The lyrics of live opera will soon move a little closer to the eyes and minds--having already reached the ears and hearts--of audiences at Lincoln Center.

The New York City Opera, long an advocate of singing foreign-language operas in English-translation versions for an audience that it considers less worldly than that of its neighbor, the Metropolitan Opera, is adopting subtitles.

Beginning with its 1984 season, the NYCO will present all of its foreign language operas with six-foot-high English subtitles projected onto a screen above the stage.

And for its upcoming strike-shortened season, beginning Sept. 21, the NYCO will offer subtitles at all performances of just one opera--its new production of Massenet's "Cendrillon"--Cinderella.

A spokeswoman for the NYCO said the subtitles will not be literal translations on what the opera characters are singing, speaking, screaming or cursing.

She said the opera company will offer the audience an opportunity to understand the essentials of the stage action and singing without having to know the opera's language and without needing to understand the opera world's often-unintelligible singers. Frequently, opera singers who make beautiful sounds slur their words, regardless of the language they're singing in.

The NYCO says the subtitles will be above the singers and scenery, but below the top of the stage's proscenium, via rear projection.

NYCO General Director Beverly Sills said she got the idea from seeing subtitles used by a Canadian opera company and became convinced of their value at a summer festival performance at New York State's Artpark.

The use of subtitles on opera telecasts has become standard in the United States. The Metropolitan Opera said today it has no plans to adopt a similar policy.