Weimar, Germany: The Fach System

As you probably know, I’m not here in Germany just for funsies. I’m here to work, which for me means to sing. I’m participating in a program called Lyric Opera Studio Weimar, which includes training components like voice lessons and coachings, master classes, and language studies, as well as the opportunity to learn and perform a full role in an opera.

Me and two of my singer friends from this program, on one of our concert days.

Me and two of my singer friends from this program, on one of our concert days.

One of the unique aspects of this particular program is the opportunity to learn from and sing for various artistic staff members of the German opera world. Earlier this week we had a seminar with a German stage director who talked to us about how to make it in the German system. One of the major aspects of the singing world over here is the Fach system. Yes, it sounds like a bad word, but essentially it means what vocal category you fall into. I discussed it a little bit back in February.

Determining your Fach is much more specific than being classified as a soprano, alto, tenor, or bass in a choir, for example. There is even a book called the Handbuch der Oper that serves as the Bible of the Fach system. (Am I allowed to say that?) It lists every role in the standard operatic repertoire and assigns each one to a voice type. Again, though, we’re not just talking about “soprano” as a category. “Soprano,” as an example, is broken up into the following categories (in English):

-Lyric coloratura soprano

-Character/soubrette soprano (a little bit outdated; mostly used in operetta in old houses)

-Lyric soprano

-Dramatic coloratura soprano

-Young dramatic soprano

-Dramatic soprano

-Wagnerian soprano

My voice falls into the first, lightest category, the lyric coloratura soprano. According to the Handbuch der Oper, there is a specific list of roles I’m “allowed” to sing as a lyric coloratura, including Adele in Die Fledermaus, Adina in L’elisir d’amore, Cunegonde in Candide, and Norina in Don Pasquale. Singing anything outside one’s Fach, even just a single aria, is really frowned upon in Germany.

What that means for singers is that when we go to auditions, we should only bring arias that reflect our current Fach, or things that we could be hired to sing right now, even if that means our rep list consists of almost entirely Mozart (which mine does, under these rules). This is different from the system in the States, where you’re expected to present an assortment of arias that include a variety of time periods as well as three or four languages. In the States, an English aria is required, preferably a contemporary one. In Germany, no one cares a bit about English-language opera, so no one sings (or asks for) English arias.

In general, the American categorization system is a watered-down, less intense version of the German Fach system. You’re definitely expected to sing arias and roles within your voice type, but you’re not expected to abide by the Handbuch to the letter. There are obviously pros and cons to both systems, but it’s something to understand and get used to if you ever want to audition in Germany.

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Weimar, Germany: Observations So Far

Ew, I’ve been so horrible at posting since I’ve been here. To be fair, I’m kept very busy, and when I do have down time I spend it talking to my roommates and otherwise socializing. We’ve even had Robin Williams movie nights in the living room of the house.

But since I’m here now, I thought I’d share with you a few observations I’ve made thus far of German life in general. Remember, this is the product of me having been here only a week and a half, so those of you who have actually lived here may have different thoughts. I’ll also be making a separate post about German singing culture.

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First of all, German rainstorms are not to be taken lightly. The sky could be perfectly blue, and all of a sudden out of nowhere, you’ll be soaking wet. This is especially likely if you’re out and about in town in your concert attire and dress shoes, and if you don’t bring your umbrella everywhere you go, well, then it’s guaranteed to downpour.

Germans also really love their carbs. This one probably comes as no surprise, but I don’t think I’ve eaten a single raw vegetable since I’ve been here, or a meal that didn’t include meat and some type of bread or pasta. I love carbs more than the average person, but if we didn’t have a lot of walking to do every day, there would be problems by now.

When it comes to sit-down meals, the timeline is much slower here. You can sit down at a restaurant and wait twenty minutes for someone to begrudgingly show up to take your order. The food comes out fast, which is nice, but if you have any sort of deadline at all, you better ask for the check (Rechnung), and don’t be surprised if the server rolls their eyes before meandering off to fetch it. In fact, most people who work in customer service are about as cranky as can be. On the other hand, German public transit is absolutely punctual and very efficient, so I’m all confused.

When you walk around a public place in the States, it’s pretty easy to find a trash can. That’s not so much the case here, so the cleanliness of public areas is particularly impressive. I don’t think I’ve seen any trash on the ground at all, even with the lack of trash cans. Dog poop is another story.

Sundays are pretty dead around here, which can be a little bit of a shock if you’re not used to that (and I’m certainly not). You have to plan ahead with groceries and errands and such. That said, Germans don’t just stay at home on Sundays, oh no. Several friends and I stumbled upon on a wine festival last Sunday that was clearly the place to be. And by the way, the wine here is just as good as the beer.

The Erfurt Weinfest. Yesss!

The Erfurt Weinfest. Yesss!

Unlike what I experienced earlier this summer in London and especially Paris, fashion is, shall we say, not a high priority in Germany. One of my colleagues pointed out that people here dress like they’re still in the 90s. We’ve seen a lot of interesting fashion choices, which is ironic since there are several chic clothing shops in the immediate vicinity.

In terms of language, it’s pretty easy to get by with minimal Deutsch skills. Most customer service people speak enough English to help you out if you get stuck, which is refreshing after having been to Brazil earlier this year. They’re not always pleased about it, but if you at least try to speak German first, they’ll smile and be nice to you, especially if you look like you just got off a 10-hour flight.

