Fach, Fächer and You

What is it?

  • It’s a system for organizing, assigning and understanding operatic and operetta roles, voices and the requirements for successful, sustainable performances of the operatic repertoire in theaters over time.
    • It reflects practical necessities as well as aesthetic and cultural choices.
      • It is incorporated into singers’ contracts and can be binding on both parties
      • If a role is in a Fach listed in your contract you can be obligated to sing it.
      • If a role is not in a Fach in your contract, the theater must ask you, and you can decide.
      • The Fach system reflects and shapes how German theaters cast roles.
        • It differs in important ways from American ideas about casting and voices, but it is based on long practice in theaters with 10 month seasons, many premiers and constant rehearsals, so it is to be respected, whether you agree or disagree.
        • And in the end, it’s how they think and hire.
      • DON’T SING BEYOND YOUR FACH IN AN AUDITION
        • This is the very first thing a casting director said when asked what theaters are looking for in singers.
        • This is one of the most common mistakes American singers make!
        • It’s not about “following the rules” it’s about real voices on real stages with demanding schedules and they have more experience than you!
        • And worse than that, it will disqualify you pretty quickly.
      • How does it categorize voices and roles?
        • It has two broad categories
          • One, where beauty, quality, power and expressiveness of voice are primary. These are called the SERIÖSER FÄCHER.
            • Nonetheless, looks/physical typecasting has always be true to some extent even in this category, but is even more so today.
          • The other, where the physical, brilliant presence, acting and characterization predominate is the SPIEL – UND CHARAKTER FÄCHER. It includes the Soubrette and Light Lyric Coloratura, where beautiful and accomplished singing is necessary, but physical and performing attributes essential.
            • Several agents have recently told me singers in these Fächer simply cannot get hired if they don’t match the physical types. Soubrettes and Spieltenors have to be attractive and not too tall or overweight or they don’t stand a chance.
              • It stinks but’s that how it is.
  • The definitive arbiter of the Fach system-which roles belong in which Fach, and what kind of voice should sing them, is:
    • Handbuch der Oper, generally referred to as KLOIBER, after the original author
    • The current edition was published in 2016 by Bärenreiter,

A historical note: As far back as the mid-90’s singers called the tnen new edition Kloiber the ‘Intendant’s Kloiber’, because of the way it collapsed Fächer into one Fach, making singers obligated to perform a more roles than before. This process has continued as theater ensembles and budgets shrink.

  • Some Fächer cover so many roles that one singer is unlikely to be able to do them all. Try to understand where your voice and abilities fit in and tailor your audition package along those lines.
  • If you are offered a contract it will be important to come to an amicable understanding of which Fachpartien are outside your compass. Most theaters are sensible and won’t ask an Almaviva to sing Riccardo in Ballo or Pinkerton (often called “Linkererton” because “pinkeln” means ‘to pee’). These things are negotiable to some extent and require good faith on both sides. Very often the theater will ask you to try the role with their top coach (Studienleiter/in), which gives all parties a chance to make a considered professional judgement.
  • Most American singers present themselves as one Fach too heavy. If you can sing Despina standing on your head, don’t worry, they may well ask you to do that! Fiordiligi will still be there when you have a solid career behind you and are ready to sing that one on your head!
  • Following are the Kloiber vocal categories (one FACH, many FÄCHER) and a few of the roles associated with them (Fachpartien).

SOPRANO

  • Soubrette or Spielsopran
    • Range: middle C to high C
    • Kloiber describes the physical appearance as “Petite” and the voice as flexible and tender, gentle or delicate.
    • Roles include Papagena and many of the -ina roles, Despina, Barbarina, etc. Roles including Adina and Oscar in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera are listed as Soubrette but often sung by lyric coloraturas.
  • Lyric Coloratura Soprano.
  • Lyricher Koloratursopran/Koloratursoubrette
    • Listed by Kloiber as a “Spielfach”
    • Range: middle C to F above high C
    • Attractive, perhaps silky timbred voice with great flexibility.
    • Roles include Norina and Adina, but also, Zerbinetta, Sophie, Ilia, Blondchen, many Händel roles and Olympia and the high coloratura roles found in Halévy and Meyerbeer, for example.
      • Vocal Timbre can vary widely as do the roles, but must be also have line and dynamic flexibility.

