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The German Fach system (German pronunciation: [fax]; literally "compartment" or "subject of study", here in the sense of "vocal specialization") is a method of classifying singers, primarily opera singers, according to the range, weight, and color of their voices. It is used worldwide, but primarily in Europe, especially in German-speaking countries and by repertory opera houses.
The Fach system is a convenience for singers and opera houses. It prevents singers from being asked to sing roles which they are incapable of performing. Opera companies keep lists of available singers by Fach so that when they are casting roles for an upcoming production, they do not inadvertently contact performers who would be inappropriate for the part.
Below is a list of Fächer (German pronunciation: [ˈfɛçɐ]), their ranges as written on sheet music, and roles generally considered appropriate to each. When two names for the Fach are given, the first is in more common use today. Where possible, an English and/or Italian equivalent of each Fach is listed; however, not all Fächer have ready English or Italian equivalents. Note that some roles can be sung by more than one Fach and that many singers do not easily fit into a Fach: for instance some sopranos may sing both Koloratursopran and Dramatischer Koloratursopran roles. In addition, roles traditionally more difficult to cast may be given to a voice other than the traditional Fach. For instance, the "Queen of the Night" is more traditionally a dramatic coloratura role, but it is difficult to find a dramatic coloratura to sing it (particularly given the extreme range). Therefore, the role is often sung by a lyric coloratura.
Lyrischer Koloratursopran / Koloratursoubrette
- English equivalent: coloratura soprano or lyric coloratura soprano
- Range: From about middle C (C4) to the F two-and-a-half octaves above middle C (F6)
- Description: Usually (but not always) a light soprano who has a high voice. Can often have small voices lacking the richness and resonance of a dramatic soprano. Must be able to do fast acrobatics with easy high notes. Many have extremely high ranges (with notes above the F of the "Queen of the Night"), but there are also singers in this Fach who do not regularly sing higher than the high E♭6.
- English equivalent: Dramatic coloratura soprano
- Range: From about middle C (C4) to the F two and a half octaves above middle C (F6)
- Description: The same as above, only with a more dramatic, rich voice. Often heavier and more lyrical than a coloratura soprano. Must also be able to do fast vocal acrobatics and reach high notes, such as the F6 of the "Queen of the Night".
- Abigalle, Nabucco (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Donna Anna, Don Giovanni (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Elvira, I puritani (Vincenzo Bellini)
- Fiordiligi, Così fan tutte (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Gilda, Rigoletto (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Konstanze, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Leonora, Il trovatore (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Norma, Norma (Vincenzo Bellini)
- Odabella, Attila (Giuseppe Verdi)
- The Queen of the Night, Die Zauberflöte (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Violetta, La traviata (Giuseppe Verdi)
One must not mistake the Mozartian dramatic coloratura soprano with the Italian dramatic coloratura soprano. A singer that sings Konstanze, Donna Anna or Fiordiligi can not necessarily sing the Italian dramatic coloratura parts, due to other vocal demands. Imogene, Leonora and Violetta require a dramatic soprano voice and are most often sung by dramatic sopranos with an agile voice that can easily produce coloratura and high notes. Roles like Norma, Lady Macbeth, Odabella or Abigaille are good examples of Italian roles that are not necessarily a coloratura soprano (even though the score calls for coloratura singing), but a full bodied dramatic soprano with a voice that can handle extreme dramatic singing and that is flexible enough to sing coloratura. Giuseppe Verdi wrote many parts like this in his early years.
Deutsche Soubrette / Charaktersopran
- English equivalent: Soubrette
- Range: From about middle C (C4) to the C two octaves above middle C (C6)
- Description: A beautiful, sweet light lyric voice usually capable of executing florid passages similarly to that of a coloratura. The range is usually intermediate between that of a coloratura and lyric soprano. Most sopranos start out as soubrettes, changing fach as the voice matures.
- English equivalent: lyric soprano
- Range: From about B below middle C (B3) to the C two octaves above middle C (C6)
- Description: A more supple soprano, capable of legato, portamento, and some agility; generally has a more soulful and sensuous quality than a soubrette, who tends to be largely flirtatious and somewhat tweety. The voice is very common; thus the purity and character of the basic timbre is essential. It is the "basic" soprano voice which is at neither extremes of the soprano range of voices; it is not known for having particular vocal attributes such as power, stamina, technical prowess, or agility. However, there are several lyric sopranos that possess a quantity of many of these vocal attributes, thus allowing them to sing a broader variety of roles. Nevertheless, the core of the true fundamentally lyric voice does not encompass such traits. Innocence, vulnerability and pathos are usually conveyed in the music written for the characters portrayed by the lyric soprano because of this endearing simplicity. This fach is also famous because the voices usually remain especially fresh until advanced age.
