Printer Friendly

Fach vs. voice type: A call for critical discussion.

To teach healthy and efficient phonation may be the primary task of a voice teacher, yet there remain many other significant duties to be addressed. Among these obligations is the preparation of the singer to advance to the next level of education or professional work, and it is common for voice teachers to be judged as much (if not more) by their students' professional success as the amount of technical progress the students make while in that studio. For the training of singers hoping to launch a career in opera, an important part of preparation for auditions is the selection and perfection of an "audition package." The selection of the arias for this package depends not only on the vocal qualities and restrictions of the singer in question, but also on current casting trends and market expectations. To offer an aria in the package that does not fit the current conception of that particular voice type, whether the inappropriateness of the role be pedagogically justifiable or merely a matter of taste, is to run the risk of exclusion from invitations to audition. Indeed, one hears directors explain that upon receiving hundreds of requests for auditions, any aspect of the application that points to a lack of professional preparation, such as inappropriate repertoire, offers an easy means by which to exclude those singers who are not yet ready to be heard. This process of reducing the applicant pool to a feasible number of singers, while frustrating to those who do not make the cut, is necessary for companies to save time and money.


In order to choose appropriate repertoire for auditions, then, a teacher must be sure not to suggest arias that are outside the expectations of a potential casting director. The most effective way to avoid such a faux pas is to be familiar with current casting trends, which are codified according to the always evolving Fach system. The problem with this system lies in the seemingly inextricable conflation of Fach and voice type. The system was indeed organized according to voice type, yet its fluidity demands the separation of the two. Despite the fact that Fach listings carry the titles of particular voice types, to consider Fach and voice classification synonymous would be to allow for the possibility that voice classification, like Fach, is dependent on market trends.

Just as voice classification depends primarily on ease of tessitura, timbre, and agility, so too can various roles be distinguished as appropriate for particular voice types according to the demands inherent in the score. As tastes change, however, casting trends emerge that have little to do with the actual demands of the score. Our collective expectations of vocal timbre for the portrayal of particular characteristics (femininity, masculinity, promiscuity, chasteness, etc.) shift, and the casting trends for particular types of roles shift correspondingly. Compounding the problem are technological advances, which now allow opera fans to (repeatedly) view singers at close range via DVD, making this shift in expectations not just one of vocal timbre, but also of body type. These demands on casting to satisfy fluid sociocultural expectations move roles about in the Fach listings regardless of the roles' tessitura, agility, or orchestration demands.

Voice classification is a description of the capabilities and limitations of an instrument, a physiological fact akin to--if not as easy to determine as--a person's height or eye color. Of course, the voice changes as it matures, and the manner in which an instrument is treated (hygiene and technique) can alter its capabilities and limitations. Yet these alterations serve to highlight or hinder qualities already present in the potential of the given instrument, not to change the instrument into another. To alter the body or strings on a violin, for instance, would not make it a viola, nor vice versa. Continuing with this analogy, even the loss of the upper strings of the violin would not render it a viola, though it would lose the majority of the sounds most commonly associated with the violin. The resonating chamber and the relationship of the size of one part to another would remain essentially the same despite such alterations. Even with a crack in the body or a piece of foam taped inside the chamber, physical relationships remain that ultimately determine what type of a stringed instrument it is. Though the aging process and the nature of human tissue make the vocal instrument more complex, these same guidelines for the determination of instrument "type" (the size of each part and the relationships of various parts to one another) remain generally applicable.

The manner in which the vocal instrument is measured to determine voice type has changed over the past centuries and will continue to change as advances are made in voice science. What years ago was primarily a question of range has become, in recent decades, myriad questions including such categories as register breaks, timbre, zones of ease of production (tessitura), and the degree of agility. (1) Today's voice teacher must learn to listen for and assess each criterion, and to understand the hierarchy of the various criteria for voice classification in order to determine the nature of the instrument at hand. Though voice classification has become more complicated and more controversial via the importance placed on ever more categories for consideration, voice science may soon take away from some of the controversy (if not the complexity). The amount of guesswork involved in assessing the potential of a young instrument, for example, could someday be reduced via computer imaging technology which would be able to appraise the laryngeal physiology and resonance cavities and thereby offer the actual physiological capabilities and limitations of the instrument while at rest, allowing for the singer's technique to play no role in muddling the assessment.

Although there exist numerous pedagogic studies concerning classification criteria and the anatomy and physiology of singing, dealings with the Fach system have primarily remained in the realm of defining terminology and role types, rather than in the analysis and implications of such a system. Secondary studies are needed, whether they be by nature primarily comparative or delve into pedagogic implications. As long as a lack of secondary literature on the Fach system remains, discussions are restricted to anecdotes, and arguments put forth are neither provable nor disprovable. This article seeks not to provide a thorough analysis of the Fach system or its pedagogic implications, but rather to draw attention to the need for such studies, to suggest one possible framework for an analytic approach to the system, and to illustrate the necessity of distinguishing between voice classification and Fach.


