Sunday, May 31, 2009

How Much is TOO MUCH Fach-ing????

Sunday morning...

With a blog title like that, I feel a little like the operatic version of a Carrie Bradshaw!!! However, wanted to give you a little giggle if I could!

This has come up time and time again - and I've been thinking about it a great deal.  

First of all - what is fach in opera?  It is a theatrical system developed in Germany for determining what roles a certain voice type would sing.  It can be a bewildering thing at times!!
It is not a system of absolutes - thank god.  Some singers just do not "fit" comfortably into one fach.  Some roles have been traditionally looked at as a certain fach, and now are morphing into others...

So, as singers - how do we find some answers and figure some things out for ourselves?  Of course, having that team of teacher/coaches around you will also help!

As with type in Music Theatre, your fach is gonna change!!! As your voice continues to find its depth and strength and development, this often indicates you may move from a certain set of roles to another.  Not always, but often.  If you stay within a fach, you will just inform it more thoroughly as the voice settles.

And here is what drives me nuts...personal pet peeve: WE ARE NOT ALL DRAMATIC VOICES!!!!! and guess what?! IT IS OKAY!!!!!!!!

Bigger is NOT better if you aren't physically or vocally built to be a dramatic voice.  What happened to being in love with being a soubrette??? I would like that to be okay again...

So - perhaps the first and foremost thing is this :  STUDY.  Develop that voice, see where it is and see where it MIGHT be.  I often see singers who try to jump into repertoire that is beyond them right away, and end up crashing and burning because they tried to walk before they crawled.  Often, what has to happen then, is going back and learning to crawl.  Learning those roles that lead into the next, in order to develop the necessary vocabulary and language - vocally, stylistically etc - to bring authenticity.

STUDY TRADITION.  This is important for several reasons: know where these roles originated and who was singing them and why.  Recognize that the singing athlete today is NOT what went on 50-60 years ago, so begin to develop a compare and contrast of what was considered the norm then and why and how it differs today.  

STUDY CHARACTERIZATION.  Fach is THEATRICAL device.  Recognize HOW it has been used, how it continues to be used, and how it is often used differently from country to country. And in North America, how it can be different house to house!

DISCOVER HONESTY.  This is the hardest one.  KNOW YOUR VOICE.  Be honest with yourself. Be TRUE with yourself.  

Another pet peeve - young singers who think they NEED to fach themselves too early in their development.  DO NOT PUT YOURSELF IN A BOX!!!!  There always seems to be a need to say "Hi I'm so-and-so and I'm a such-and-such soprano".  I am amazed as I consult with younger singers how micro-fach they become  "Hi, I'm so-and-so and I'm a full lyric moving into spinto with a dash of dramatic and on good days slight coloratura soprano".

I feel like I am at Starbucks ordering a voiced-latte!!!

I would like to suggest to you, that ALL voices if developed well, need to find lyricism, fioritura, dramatic depth, and physicality and commitment.

What if you don't NEED to be ANYTHING as a young singer?  What is you JUST SING and find that voice first and learn to sing?

As you develop the voice and find its true balance, and discover the character in the voice and its relationship to your physicality, perhaps the roles and fach you can explore will become apparent from the inside out.  

If we begin with arias being simply notes on a page, anybody can sing the notes.  But that is just the beginning.  Then, can you sustain the athleticism physically and vocally, not to mention, artistically for that role? And can you be heard through an orchestra the size that the composer wrote for, in a house that you need to sing in today?

If there is ANY hesitation, perhaps it's time to take a step back and re-evaluate.

As I had eluded to in an earlier blog, opera is theatre, and we are seeing more and more that the physical type is becoming more prominent in casting, not just the "park and honk" mentality. HOWEVER, every fach demands a certain physicality - not just in character but in vocal strength and endurance.  Does your voice match your body type?  Another consideration as you develop your understanding of voice and fach and characterization.

There are reasons the Wagner girls are usually bigger than the soubrettes!!! THEY HAVE TO BE to make and sustain that much SOUND PRESSURE!

So, to you young singers, please DO NOT fach too soon, let along micro-fach yourself!  You will often notice that singers who have been around a minute or two longer tend to just give their general category: "I'm a soprano, I'm a baritone" etc.  They do not specify.  They don't need to. Opening up their mouths and singing will give enough information if they have done the work.

Perhaps aiming for THAT truth will make that fach more apparent to all concerned.


  1. Excellent post and a subject dear to my heart with young and not-so-young singers.

    Even within a fach, there might be roles that just don't fit for various reasons (looks, colour of voice, language skills, acting skills).

    I love coloratura repertoire, I always did yet, I am no about to sing Caro nome because I LIKE the aria. I love to sit back and listen to a real coloratura sing this aria. It is so beautiful.

  2. Super post. Thank you!

  3. Thank you Susan! You've read my blog so you know I'm going through this with one piece right now. For me it matters only because I have to decide which songbook to buy! :)

  4. I have 2 things to say here. First of all, I don't think there exists a traditional soubrette fach anymore. I know they are out there but b/c directors have placed so much of an emphasis on looks lighter voices are being forced into larger repertoire. The voices are still soubrette but those that would generally sing that literature aren't necessarily singing it. Does that make sense? I think soubrette nowadays is more associated with a young lyric soprano. Young = around 20-24 years of age with the assumption that they will change around 25 to full lyric repertoire. This is what i have seen on my journey but it is not concrete. The singers that would sing full lyric in the 50s and 60s would be considered spinto today or even young Italian dramatic soprano and that is not rational.

