio described performance

For more information and to book your tickets

The “magic” of braille surtitles for live performance


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