Any discussion of the Fach system must begin with a thorough definition of terms. Indeed, the system itself is essentially a group of expressions (dramatic soprano, lyric tenor, etc.) with specific definitions (range, timbre, appropriate roles, among others). The first term in need of exploration is the term Fach (pl., Facher). The German word Fach has as its most common meanings drawer and (academic) subject. Fach terminology is specific to a particular field; a Fachschaft is a professional association; the adjective fachlich means specialist or technical. Even with only these few examples, one can sense a general connotation of something that is contained within boundaries, whether it be as concrete as a desk drawer or as tentative as a field of knowledge. Fach, in other words, denotes category and implies restrictions or boundaries. In the world of opera, Fach describes a certain voice category and the roles sung by that type. This Fach system was codified during the great boom of unions in Germany in the twentieth century as a way to protect singers. Since repertoire singers were asked to perform began to include ever more diversity in terms of the demands of orchestration, tessitura, and range, so, too, did the amount of repertoire that was inappropriate for a given singer continue to increase. In order to create a method by which singers would not be contractually required to sing roles that might be harmful to their vocal longevity, lists were created of groups of roles with similar vocal demands. Each group/list comprised a certain Fach, and singers began to sign contracts that denoted their Fach. The opera house could then ask them to sing anything on the list under that particular category, but were required to list separately on the contract any roles that fell outside of that Fach. In this manner, singers were not surprised by role assignment after the contract had already been signed.


The remaining terms in need of clarification are those that are more specific and that may differ depending on the system in question. It is necessary, therefore, to list the definitions separately according to the source. Three sources explored below offer a glimpse into historical shifts (two editions of the same guide, thirty years apart) and regional differences (German vs. American). (2) To a large extent, the general definitions from source to source are in agreement with one another and in accordance also with voice classification.

Though the notion of four main categories of voice (soprano, contralto, tenor, bass) may have reigned at various points in history, the six-category model (soprano, mezzo soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, bass) has been more popular among pedagogues of late, and scientific advances have justified such divisions. Interestingly, the Grove Music Online entry for Fach cites a combination of these two models, allowing for the category of baritone but offering no middle-voiced category for female. (3) Despite this entry, there is widespread agreement among today's leading pedagogues concerning the three-category female voice model. From lowest to highest, then, the primary female categories are contralto, mezzo soprano, and soprano. Within each category, there may be the subdivision of lyric to dramatic (denoting lighter to darker timbre), or the subtitle coloratura (denoting great agility). Figure 1 shows the various levels of Fach designation, following low to high and dark to bright criteria.

Because the soprano voice is more common and more roles exist for it, there tend to be further divisions in practice of that voice type. The italicized categories above are less common, but are in use in systems of greater divisions. (In other words, secondary categories for voice classification are often not represented in the Fach categories for lower voices.) The most controversial points in the Fach system center around the roles belonging to each Fach, and, often, the roles deemed inappropriate for a particular Fach. (4) The comparison of specific definitions and of role assignation below will provide an illustration of Fach as a group of concepts which change over time or differ from region to region. The lyric mezzo soprano Fach will serve as a focal point for this comparative study for two reasons: there is great variety of vocal demands in the current repertoire, and, linked to this, the roles that constitute the Fach today were earlier considered more appropriate for other voice types. (5) Specific roles to be examined were selected primarily because of their popularity as audition/competition repertoire or their prominence in the opera world.


The most important guide for Fach is Rudolf Kloiber's Handbuch der Oper. (6) This has been the primary guide in Germany and Europe for decades, and it continues to be edited and rereleased to reflect changes in casting and repertoire. The organization of the guide is such that the bulk of the book consists of plot and historical descriptions of various operas. Each includes a list of voice types, followed by descriptions of vocal characteristics expected of each type. After this initial list are two separate sections of role listings, the first arranged by voice category and the second by opera. The initial criterion by which Kloiber divides roles, as he explains in the section introducing voice types, hinges on whether or not the character is serious or comic. For serious categories, his definitions include descriptions of vocal range, agility, timbre, volume, and ability to penetrate. Comic roles include some of these criteria in their descriptions, but they also mention acting abilities and appearance (see Table 1). The female voice categories for Kloiber are essentially subdivisions of soprano, mezzo soprano and contralto. With the exception of low contralto, all nonsoprano voices in this system are expected to be agile even though those Facher do not include the subclassification of coloratura in the titles.

In the 1973 edition of the guide, there is a listing for dramatic mezzo soprano, but lyric mezzo soprano is listed in parenthesis after Spielalt (a character contralto designation). Notice also that there is no lyric mezzo soprano or lyric contralto category for the serious roles. Furthermore, Kloiber's listing for dramatic mezzo soprano states that this voice is essentially an "in between" designation which often develops into a dramatic (i.e., dramatic soprano) voice with maturity. (In other words, there really is no mezzo soprano in the end.) The term Zwischenfach arises here and elsewhere, and is always in need of clarification. The literal translation, between Fach, would make the term applicable to any voice that seemed to share characteristics of neighboring categories. Kloiber, however, used the term to specifically denote a type of dramatic voice, or the range between a lyric and a "Helden"-Fach.[7] In America, on the other hand, we often use this term to denote a singer who might be either a soprano or a mezzo soprano.[8]

Kloiber's initial list of Facher does not change between the 1973 and 2004 editions; however, the assignment of roles to specific voice types and vice versa that follows does change to reflect more recent casting habits and to include the new categories of coloratura mezzo soprano, lyric mezzo soprano (as a separate category from Spielalt), and lyric contralto.(9) This means that these (in the Kloiber guide) only recently recognized categories are comprised of roles previously allocated to other Facher. As illustrated in Table 4 below, one Fach may indeed include roles previously deemed the territory of such disparate Facher as coloratura soprano and contralto.


