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-Character/soubrette soprano (a little bit outdated; mostly used in operetta in old houses)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