The Metropolitan Opera, once a prominent holdout against displaying English lyrics of performances in other languages, now plans to give its audiences simultaneous translations, possibly seat-by-seat.

The opera company will experiment this season to find the best system for showing the words, Bruce Crawford, the Met's board president, said last week. Something could be in place as early as autumn 1994.

Supertitles - the above-the-stage equivalent of silent-movie subtitles - had been a dirty word around the Met since its artistic director, James Levine, strongly condemned the idea in a 1985 interview.

But in a speech to Met contributors in June, Mr. Crawford said that titling was bringing new listeners to opera and, more importantly, "encouraging opera lovers to try new experiences."

It also will enable the Met to broaden its offerings of new, unfamiliar works. "If the Met isn't going to restrict itself to the 'greatest hits' repertory, titles may be a necessity," he says.

Mr. Levine and the opera's general manager, Joseph Volpe, who had shared the conductor's objections to titling, were "perfectly agreeable today to going forward with this," Crawford says.

Levine was traveling and unavailable for comment. The conductor has accepted subtitling in telecasts from the Met and conducted under supertitles during a Met tour in Japan this summer.

Most major American opera companies use supertitles. The New York City Opera has for the last 10 years.

Mr. Volpe is leading the effort to find an effective way to display titles in the 3,800-seat Metropolitan Opera House, Crawford says.

With the opera house's five-story-high proscenium, an audience trying to watch the stage and read the text above might look like spectators at a vertical tennis match. One solution under consideration is to run the titles on a screen wired to the back of each seat. The screen could be turned on or off by the viewer and would not distract neighbors who chose to keep their screens off.

No system like this exists in other theaters, Crawford says, "but the configuration of the Met and the height of the proscenium may force us into trailblazing."

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