The main American source in recent years for Fach descriptions and role assignation has been the Guide to Operatic Roles & Arias by Richard Boldrey. (10) Boldrey offers significantly more subdivisions of voice types than Kloiber, but he cautions that singers need not consider themselves as belonging only to one category.
Like books, voices and roles do not always fit comfortably into just one
category. Consequently, some pedagogues and singers dispute the value of
voice categories. They argue that voice categories keep them from
"crossing the line" and singing whatever their voices are capable of
singing. But voice categories are not meant to constrain singers (most
singers easily fit into two or even three neighboring categories).
On the contrary, they are meant to guide a voice toward appropriate
repertoire, to help guard it from going off in several directions at
once. (11)

The great degree of subdivision found in the Boldrey guide is perhaps a response to the immense amount of repertoire available and sensitivity to all of the criteria involved in voice classification and their myriad combinations. Indeed, Boldrey lists more criteria for consideration in both voice classification and role determination than mentioned thus far. For example, he considers registration and passaggi separately, and flexibility as a category independent of agility. His description of flexibility is intriguing, for it describes the ability to employ various colors and dynamics and to vary them with ease. In other words, what one might otherwise consider artistry or craft (fully independent of classification) is, for Boldrey, a criterion for classification.

Boldrey's book consists of thirty pages of introductory material (in which the categories and criteria used to arrive at them are explained) and a series of intricate listings organized in various ways to aid in searches (listings of roles organized by Fach, alphabetical listings of roles, lists of roles and their Facher organized alphabetically by opera, etc.). The initial thirty pages are particularly important because they offer a rationale for the lists that follow and for the usefulness of such lists in and of themselves (i.e., for the very existence of the Fach system). Boldrey presents this introductory material for voice categories in both lists and prose. The lists include the following criteria after each category: normal range, registers, timbre, weight/volume, vocal challenges, and acting challenges. (12) The female categories listed by Boldrey are: soubrette, light lyric coloratura soprano, light lyric soprano, full lyric coloratura soprano, full lyric soprano, light dramatic coloratura soprano, light dramatic (spinto) soprano, full dramatic coloratura soprano, full dramatic soprano, high dramatic soprano, light lyric mezzo soprano, full lyric mezzo soprano, dramatic mezzo soprano, lyric contralto, and dramatic contralto.[13] One can see at first glance that there are many subdivisions that are not represented in the Kloiber guide; indeed, there are four types of lyric soprano and five types of dramatic soprano. With his warning in mind not to consider a singer necessarily confined to one particular category, these subdivisions make sense, for the demands of roles considered appropriate for dramatic or lyric soprano differ significantly within each group, and this type of subdivision seeks to group roles together more precisely depending on the demands of orchestration and tessitura.

Such thoughtful and well researched grouping of roles could indeed aid a singer in finding the most suitable repertoire for her voice and avoiding inappropriate roles. Whether or not casting trends concerning body type, acting abilities, timbre/character expectations, and the like, make such subdivisions ideological optimism is a question worthy of consideration. For while tessitura and orchestration demands of a role do not change, casting trends do, and Boldrey's intricate lists will, sadly, probably not have much, if any, influence on global marketing shifts. In other words, this guide may lead the singer to the best roles, but the question remains (and the answer may change over time) whether or not the singer will be able to market him/herself succesfully with these most appropriate roles. Coming at the list not from casting trends but from pedagogic concerns, as Boldrey has done, is the only way to fulfill the theoretical premise of Fach as protecting the longevity of the singer. Yet when casting is at odds with such listings, the question becomes whether such a guide should also inform readers of the expectations of contemporary casting directors. Boldrey does note his suggestions for the most appropriate among the numerous Facher listed for each role. Perhaps a future guide could note both the most pedagogically sound and the most common in practice.

Boldrey's prose descriptions of categories, in contrast to these lists, trace larger conceptions of Fach and the history of the terminology. In his definition of pants roles, for example, Boldrey writes:
Pants or breeches or trouser roles...are associated with lighter voice
types, because most pants roles are younger characters. So most pants
roles are sung by light lyric sopranos or light lyric mezzo-sopranos,
though they can be found among all the female voice categories--except
the dramatic soprano. (14)

It is true that recent casting has not considered the dramatic soprano voice type appropriate for pants roles; however, those roles that are more heavily orchestrated, such as the Komponist (Ariadne auf Naxos) or Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier) have often been sung by dramatic sopranos. Indeed, the Fach system is one in which even a cautious general statement such as that above can be shown too ambitious when taken in a larger temporal context.

Of particular significance for this study is the distinction Boldrey draws between the light lyric mezzo soprano and the full lyric mezzo soprano. One rarely (if ever) sees a singer billed with such terminology, yet the distinctions are worth consideration. It is striking that with so many divisions of the soprano voices, including four distinct types of coloratura sopranos, Boldrey did not suggest the category of coloratura mezzo soprano. If the lyric mezzo soprano has accumulated the bulk of the trouser roles and coloratura mezzo roles, there remain some lyric mezzo sopranos who either lack the agility for coloratura roles or do not have the body type or acting/movement skills to portray trouser roles. Boldrey explains the difference between the light and full categories by addressing both vocal qualities and role suitability: "The light lyric mezzo-soprano, like her soprano counterparts, usually has a slender, bright voice, one that is able to move quickly and flexibly through coloratura passages. It is a voice of youth and exuberance." (15) The full lyric mezzo soprano "may or not have a flexible voice, but she does have fullness and warmth." (16) For the light lyric mezzo soprano, Boldrey states, there are some female roles (Mercedes, Marcellina, Rosina), yet "some of the most delightful pants roles in opera are written for the light lyric mezzo soprano," such as Siebel, Urbain, Hansel, and Cherubino. The full lyric mezzo, on the other hand, "is the choice of many early and middle nineteenth-century French composers for their young romantic heroines," such as Charlotte (Werther), and Dulicnee (Don Quichotte). (17)

