Part 1 of the Question
There are probably two reasons why opera is not as popular in America as it is in Europe:
- Americans are not familiar with the stories because they are part of the culture of the authors, or the narratives seem absurd in this day and time.
- Americans are unfamiliar or not knowledgeable of the languages in which the operas are written; therefore, the opera seems terribly foreign. Among Europeans, many speak more than one language, so they may know easily understand what is being sung; of course, the opera could be in their own language.
Part 2 of the Question
Nowadays, however, operas are inviting more people to attend because they have adjusted to these American conditions, so to speak. That is, surtitles are being used; so, much like the subtitles of foreign films, the English translation of what is being sung is shown above the stage. The New York City Opera first used surtitles in 1983.
Some viewers, however, have found surtitles distracting; so other methods are employed for translations. One system is the electronic libretto system. With this, individual screens are placed in front of each seat and the audience member can view it, or turn it off. This electronic system is employed by the New York Metropolitan Opera, who was the first to install it.
Still another method for learning the context of the opera is with what is called Rear Window Captioning. With this technique, viewers have a transcript projected onto a reflective plastic panel mounted on a stick.