Elsa Fábregas: the art of dubbing

‘As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!’, swears Scarlett O’Hara at the end of the movie Gone With The Wind (1939), one of the most famous quotes of film history. At that time in Spain every motion picture was dubbed, so the Spanish public never heard Vivien Leigh’s voice making this oath. But it was made unforgettable in their language  by Elsa Fábregas (1921-2008), a dubbing artist who was at the beginning of a long and successful career. Advocates as well as opponents of revoicing recognized her big talent which made her one of the most important artists of Spain.

Foto: Joan Sànchez

Elsa made it to the top, because she mastered every single technique and gained expertise of the art of dubbing. The first principles were revealed to her by her aunt Marta Fábregas who in the 1930s already was a great and well-known dubbing artist in France but had moved to Barcelona to look after her orphaned niece. Marta continued her work in Catalonia’s capital and took 13-year old Elsa with her to the studio of ‘La Voz de España’, one of the first and most significant dubbing studios in Spain where she was a successfull director. Soon after this introduction Elsa played her first rôle; after that her dedication to her work, discipline and experience made her into a great dubbing artist who performed in 819 films during her 73 years of active life.

During her long career she gave her voice to a long list of actresses who displayed different speech characteristics, speed was one of them. This could present some difficulties: at times Elsa was close to despair. For example when working on Glenda Jackson who to her seemed to talk like a machine gun, a complex task as the dubbing voice somehow has to coincide with the movement of the actress’ lips.

Moreover each character, rôle and scene requires another way of speaking. Apart from the ability to adapt oneself to these particulars, dubbing also means you should be able to learn the text by heart in order to give the dialogues its original brillance and sincerety. A great sense of hearing and a feeling for the music of words is needed. With just saying ‘hello’ you can convey an infinite number of emotions (cheerful, annoyed, gruff, absent-minded). Not mentioning the physical aspects of the work, like controling the breathing process and using all the vocals when laughing.

Censorship and anecdotes

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