Boldrey's prose description of the dramatic mezzo soprano does not include any vocal characteristics, but rather revolves solely around character type.
The dramatic mezzo-soprano is the female "heavy" in most operas. She is
the mother, the witch, the whore, the dowager, sometimes even the queen.
She is a favorite voice of Verdi and Wagner, as well as of the composers
of Eastern Europe and Russia. She also appears in most
twentieth-century operas written in America or Europe. (18)

It is interesting to note that here Kloiber and Boldrey differ in the voices for which they consider acting skills and/or character type significant enough to list. For Kloiber, the dramatic mezzo is a serious type and is therefore described solely by vocal characteristics, while Boldrey focuses precisely on character.

For Boldrey, role categorization is concerned with more criteria than general tessitura and orchestration demands. Boldrey identifies numerous relevant factors worth consideration, most notably when the highest notes in the role occur in the opera, and how the tessitura for ensemble numbers and solo singing differs. (19) These criteria are certainly important for consideration, though one might argue that casting trends have sometimes trumped at least the latter consideration, for directors have "solved" some of the tessitura inconsistencies in order to have the voice type of contemporary favor. Despina (Cosi fan tutte) is an example Boldrey offers as a light voice type whose main necessity is acting skills. She sings the lowest female part in the ensembles, and is indeed sometimes cast as a mezzo soprano. Yet the role is often sung by a soprano, and the tessitura for the arias fully justifies such casting. The confusion arises when one seeks to understand why Despina is given the lowest female line in the ensembles. To solve the problem of the ensemble voicing, many directors switch the female voices so that Dorabella is on the lowest and Despina on the highest part. This solution also helps many a Fiordiligi, since trends have been to cast that role with a heavier voiced soprano who often is thankful for a break in tessitura and exposed agility demands. (20)

A glance at Table 2 shows that one of the most immediate differences between the Kloiber Guides and Boldrey's is the number of Facher listed. Kloiber's guide tells us what type of singer is performing the role at the time of publication, while Boldrey addresses not only who is singing a role but for which type he thinks the role is most suited. Boldrey's lists would naturally include more Fach listings, since he lists greater subdivision of primary categories, yet for many of the roles multiple primary categories are also represented (Idamante, for example, includes soprano, mezzo soprano, countertenor, and tenor). (21)


One of the most important aspects of the Fach system for a teacher to keep in mind is that it represents casting preferences of one particular moment in time. Pedagogic reasons for considering a role to belong to one particular Fach (and thus be appropriate for the corresponding voice type) may be overwhelming, but those considerations can and do often bend to market trends. Though shifts can be traced in most Facher, one of the most interesting current Facher to consider in terms of the shifting of roles between categories is that of the lyric mezzo soprano, since, as noted above, the category was relatively nonexistent only a few decades ago. Table 2 shows Fach listings from the 1973 and 2003-04 Kloiber guides and the 1997 Boldrey guide for some of the more popular roles currently sung by singers billed as (lyric) mezzo sopranos. Because trends affect not only casting but also whether or not operas are popular enough for listing in the guide at all, some of the roles are not listed in every guide.

It is most interesting to read through the column for the 1973 Kloiber listings separately to gain a perspective on the truly disparate Facher to which many of these roles only recently belonged. For the repertoire has at some time or another been considered appropriate for every notion of the female voice, from light coloratura soprano to dramatic soprano to contralto. There was clearly also a trend to have trouser roles composed for castrati sung by tenors or baritones (not by counter-tenors, as we find today).

To understand why these roles were considered part of other Facher or why they have come to be considered appropriate for the lyric mezzo soprano, a brief overview of the vocal demands and extra vocal traits of the roles will be necessary. The determination of tessitura for a large role is tricky, particularly if that role encompasses a great range, such as the Rossini heroines or the Strauss trouser roles.(22) There are often arias or sections of arias that employ a different tessitura over a significant length of time for dramatic purposes. Likewise, many of the Mozart roles have different zones of tessitura for the recitatives than the arias. An attempt was made to mention the more significant discrepancies and extremes in the far right column of Table 3.

To what extent orchestration can be compared when the size of the orchestra and the overall orchestral idiom differ so greatly among composers is debatable. Comments regarding orchestration, then, must be read as relative to other roles in the opera and, at most, to other roles by that particular composer. Strauss roles, for example, even when lightly orchestrated, may in fact demand more penetrability on the part of the singer than a fully orchestrated Handel or Mozart role, particularly if the performance of the latter is done with period instruments. Nonetheless, the relative orchestration demands help to identify reasons why the casting of particular roles may have evolved in a certain manner, because, with the exception perhaps of roles by composers known for particularly heavy orchestration (Wagner, Verdi, among others), we have come to expect significant variety of timbre among the cast members for a given opera. The relative orchestration of the role to other roles in that opera would justify the preference of one particular voice type over another, even if larger pedagogic justifications for such preference remain vague. Another significant consideration that is not represented here is the extent to which the vocal line is doubled in the orchestra and the degree to which the orchestra plays in and above the vocal line. This in mind, Table 3 shows the general tessitura and orchestration demands for the roles represented in Table 2. If performance ranges and comfortable tessituras for each primary female voice category are, as Garcia maintained, (23) roughly one third apart, this list contains all three main groupings: roles with tessituras up to [B.sub.4]; up to [D.sub.5]; and up to [F.sub.5]. Table 2, then, offers historical reasons while Table 3 offers pedagogic reasons for investigating the appropriateness of Fach listings as mezzo soprano. In terms of very general tessitura demands, the roles of Cesare, Orlando, and Rinaldo would be most appropriate for a low female voice (contralto), while the roles of Idamante, Komponist, Octavian, Serse, and Sextus would be most appropriate for a high female voice (soprano). Orchestration demands for the Komponist and Octavian require a more dramatic voice type, while the other roles could feasibly be sung by any timbre category depending on changing tastes. Annius, Dorabella, and Ruggiero all fall into the midrange of the tessitura groupings above, and would therefore be most appropriate for midvoiced females (mezzo sopranos).