    I agree completely that not everyone is a dramatic type of voice WHICH makes things VERY difficult when you go in with a dramatic type of voice. It's hysterical to me to walk in and hear these young singers saying "I'm a spinto, I'm a full lyric" and you can't even hear them out in the hallway of their audition in Nola studios. That's INSANE. That is NO DRAMATIC VOICE. A dramatic voice is not only a fairly large instrument in width but it is also loud. In my opinion, you can't be a dramatic voice if you aren't loud enough to cut through the orchestra REGARDLESS of the timbre or tone quality of the sound. Spinto means pushed. It's supposed to be this forceful, for lack of a better word, aggressive sound. Up close it is not so beautiful but that is the beauty of it b/c it carries so effortlessly across the orchestra in a 4000 seat house.

    The second thing I was going to say is that I don't believe in fach. I believe in singing what is comfortable to sing. I think limiting singers to a genre of 5 arias within a fach is the stupidest most inane thing to do. First of all, not everyone sings Mozart well and is not a Mozart singer. The same can be said of Puccini, Verdi, Bellini, and Donizetti. Ideally speaking, if you are a "full lyric' you should be able to sing a legato line and move the voice for some of the larger coloratura works. After all, how can you sing a Violetta or Leonora without a facility in the voice? To me it makes more sense to say, "she is a Puccini specialist or a Mozart specialist". When we are thinking of our favorite singers, and I have a long list, generally speaking there are very composers that they sing well and where their voice is showcased BEST. This is not to say that they can't sing other composers well or that they aren't EXTREMELY gifted artists. I am saying that there are certain works we identify with certain singers. Like, Freni for me is a Puccini specialist. Tebaldi is heavier Puccini and all the lyric works sans agilita in Verdi. Millo is Verdi with agilita. Carol Vaness is Mozart and Donizetti. Joan Sutherland is Donizetti, Handel, and Bellini. To say Joan Sutherland isn't a great singer b/c she was incapable of singing 5 arias and ONE OF THEM had to be a Puccini aria is RIDICULOUS. That is the extreme b/c that wasn't really her "fach" but hopefully you get my point. I think we limit singers nowadays to these stupid little boxes

    Anywho that was my spiel. Sorry for being winded. I guess you can tell I'm most passionate here.

  5. some interesting thoughts and passion from your comments! Developing a true understanding of your voice and how one determine's a vocal fach and vocal type takes experience, listening, and TIME! A continuation of this blog is coming...

  6. Holly - obviously you needed to say more than 2 things! I would hate to believe that soubrettes are done at age 24 as I know several who are well into their 50s and 60s! I don't associate dramatic with loud - again vocabulary - because as singers, we must be able to distinguish between director/producer-speak and our own understanding of fach, weight, timbre, and description of voices. LOUD doesn't cut an orchestra - balanced resonance does. Soubrettes have to get to the nosebleed section of the Met too. Beautiful sound is very subjective - and has nothing to do with fach. Associating singers with the composers they have claimed is a great way of discovering how voices work and what the expectation is stylistically.
    I don't think it's about believing nor not believing in fach as a system of organization - but rather, HOW it is organized and WHO is doing the organizing!

  7. Well Susan always says that it isnt about loud---- its about balance! And after studying with her and feeling the best about my singing than I have in quite some time, I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE! Balance, balance, balance.... Don't tip that bowl!

    It doesnt mean you are doing it right if you are loud. Loud does not equal dramatic.

    When i was in college people said oh you're a mezzo, then I was a full lyric on my way to dramatic but i had coloratura tendencies. You know what I say now, even at 27? I am a soprano. And frankly, that's good enough for me! The rest- they can figure out for themselves!

    Amazing post Susan! You are a master! :-)

  8. I think I wasn't clear. I wasn't saying that loud=dramatic, I was saying that in order to truly be a dramatic voice it needs to be able to project very clearly and very easily above the orchestra with some umph behind the sound. I was primarily arguing against those who say that a certain timbre = dramatic.

    I also think I was a little unclear about the soubrette thing. I am not saying that one can't remain a soubrette for the rest of her life. I am saying that nowadays b/c they are looking for thin singers and traditionally speaking most soubrettes are "usually" thin that they would prefer the singers with this voice type to go ahead and sing the Mimis etc b/c they LOOK the part. I believe you can potentially be a soubrette for as long as you are convincing as a young woman. Eventually, they wind up singing meatier roles primarily b/c they don't look 15 anymore.

  9. Sometimes it's language - but I believe timbre really helps to determine voice type. If a voice is going to be an operatic voice, ALL the voice types have to cut an orchestra and project. The timbre is more of a determining factor in discovering voice type. I think all singers need to be HEALTHY physically and realize the body AND the voice have to be able to not just SING the role, but DO it!