Dramatic Coloratura Soprano

Dramatischer Koloratursopran

            Seriöser Fach

  • Middle C to F above high C
  • Described as very flexible with a great top and strong carrying power.
  • Cover a huge amount of repertoire and undoubtedly combines previously separate Fächer, so don’t worry if you don’t fit all the roles.
  • Includes great bel canto roles like Bellini’s Norma nand I Puritani, Donizetti Anna Bolena, Lucia, etc., Fiordiligi, Donna Anna, Queen of the Night, Traviata, Abigaille, and even Puccini’s Manon.
    • A true dramatic coloratura is much sought after and some of these roles are specialty items, like the Queen of the Night, which can make a career almost on that single role alone. But beware, just because you can hit all the notes doesn’t mean that the voice has the power.

Lyric Sopran

Lyrischer Sopran

  • Seriöser
  • Range-middle C to high C        
  • Kloiber describes is as a creamy voice, with beautiful gleam and a noble line.
  • Roles stretch from Bellini Sonnambula to Beethoven Marzellina, and include Michaela, Susanna in Nozze di Figaro, Elvira in Giovanni, Puccini roles Mimi, Lauretta and Liù.
  • Spinto Soprano
  • Jugendlich-dramatischer Sopran
    • Soprano voice with great volume that can create dramatic high points.
    • Range: middle to high C
    • Roles include most of the Italian lirico-spinto-soprano roles found in Verdi and Verismo: Amelia in Ballo, Desdemona, Leonora in Trovatore, Margarita in Boito’s Mefistofeles. In the German repertoire the first stepping stone is often Agathe in Der Freischütz, but this Fach now includes Elsa in Lohengrin, Sieglinde in Die Walküre, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, as well as Chrysothemis in Stauss’ Elektra and the Marshallin

 

 

Dramatic Soprano

Dramatischer Sopran                  

  • Seriöser (very!)
    • also a two octave range from middle C
    • A powerful metallic voice with strong dramatic impact
    • The heavy honkers, Brünnhilde in the Ring (as well as the 3rd Norn for starters), Senta in Holländer, Elektra, the Färberin in Frau ohne Schatten, plus roles like Len Orford, Minnie in Fancuiulla del West, Tosca and Turandot. along with some roles often associated with Mezzos, like Venus and Kundry
      • Singers at the beginning of their careers are seldom given these roles whatever their vocal gifts. Theaters generally will not risk having an inexperienced singer in a critical role in a major production. The costs of failure are too high for both theater and artist.

Coloratura Mezzo

Koloratura-Mezzosoprano

  • Range: middle G to high Bflat
  • Roles include the Donizetti Queens, Händel Giulio Cesare, and of course the Rossini Mezzos.
  • Lyric Mezzo
  • Spiel-/Lyrischer-mezzosopran
  • Listed as a Spiel Fach
  • Range G below middle C to high Bflat
  • A smooth, supple sound, with great personality and characterization abilities.
  • Roles include bel canto roles such as Bellini’s Romeo, Sara in Roberto Devereux, Cherubino, Dorabella as well as many French roles. Although listed as a Spiel Fach many roles require very serious singing.

 