It is possible, then, to consider many of the other role listings from Kloiber's 1973 guide with this tessitura information in mind. Table 4 shows selected 1973 listings and the tessitura-determined voice types. Some of the 1973 Kloiber listings that seem puzzling in the context of current casting practices make sense when viewed with tessitura in mind. Why, then, did these shifts away from appropriate Facher occur in the first place? The answer that seems most likely is that a shift is occurring away from vocal demands toward character type as the primary grouping criterion. Yet this is not the same character type criterion as one found in Mozart's day, when a singer would specialize in either comic or serious roles; rather, the common thread for the bulk of the roles explored above is that they are trouser roles. Current trends are to cast a slender, tall, perhaps lanky singer for such roles. Though expectations for Cherubino, Siebel, and Hansel include great physical agility and ability to move convincingly like a boy on stage, such expectations are different for more noble roles, like Annius, Idamante, or Serse. While outward appearance for trouser roles may be consistent across various types of roles, then, the acting demands do vary. One might therefore say that there exists a great variety of vocal and acting demands in the current lyric mezzo soprano Fach, and that the constant may be in general physical expectations. One thus could further describe this Fach as requiring a tall, slender singer capable of fulfilling a significant range of vocal and acting demands. The ability to assess the driving force behind role shifting would offer an alternate possibility for nomenclature--one that need not rely on the terminology for voice classification.


Voice classification and Fach are two separate and independent systems of categorization, and the conflation of the two can adversely affect the future career of a singer. Unfortunately, such conflation is inevitable when the titles of categories for both systems are identical. The Fach system was indeed conceived as a list of appropriate repertoire according to voice type, yet over the years each system has developed independently and the assumption that Fach still offers roles according to voice classification can lead the singer/teacher to wrong repertoire. The Fach system must often be reexamined in order to understand the organizing criteria that drive shifts of repertoire.

Perhaps speeding the process of shifts in repertoire is the ever-increasing access to single performances of a given opera. Today's notions of a Fach tend to include both particular roles and particular singers. Via elaborate photography for marketing, DVDs of live performances, and pirated videos available on sites like YouTube, audiences have heretofore unprecedented access to a particular singer and/or role portrayal. The implications of such access include a more definitely and restrictively determined collective expectation of a particular role or voice type. Among the most popular performers of the majority of the roles explored in the tables above are Anne Sophie von Otter and Susan Graham. Both artists are known to be wonderful actresses capable of portraying male or female roles, tragic or comic; both are quite tall; both are agile physically and vocally; and both have performed myriad roles that differ significantly from one another in tessitura, range, and orchestration demands. Their height, physical agility, and acting skills have perhaps contributed to the collective expectation of the lyric mezzo soprano to include such extravocal expectations.

If such extravocal expectations are indeed influencing Fach listings, singers and teachers must keep this in mind while selecting repertoire. The number one priority for singers and teachers alike must remain the health and longevity of the singer. This requires that roles are not assigned or learned solely because of their prominence in the Fach deemed appropriate for the singer or in the repertoire of a leading singer of that Fach, but rather that a separate critical study is done of the actual vocal demands of each role. This is particularly crucial to keep in mind when dealing with a Fach that encompasses roles with such diverse vocal demands as Orlando, Octavian, Rosina, and Urbain.

To a large extent, the restrictions inherent in the Fach system are loosened as soon as a singer has established him/herself in the field. Yet the importance of paying heed to directors' expectations in the earliest stages of one's career must not be overlooked. Such expectations are significant enough that a lack of adherence to them can keep a singer from getting an audition or from consideration for casting. Voice teachers and coaches alike articulate their frustration with repertoire assignment and the Fach system, particularly when the arias and roles they most want to assign a student are not currently considered appropriate for that singer's Fach. This dilemma continually presents itself: Does one assign a student the aria that he/she will sing best and run the risk of disturbing the casting director's sense of Fach? Often this frustration leads, understandably, to questions concerning the responsibilities of the directors. Yet part of what makes the relationship between the voice teacher and singer so special is its very unique and intense level of trust; the voice teacher has to be awarded a tremendous amount of trust in order for successful training to take place. The singer trusts that the teacher is not only good enough at what he/she does to lead the singer in the right direction, but also that a primary concern on the part of the teacher is the health of the singer. The casting director may indeed care about the singer's future, but one cannot expect a director's primary concern to be the health and longevity of every singer he/she hears. Nor ought we expect casting directors to have enough training in anatomy and physiology to be able to engage with the questions of role assignment in the same man ner as voice pedagogues. In the end, the responsibility lies with the voice teacher. The teacher must take this additional care when selecting repertoire for his/her student, and educate the singer about the differences between voice classification and Fach. Though Fach and voice type seem inextricably synonymous to many today, we, as voice pedagogues, can and must create a critical discussion that will result in the more accurate education of singers and teachers of future generations.


