To help you understand your voice type, I have included information on the German Fach System. This material is a compilation of information taken from several German texts including Rudolf Kloiber’s, Handbuch der Oper and my own observations and experiences in German agent and opera house auditions. I have also incorporated these lists in lectures given at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Southern California, and the NATS chapters of Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Virginia.
GERMAN VOICE CLASSIFICATION
A normal agent or house audition in the German-speaking countries consists of one to three arias depending on how interested they are and/or how much time they have. In this short amount of time, you must show your vocal abilities and create an idea of how an opera house might best put your special talent to use. The Germans are lovers of classification and the voice is no exception. Each singer is categorized by vocal range, size, color, fullness of tone and character as well as physical appearance. After considering these variables, one is classified into a “Fach.”
The Fach System was developed to facilitate casting. The use of a set ensemble makes it necessary to know before choosing the repertoire for a season what roles each singer can be expected to sing. For example, a reasonably good looking soprano under 5′ 8″ with good diction and acting abilities with a basic vocal range of 2 octaves from C to C and a mellow but moveable voice is not the American lyric soprano but a Deutsche Soubrette. She is responsible for all the roles in opera and the operetta that belong to this Fach. If the theater is considering operas or operettas containing roles in this Fach, the resident Deutsche Soubrette is required to sing them – no matter is she feels they are her better roles or not.
The ideal opera house should have at least one singer from each of the most common Fächer. In practice, this is seldom the case. As most operas have more male than female roles, most ensembles are heavy on the men. More often than not singers are asked to cover roles that do not belong specifically to the Fach. Thus our Deutsche Soubrette might have a clause in her contract allowing the theater management to cast her as a Lyrischerkoloratursopran – a lyric coloratura soprano.
The word Fach as it is used in relation to the voice means classification. Fach can also be translated as box or cubby-hole, this gives you an idea of how rigid the classification can be. In the United States, there is no need for the Fach System, since we have no comparable repertoire theaters. Beyond the six basic vocal ranges with the addition of dramatic or comic, it is unnecessary for us to make any further classifications. One is either right for a part or someone else is hired. In the German-speaking opera house with a set ensemble and performances every night it is necessary to know exactly what each singer is capable of singing night-after-night.
In my estimation, the Fach System works. It was developed after years of observing the voice in performance conditions. The lists presented here are 95% accurate for every voice of normal operatic quality and size. The other 5% are the roles that vary from person to person through individual vocal peculiarities. Of course not every role is going to be the “ideal” role for every singer, and no one expects them to be, I am however convinced that if the repertoire on a whole fits the voice the other roles will do no damage to the voice, and the singer will be able to give a credible performance.
FACH OUTSIDE THE GERMAN SPEAKING COUNTRIES
On the surface, it would seem that the German Fach system would have little validity outside the European theater system. The United States has no comparable repertoire companies and singers are engaged per production giving them enough time between productions to prepare or adjust their voices to the demands of each opera. Even our “tonal ideal” – what we perceive as a beautiful sound – differs from that expected by the European ear.
The sheer size of the United States opera houses also plays a role in the American Fach. In Europe, the average opera house has approximately 900 seats. In the United States, however, theaters with 2500 to 4000 seats are not unusual. This places even greater demands on the singers’ ability to project in the American opera house.
These considerations aside, the German Fach system can still be of great value to the Americans singer. Even though the conditions of the American opera house differ from those in Europe, voices are the same. The German Fach system was devised with vocal health and longevity in mind. By using the Fach system as a guide one will present their voice in a way that will show them to have an understanding of the demands of professional singing.
A WORD ABOUT THE ARIA LISTS
You will notice that the lists contain some arias unknown outside of the German-speaking countries. The arias of Lortzing are very important for all young singers and are very often requested in an audition. Other arias, well known in United States auditions (Bellini’s Ah! non giunge, for example), are never heard in a European audition and therefore did not make the list. The reason is that European agents and general managers are true professionals; they see no reason to listen to an aria from an opera that is never performed.
THE SOUND EXAMPLES
To help you understand each voice type, links to one-minute recordings found on the Amazon and CDUniverse websites of representative singers are provided. The copyright information is embedded in each sound clip which remains the property of the recording company. Please visit the above sites to order the complete recording. The samples given here are intended for educational use only.