So there you have some of my initial observations. Stay tuned for more!

Weimar, Germany: One Week Down

Hallo! I’m about one week into my opera program out here in Weimar. It hasn’t been the easiest week of my life, since I’ve been homesick in addition to struggling with some difficulties and issues at the program itself. To be honest, I haven’t had much time, energy, or desire to post at all. But now that we’re starting to settle into a routine (and I’m not needed for rehearsal at the moment), I thought I’d post sort of an overview of what it’s like to be here.

The program is based on one particular property in Weimar. There are two houses on the property, the “front house” and the “back house.” The majority of us live in the front house, and that’s also where we have all our meals and German classes. In the back house we have coachings and occasionally music rehearsals, and we are only allowed to sing in that building. No singing in the front house!

The front house as seen from across the street.

The front house as seen from across the street. My bedroom window is the second from the top on the right.

I share a bedroom in the front house with four other girls. Yes, there are five of us in one room. It feels a bit like being at Hogwarts, so I actually kind of like it. Two of us are from the States, and the other three are from New Brunswick, Kenya, and Hong Kong, though all three of them studied or are studying in England. There’s a whole variety of countries and languages represented here, which is really amazing.

Our bedroom before everyone unpacked. It doesn't look like this anymore.

Our bedroom before everyone unpacked. It doesn’t look like this anymore.

In the mornings we have breakfast (Frühstück) provided for us by two lovely Frauen, followed by German class. It’s very early and very hard to motivate ourselves to actually go to class, but it’s at least somewhat helpful to be able to focus on the language by itself for a little part of the day. After German, we jump in to both staging and musical rehearsals. These are usually held at the theatre where we’ll be performing our final shows, which is about a ten-minute walk from the house. It’s really lovely to be able to walk through town several times a day, and there are lots of shops and things that are conveniently located on the way.

A typical street in Weimar.

A typical street in Weimar.

Lunch (Mittagessen) is served back at the house at 2:00, which is incredibly late for even a German lunch. I don’t know why it’s scheduled that way, but everyone is always starving by then, which I guess is good because Mittagessen is the main meal of the day in Germany. It usually consists of something hearty, like pasta, stew, or meat of some sort. Germans love their carbs, and it can be tough to find fruits or veggies (at least raw ones) that are readily available.

After lunch we head back into rehearsals, usually working on new staging in the afternoons. Throughout the day, people are scheduled for individual coachings with some guest coaches back at the house, which can be a welcome break from a long rehearsal. Dinner (Abendessen) is always “on our own,” so we head out in groups to find something to eat before coming back for the evening rehearsal session. I won’t lie, a few of us have had ice cream (Eis) for dinner more than once.

The day usually ends at about 10:30 PM when we all drag ourselves back to the house and go to bed… or more likely, gather in the living room in the front house and watch Robin Williams movies. Sad face.

That’s a basic overview of what a typical day looks like. On the rare occasions where some of us have free time because we’re not called to rehearsal, we spend it getting groceries, doing laundry, napping, going to the giant heavenly Target-esque department store called Müller, browsing through Bärenreiter scores at the music shop, and of course, studying our roles and practicing. But those, meine Freunden, are stories for another time.

Nach Deutschland!

Today I am off to Germany for a month-long opera program called Lyric Opera Studio Weimar! I’ll be singing two roles in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, as well as studying the German language, taking lessons, coachings, and master classes, and auditioning for German agents. Eeek!

I’ll arrive in Frankfurt tomorrow morning and then take a three-hour train ride to the small town of Weimar, the hometown of J. S. Bach. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, exploring a new city (and hopefully beyond), working hard on my German skills, and delving into Mozart’s magical final opera. I’ll be posting regularly while I’m there, so keep checking back for news about my adventures!

A photo from the last time I was in Germany. It was July 2006 and I was a freshman in college.

A photo from the last time I was in Germany. It was July 2006 and I was a freshman in college.

Month of Dresses: Day 26-31

We’re finishing out the Month of Dresses today, and I’m happy to report that it was a success! I made it the entire month wearing a dress every single day and never repeating any. (This may be a sign that I have a problem. Please do not seek help for me.)

Day 26: gorgeous forest green bejeweled gown from Macy's, for opening night of "The Prince of Pilsen"!

Day 26: gorgeous forest green bejeweled gown from Macy’s, for opening night of “The Prince of Pilsen”!

Day 27: purple empire-waist dress from MaxStudio. Please excuse my post-show hair.

Day 27: purple empire-waist dress from MaxStudio. Please excuse my post-show hair.

Day 28: navy blue rosette dress from Macy's. At least I think it's from Macy's... I bought it over three years ago for our rehearsal dinner!

Day 28: navy blue rosette dress from Macy’s. At least I think it’s from Macy’s… I bought it over three years ago for our rehearsal dinner!

Day 29: little black dress 2 of 2 from Macy's.

Day 29: little black dress 2 of 2 from Macy’s.

Day 30: sailor dress from some boutique in Vancouver, the name of which I can't remember for the life of me. But I love this dress!

Day 30: sailor dress from some boutique in Vancouver, the name of which I can’t remember for the life of me. But I love this dress!

Day 31: brown polka-dot dress from White House Black Market.

Day 31: brown polka-dot dress from White House Black Market.

So there you have it: Month of Dresses, completed! Were you inspired to wear dresses more, like some of my real-life friends and coworkers have told me they are? Could you ever pull off a solid month of dresses?