(1.) I explore voice classification more thoroughly in my "Voice Classification and Fach: Recent, Historical and Conflicting Systems of Voice Categorization" (DMA dissertation, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, 2007).

(2.) The specific Kloiber editions were selected because their span of the most recent three decades highlights shifts in casting practices that have occurred during the careers of the latest generations of opera singers. The guides used here were selected because of their prominence as the leading guides in their respective regions.

(3.) J. B. Steane, "Fach," Grove Music Online, ed. Laura Macy; (accessed November 30, 2006). "The main categories (soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, bass) each have their own subdivisions, so that the more dramatic type of soprano, for example, may be said to lie within any one of three Facher: the jugendliche dramatische Sopran, the Zwischenfachsangerin (or 'in-between type') and the hochdramatische Sopran (the 'high' or 'serious' dramatic soprano, as opposed to the first type, the 'youthful' and therefore lighter type)."

(4.) In fact, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera makes no mention whatsoever of voice type in its entry for Fach: "The term used, strictly in Germany and more loosely internationally, to describe the range of roles that a singer may be expected to perform." John Warrack and Ewan West, "Fach," Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press, 1996, Duke University; <> (accessed November 30, 2006).

(5.) No attempt was made to offer an exhaustive list of the canonical lyric mezzo soprano repertoire. For more exhaustive lists, the author refers the reader directly to the Kloiber and Boldrey guides.

(6.) The Fach guide by Kloiber has been used for decades since its first publication in 1951. Various editions exist, but focus in this study is limited to the 8th and 11th editions. Rudolf Kloiber, Handbuch der Oper, 8th ed. (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1973); Rudolf Kloiber, Handbuch der Oper, 11th ed. (Munich: Barenreiter Verlag, 2006).

(7.) Kloiber explains in his prose and with the aid of a small diagram that the Zwischenfach category is simply the dramatic category. Yet in his listing of Facher, he includes the categories of young dramatic soprano, dramatic soprano, and highly dramatic soprano. To some extent, his listings of exact Facher complicate the notion he so simply sets forth in the preceding prose. It is likely the editors decided to leave some sections of the guide and update others, causing some confusion with the resulting contradictions. For this study, however, the contradictions offer also clarification as evidence of a system always in flux.

(8.) Boldrey's listing of the term Zwischenfach acknowledges the literal meaning of a voice type that "cannot be classified precisely in one Fach or another," yet notes that "it is commonly understood to refer to that shadowland between soprano and mezzo-soprano." Richard Boldrey, Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias (Dallas, TX: Pst...Inc., 1994), 25.

(9.) Kloiber, 2003/4, 903-905.

(10.) Because it has only recently been published, Mark Ross Clark's Guide to the Aria Repertoire is not included in the following tables and commentary, though it will likely become a primary resource for American teachers and singers in the future. The book is particularly intriguing in its structure, for it is not built on the concept of three primary female voice types. Rather, the primary female categories are limited to two: soprano and mezzo soprano. Contralto is listed as a subcategory, or, in Clark's terms, a Fach of the mezzo soprano "voice." In other words, Clark seems to favor the four-voice model rather than the six-voice model, with the significant modification in terminology of the lower female voice as a mezzo soprano rather than a contralto.

(11.) Boldrey, 6.

(12.) Ibid., 17-18.

(13.) Ibid. Because his lists are so extensive, the reader is referred to the guide itself for details on each listing.

(14.) Ibid., 21.

(15.) Ibid., 25.

(16.) Ibid.

(17.) Ibid.

(18.) Ibid., 26.

(19.) Ibid., 9.

(20.) A smaller scale example of the same type of "problem solving" would be the common switch of Mercedes and Frasquita in the card trio (Carmen) so that the highest note is given to the higher voice type.

(20.) A smaller scale example of the same type of "problem solving" would be the common switch of Mercedes and Frasquita in the card trio (Carmen) so that the highest note is given to the higher voice type.

(21.) Comparisons of Kloiber to Boldrey, in the end, represent perhaps not a demonstration of regional differences, but rather a comparison of a guide about opera to a guide meant to help young singers select repertoire.

(22.) A recent article by Ingo Titze proposed a more scientific means for such determination. Ingo Titze, "Quantifying Tessitura in a Song," Journal of Singing 65, no.1 (September/October 2008): 59.

(23.) Manuel Garcia's treatise ecole de Garcia: traite complet de l'art du chant en deux parties (Paris: Manuel Garcia, 1847; reprint, Geneva: Minkoff Editeur, 1985).