Jugendlich dramatischer Sopran
- English equivalent: lyric dramatic soprano
- Range: From about A below middle C (A3) to the C two octaves above middle C (C6)
- Description: The Italian version of this fach is the spinto, which literally translated means pushed. However this is not accurate in terms of these singers' vocal production. A lyric dramatic soprano has a lyric instrument that can also create big sounds, cutting through an orchestral or choral climax. This voice is sometimes referred to as a "young" or "youthful" dramatic soprano although this term doesn't necessarily refer to the singer's age but rather to the tonal quality of the voice. This fach is more clearly delineated in the German system than in the American system. Depending on the singer, however, this voice type can be versatile, as it lies at neither extreme of the soprano spectrum. Spintos are occasionally able to take on lighter mezzo roles, or, conversely, lyric and even coloratura roles.
- Agathe, Der Freischütz (Carl Maria von Weber)
- Amelia, Un ballo in maschera (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Cio-Cio San, Madama Butterfly (Giacomo Puccini)
- Chrysothemis, Elektra (Richard Strauss)
- Desdemona, Otello (Giuseppe Verdi)
- Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
- Elisabeth, Tannhäuser (Richard Wagner)
- Elsa, Lohengrin (Richard Wagner)
- Eva, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Richard Wagner)
- Giulietta, Les contes d'Hoffman (Jacques Offenbach)
- Liza, The Queen of Spades (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
- Maddalena, Andrea Chénier (Umberto Giordano)
- Magda Sorel, The Consul (Gian Carlo Menotti)
- Marie, Wozzeck (Alban Berg)
- Marie/Marietta, Die tote Stadt (Erich Wolfgang Korngold)
- Mimi, La bohème (Giacomo Puccini)
- Suor Angelica, Suor Angelica (Giacomo Puccini)
- English equivalent: full dramatic soprano
- Range: From about the A below middle C (A3) to the C two octaves above middle C (C6)
- Description: Characterized by their rich, full sounding voices, dramatic sopranos are expected to project across large orchestras, a feat that requires a powerful sound. Dramatic sopranos are not expected to have the vocal flexibility of the lighter Fächer. Although most dramatic sopranos have a darker, more robust quality to the voice, there are some that possess a lighter lyrical tone. In these instances, however, the substantial amount of volume and endurance normally associated with the dramatic soprano voice is still present. The darker voiced dramatic soprano may even make a foray into the dramatic mezzo-soprano territory with great success.
- Ariadne, Ariadne auf Naxos (Richard Strauss)
- Cassandre, Les Troyens (Hector Berlioz)
- Elektra, Elektra (Richard Strauss)
- La Gioconda, La Gioconda (Amilcare Ponchielli)
- Leonore, Fidelio (Ludwig van Beethoven)
- Marschallin, Der Rosenkavalier (Richard Strauss)
- Minnie, La fanciulla del West (Giacomo Puccini)
- Salome, Salome (Richard Strauss)
- Santuzza, Cavalleria rusticana (Pietro Mascagni)
- Tosca, Tosca (Giacomo Puccini)
- Turandot, Turandot (Giacomo Puccini)
Two roles mentioned above, Salome and the Marschallin, are relatively high dramatic sopranos and require that the soprano can endure long stretches of very high tessitura. Richard Strauss himself said that Salome should be sung by someone with the flexibility of a dramatic coloratura due to the high tessitura.
- English equivalent: High dramatic soprano
- Range: From about the F below middle C (F3) to the C two octaves above middle C (C6)
- Description: A voice capable of answering the demands of operas of Wagner's maturity. The voice is substantial, very powerful, and even throughout the registers. It is immense, stentorian and even larger than the voice of the "normal" dramatic soprano. Although the two voices are comparable and are sometimes hard to distinguish between, this voice has even greater stamina, endurance and volume than the former. The top register is very strong, clarion and bright. Successful hochdramatische are rare.