  • Dramatic Mezzo
  • Dramtischer Mezzosopran
  • Flexible but metallic voice with a dark timbre which carries strongly over a large orchestra.
  • ZWISCHENFACH
    • (Sings both Soprano and Mezzo roles and often develops into a Dramatic Soprano..
  • Range from G below middle C to high Bflat.
  • Roles include La Favorita (Leonor de Guzman), the Mother in Hänsel u. Gretel, Laura in La Gioconda, the Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos, Octavian in Rosenkavalier, Federica in Luisa Miller or Preziosilla in Forza. Wagner roles include Fricka and Waltraute in the Ring, and Brandgäne in Tristan.
  • Character Mezzo/Alto
  • Spielalt
  • -listed with Lyrische Mezzo, but different roles. Requires strong acting in character roles, but includes Lola in Cavalleria, Frugola in Tabarro and Florence Pike in Albert Herring.
  • Lyric Alto
  • Lyrischer Alt
  • Listed as a Spiel Fach,
  • Range low G to high Bflat
  • Like Lyric Mezzo, flexible with strong characterization ability.
  • Lucretia in Britten’s Rape, Händel roles like Brandamnte in Alcina, Cornelia in Giulio Cesare, Mrs. Quickly in Verdi’s Falstaff.
  • Dramatic Alto
  • Dramatische Alt
  • Range: low G to high Bflat. Like dramatic Mezzo, Kloiber calls for a flexible voice with a well developed top and bottom and dramatic power.
  • NB: Although the listed ranges differ by whole step, Kloiber combines the role list for these two Fächer, since very few theaters have more than one soloist covering these roles. A true Ulrica or Erde is rare. Most often the slightly higher dramatic alto covers these roles. A true Ulrica might have trouble with the tessibura of some of these roles.
  • Low Alto
  • Tiefer Alt/Kontra-Alt
  • Range low F to high A
  • A fully developed voice with a powerful lower register
  • Roles include Ulrica in Ballo, Erde in Wagner’s Ring, Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria, and Sia Principessa in Suor Angelica and La Cieca in Giocanda.
  • MALE FÄCHER
  • Countertenor
    • Many Händel roles, Gluck Orpheus, Britten Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon.
  • Haut-Contre
    • Mostly French roles: Gluck, Lully, Charpentier, Rameau.
  • Buffo Tenor
  • Spieltenor
  • Range low C to high Bflat
  • A slender voice capable of characterization.
  • Roles include Jacquino in Fidelio, Dancairo or Remandado in Carmen, Pedrillo in Entführung, Monostatos in Zauberflöte.
    • Currently, physical type is essential. Has to be slim, agile, and not too tall.
    • Pedrillo’s Frisch zum Kampfe is an essential audition aria for this Fach because it shows high notes.
  • Character Tenor
  • Charaktertenor
  • Range-low A to high B
  • “Zwischenfach”-in betwixt Fach-can have various qualities, but must also be capable of strong vocal characterization. Can be penetrating and/or buzzy. Some become Dramatic tenors with maturity. Will also often sing buffo roles.
  • Roles: Tales of Hoffmann, Spalanzani, Turandot, Altoum, Salome, Herod, Falstaff, Dr. Caius, Rheingold, Loge
  • Lyric Tenor
  • Lyrischertenor
  • Range-C below middle C to high D
  • Kloiber says: A soft agile voice with excellent high notes.
  • Roles: Most of the important Bellini Donizetti and Mozart roles including Arturo in Puritani, , Donizetti’s Nemorino and Ernesto, Ferrando and Don Ottavio among many Mozart roles, and many Rossini roles such as in Barbiere, Cenerentola, etc.
    • This Fach is a good example of how previously separate Fächer have been combined, but also indicates how different vocal traditions affect casting. For instance while no one should be surprised to Rinuccio in Gianni Schicci in this Fach, few American singers would think that Pinkerton or Massenet’s Des Grieux should be sung by the same voice as Ernesto! Similarly the same singer cast for Fenton and Rinuccio, not to mention Rossini’s Almaviva in Barbiere, is expected to sing Riccardo in Ballo and the Duca in Rigoletto.