Sandra Cotton, DMA is Adjunct Assistant Professor of the Practice of Music at Duke University, where she teaches private voice, class voice, diction, and music theater performance. She received her undergraduate education at Northern Arizona University, where she studied with Dr. Lloyd Hanson. A student of Dr. Nancy Walker and Dr. Robert Wells, she received the Master of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She received additional certification at the National Center for Voice and Speech under Dr. Ingo Titze and Dr. Katherine Verdolini Abbott. Since moving to Durham in 2007, Dr. Cotton has premiered roles and song cycles of local composers and collaborated on multiple lecture recitals. She served as an adjudicator for the Long Leaf Opera Young Artist Award, the Meredith College Concerto Competition, and the Durham Music Teacher Association's Young Artist Award and taught master classes for Szymanski Studios and UNC Pembroke. Dr. Cotton appeared in recent years offering programs for the Eastern Music Festival, Greensboro Opera, Wake Forest University's Irish Festival, Cornell University for the James Joyce Conference, Meredith College, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it
Pourest thy full heart
To profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

Percy Bysse Shelley,
from "To a Skylark"

Table 1. Terms and Definitions from Kloiber (1973). (*)

Serious Facher

Lyric (high) soprano          Range of [C.sub.4]-[C.sub.6]
                              Soft (weich) voice with a beautiful
                              melting quality; noble lines.
Young dramatic soprano        Range of [C.sub.4]-[C.sub.6]
                              Lyric soprano voice with a greater
                              volume which can also create dramatic
                              high points.
Dramatic coloratura soprano   Range of [C.sub.4]-[F.sub.6]
                              Agile voice with great heights;
                              dramatic ability to penetrate.
Dramatic soprano              Range of [B.sub.3]-[C.sub.6]
                              A metallic voice with great
                              volume; great ability to penetrate.
Highly dramatic soprano       Range of [G.sub.3]-[C.sub.6]
                              Large, heavy, and expansive
                              voice with well developed middle and low
Dramatic mezzo soprano        Range of [G.sub.3]-B[flat.sub.5] or
                              [C.sub.6] Agile, metallic Zwischenfach
                              voice of a dark color, which often
                              develops later into the
                              highly dramatic Fach; good high notes.
Dramatic contralto            Range of [G.sub.3]-[B.sub.5]
                              Agile, metallic voice with well
                              developed high and low ranges; dramatic
                              ability to penetrate.
Low contralto                 Range of [F.sub.3]-[A.sub.5]
                              Full, dense voice with great depths.

Comic Facher

Lyric coloratura soprano      Range of [C.sub.4]-[F.sub.6]
                              Very agile, soft voice with a
                              great high range.
Soubrette                     Range of [C.sub.4]-[C.sub.6]
                              Delicate, supple voice; a dainty
                              appearance; skillful actress.
Character soprano             Range of [B.sub.3]-[C.sub.6]
                              Zwischenfach voice; nice ability to
                              portray characters.
Spielalt  Range               of [G.sub.3]-B[flat.sub.5]
(lyric mezzo soprano)         Flexible voice capable of
                              characterization; skillful actress.

(*) 758-760; translations by S. Cotton.

Table 2. Comparison of Fach listings.

             Kloiber (1973) (a)   Kloiber (2003-04)  Boldrey (b)

Annius       dramatic contralto   lyric mezzo        full lyric soprano
(Tito)       ezzo soprano (c)                         full lyric mezzo
Ariodante                         lyric mezzo        light dramatic
                                  countertenor       coloratura soprano
                                  (castrato)         countertenor
Cesare       Helden baritone      lyric mezzo        countertenor
                                  countertenor       dramatic baritone
                                  (alto castrato)    dramatic bass
Cenerentola  lyric color soprano  color mezzo        light lyric mezzo
Charlotte                         lyric mezzo        full lyric soprano
                                                     full lyric mezzo
Cherubino    lyric soprano        lyric mezzo        light lyric mezzo
                                  lyric soprano
Dalila       dramatic mezzo       dramatic mezzo     dramatic mezzo
             dramatic contralto   dramatic           o contralto
Dorabella    dramatic contralto   lyric mezzo        full lyric soprano
             mezzo soprano (d)                       light dramatic
                                                     full lyric mezzo
                                                     dramatic mezzo
Hansel       Spielalt (e)         lyric mezzo        light lyric mezzo
                                  Spielalt           full lyric mezzo
Idamante     lyric tenor          lyric mezzo        light lyric
                                  lyric tenor        coloratura soprano
                                                     light lyric mezzo
                                                     light lyric tenor
                                                     full lyric tenor
Komponist    character soprano    dramatic mezzo     full lyric soprano
             young dramatic       young dramatic     spinto soprano
             soprano              dramatic mezzo
Octavian     dramatic mezzo       dramatic mezzo     full lyric soprano
                                  lyric mezzo        spinto soprano
                                                     full lyric mezzo
                                                     dramatic mezzo
Orlando                           lyric mezzo        contralto
                                  lyric contralto    countertenor
                                  (alto castrato)
Rinaldo                           color mezzo        full lyric mezzo
                                  countertenor       dramatic mezzo
                                  (alto castrato)    contralto
Rosina       lyric coloratura     coloratura mezzo   light lyric
             soprano                                 coloratura soprano
                                                     light lyric mezzo
Ruggiero                          lyric soprano      full lyric mezzo
(Alcina)                          lyric mezzo        contralto
                                  (castrato)         countertenor
Serse        soprano              soprano            full lyric mezzo
             lyric tenor          mezzo soprano      countertenor
Sextus       dramatic soprano     dramatic mezzo     full lyric
(Tito)                                               coloratura soprano
                                  lyric mezzo        light lyric mezzo
                                                     full lyric mezzo
Siebel       lyric soprano                           light lyric soprano
             lyric tenor                             light lyric mezzo
Urbain                            coloratura mezzo   light lyric soprano
                                                     light lyric mezzo
Zerlina      coloratura           soprano            soubrette
             soubrette            lyric mezzo        light lyric
                                                     coloratura soprano
                                                     light lyric mezzo

