Ben Hur Speaks Aramaic
Heidelberg Semitic experts translate dialogues for live show
Fifty years after the legendary film version starring Charlton Heston (1959), the dramatic story of "Ben Hur" is now touring the arenas of the world in the form of a live show, an exceptional mixture of film, drama, musical and circus, with a range of special effects. Due to the work of two scholars from Heidelberg University, the main actors and the extras are able to communicate in the languages of the time, including Aramaic. Klaus Beyer, emeritus professor of Semitic Studies, and Semitics student Evgin Dag have painstakingly translated the dialogues for the show into Aramaic. In addition, Evgin Dag attended several rehearsals to make sure that the actors learned the correct pronunciation.
“Of course it’s hard to teach people to produce sounds they’ve never used in their lives before,” says Evgin Dag. “For this reason we had to devise new techniques in the course of the rehearsals.” The Heidelberg student is full of praise for the commitment displayed by the actors. Evgin does not believe that the use of unfamiliar languages – Aramaic and Latin – will be an obstacle to understanding the development of the plot. “The show has a narrator who gives a prior account of the content of the dialogues, translating them into German or summarising them in different words,” Evgin reports. “That way, hardly anyone in the audience will get the impression of being completely at sea.”
“Ben Hur Live” is a project masterminded by the Munich producer Franz Abraham. The dialogues were penned by the well-known British script-writer Shaun McKenna. As in the various film versions of this exciting story from ancient Rome, one of the highlights of the show is the spectacular chariot race involving real horses. The show will be touring large-scale performance venues all over the world, including various locations in Germany. The world premiere took place in London in September 2009.