    • The lesson is three fold and applies to several Fächer: First, know what your aria choices say about your vocal category in the German system, and Second: Some Fächer have gotten ridiculously broad, so that singer and theater should come to a general understanding of how they hear your voice and what roles you might be obligated tosing. Third: European operatic taste and practice can differ significantly from what we’re used to here. Lighter voices often did sing a wider range of repertoire, and just because the Met does it that way doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of other valid performance practices!                                                                  
    • Spinto Tenor
    • Jugendlicher Heldentenor
    • Range-Low C to high C
    • Metallic voice with a noble tenor sound that can reach dramatic climaxes as well as sing lyrically.
    • Roles include most of the major Verdi and Puccini tenor roles including Calaf, Cavaradossi but also Rodolfo in Boéme,, Radames, Manrico, Ernani and MacDuff. Also includes German roles like Florestan, Lohengrin, Meistersinger’s Stolzing, Sigmund in Wälküre and Parsifal.
  • Dramatic Tenor
  • Heldentenor
  • Range-Low C to High C
  • A weighty, voluminous voice which must carry well in the middle and lower registers, sometimes with a baritonal color.
  • Roles include: Aeneas in Les Troyans, Peter Grimes, Bacchus in Ariadne, Otello, Sigfried and Tannhäuser.
  • Lyric Baritone
  • Lyrischer Bariton
  • Range: Low B to high A
  • A soft, flexible voice with excellent legato and high register.
  • Roles include: Billy Budd, Malatesta in Don Pasquale, Belcore in L’Elisir, Papageno as well as Don Giovanni and Figaro in Barbiere.
  • Full Lyric Baritone
  • Kavalier Bariton
  • Range: Low A to G above middle C
  • Metallic voice that can sustain lyric as well as dramatic moments, has a strong top with amasculine baritonal color..
  • Roles include: Enrico in Lucia, Marcello, Ford, Germont and Renato, and Wolfram, Escamillo.
  • Dramatic Baritone / High Bass
  • Helden Bariton / Hoher Baß
  • Range: Low G to Fsharp.
  • A big, well projecting voice that has a powerful top, is evenly produced and carries strongly in the middle and low register.
  • Roles include: Pizzaro in Fidelio, Gérard in Chenier, Tonio and Alfio in Cav/Pag,Jack Rance in Fanciulla, Jochanann in Salome, Amonasro, MacBeth, Simon Boccanegra, Iago, and Wagner roles like the Holländer, Telramund, Hans Sachs, Amfortas and Kurvenal.
  • Character Baritone
  • Charakter Bariton
  • Range: Low G to F
  • A powerful voice capable of nuance and characterization.
  • Roles include: the Father in Hänsel und Gretel, Schaunard, Scarpia, Paolo in Simon Boccanegra, Beckmesser in Meistersinger.
  • Bass-Baritone
  • Baßbariton / Spielbaß
  • Range: Low E to F above middle C
  • A large, substantial voice, with refined characterization abilities.
  • Roles include: Figaro in Nozze di Figaro, Timur in Turandot, Alidoro in Cenerentola, Monterone in Rigoletto, Bitterrolf in Tannh’user and Wotan/Wanderer in the Ring.
  • Basso Buffo
  • Spielbaß
  • Range: low E to high F
  • A slender, flexible voice that is able to strongly characterize.
  • Roles include: Don Pasquale, Dulcamara, Leporello and Cosi’s Don Alfonso, Rossini roles like Don Magnifico in Cenerentola and Mustafa in Italiana, Pistola in Falstaff, Sam in Ballo, and Fra Melitone in Forza.
  • Heavy Basso Buffo
  • Schwerer Spielbaß
  • Range: low D to F above niddle C
  • A voluminous voice with great breadth.
  • Roles include: Mefistofeles in Gounod’s Faust, Bartolo in Mozart’s Figaro and Osmin in Entführung (Abduction), Basilio in Barbiere, Tom in Ballo, Daland in Holländer.
  • Deep Bass
  • Seriöser Baß / Tiefer Baß / Schwartze
  • Range: low C to F above middle C
  • A rich dark voice with powerful low notes
  • Range: low C to F above middle C
  • Roles include Raimondo in Lucia, Zuniga in Carmen, Oroveso in Norma, Sarastro and the Commendatore, Colline, Alidoro in Cenerentola, and many Verdi roles such as Sparafucile, Banco in MacBeth, Padre Guardiano in Forza, Fiesco in Boccanegra, Zaccharia in Nabucco and Filippo in Don Carlos. Wagner roles incude the Landgraf in Tannhäuser, Pogner in Meistersinger, King Heinrich and Marke in Lohengrin and Tristan respectively.

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