(a) Kloiber listings for both editions are pulled from the role listings
under the opera (Werkbeschreibungen), rather than the various lists in
the Appendix.
(b) Italicized Facher are Boldrey's suggestions for the most suited
categories for each role.
(c) This listing of mezzo soprano occurs in the prose section with the
historical and plot details for each opera. In the separate Fach
listings, the role is only listed as dramatic contralto (Kloiber 1973),
353 and 767.
(d) Here, as well, a mezzo soprano category is listed only in the prose
section for the opera (Kloiber, 350).
(e) Spielalt in the 1973 version was listed as: Spielalt (Lyrischer
Mezzosopran)--in the 2004 version, it was a category listed among the
contralto categories, separately from lyric mezzo soprano

Table 3. Tessitura and orchestration chart.
             Average                Average
             Tessitura              Orchestration

Annius       [G.sub.4]-[D.sub.5]    strings; winds

Ariodante    F/[G.sub.4]-[E.sub.5]  full strings;
I Cesare     [D.sub.4]-[B.sub.4]    full strings
Cenerentola  ([C.sub.4]-[C.sub.5])  at times full;
                                    winds mostly as

Charlotte    [F.sub.4]-[E.sub.5]    at times full;
Cherubino    [G.sub.4]-[E.sub.5]    mostly light
Dalila       [D.sub.4]-[C.sub.5]    relative
                                    to other characte
                                    light strings
                                    and winds
                                    greatly varies
                                    from none to full/heavy
Dorabella    [G.sub.4]-[D.sub.5]    light to full,
                                    depending on

Hansel       [G.sub.4]-[D.sub.5]    light to heavy
                                    depending on
                                    dramatic context
I Idamante   [G.sub.4]-[F.sub.5]    relatively heavy
                                    full at times
Komponist    [F.sub.4]-[F.sub.5]    heavy (with brass)
                                    in all parts of
                                    the range
I Octavian   [G.sub.4]-[F.sub.5]    light to full,
                                    often heavy

Orlando      [B.sub.3]-[B.sub.4]    light to full
                                    at times full
                                    with winds
Rinaldo      [D.sub.4]-[B.sub.4]    strings and winds
(1731        [E.sub.4]-[E.sub.5]    relatively light;
version)     [G.sub.4]-[D.sub.5]    heavier
Rosina       [F.sub.4]-[F.sub.5]    orchestration
Ruggiero     [G.sub.4]-[F.sub.5]    mostly for
(Alcina)                            punctuation
Serse                               light to full
Sextus                              strings
(Tito)                              light to full
                                    relatively full
                                    brass, strings,
I Siebel     [A.sub.4]-[E.sub.5]    Light

Urbain       [G.sub.4]-[F.sub.5]    light to full for
Zerlina      [F.sub.4]-[F.sub.5]    dramatic effect
                                    light to full
                                    winds and strings

             Exceptions / Extremes

Annius       lower tessitura in group
(Tito)       numbers except finale;

             tessitura in No. 17
Ariodante    lower tessitura in
             recitatives and
I Cesare
Cenerentola  tessitura difficult to
             determine because
             most numbers
             require singing in
             at least two octaves;
             performance tradition
             includes ornamentation
             above [C.sub.6]
Charlotte    some sustained
Cherubino    high notes over
Dalila       heavy
             orchestration inrs
             Act III

Dorabella    often sings above staff
             in solo and ensemble
             higher tessitura in
             large ensemble
             numbers; lower in
             duets with Fiordiligi
Hansel       slightly lower
             tessitura in
             duets with Gretel
I Idamante

Komponist    often sustained
             passages in higher
             and lower tessituras
I Octavian   often sustained passages
             in higher or lower
             almost never sings
             above [C.sub.5]

Rinaldo      lower tessitura
(1731        in arias
version)     tessitura is often
Rosina       slightly lower;
Ruggiero     performance
(Alcina)     tradition
Serse        includes
Sextus       ornamentation
(Tito)       above [C.sub.6]
             first aria demands
             agility and often
             higher tessitura

I Siebel     second aria notably
             lower in tessitura
             but usually omitted
Urbain       agility including
Zerlina      numerous high Cs
             both sustained and
             staccato; often
             highest part in
             ensemble; in
             depends on version/score
             with optional
             highs and lows
             slightly lower
             in recitatives and

able 4. 1973 Kloiber listings and tessitura.
                 Kloiber (1973)         Appropriate Voice Type
                                        According to Tessitura
Annius (Tito)    dramatic contralto     mezzo soprano
                 mezzo soprano
Cesare           Helden baritone        contralto
Cherubino        lyric soprano          mezzo or soprano
Dalila           dramatic mezzo         contralto or mezzo
                 dramatic contralto
Dorabella        dramatic contralto     mezzo soprano
                 mezzo soprano
Hansel           Spielalt               mezzo soprano
Idamante         lyric tenor            soprano
Komponist        character soprano      soprano
                 young dramatic soprano
Octavian         dramatic mezzo         soprano
Rosina lyric     coloratura soprano     mezzo or soprano
Serse            soprano                soprano
                 lyric tenor
Sextus (Tito)    dramatic soprano       soprano
Siebel           lyric soprano          mezzo or soprano
                 lyric tenor
Zerlina          coloratura soubrette   soprano
COPYRIGHT 2012 National Association of Teachers of Singing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cotton, Sandra
Publication:Journal of Singing
Date:Nov 1, 2012
Previous Article:Effect of auditory feedback on singing.
Next Article:Dispelling vocal myths. part iv: "Talk higher!".

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |