I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: opera singers have so much to focus on. Good technique, languages, acting, business, and so on. Perhaps there is nothing more difficult though than figuring out your voice type, or Fach. Sure, there are certainly issues with the Fach system. However, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, so we need to work with it.
If we think of our Fach as a way of “branding” our voice, then being in the “wrong” Fach can be problematic when it comes to getting work. At the same time though, it can be incredibly difficult to know whether or not you’re singing in a good Fach for your voice. If you’re already considering a switch for technical reasons, here’s a list of other signs that it’s time to switch Fachs.
You’re not sure what to put in your package
Let’s face it – everyone faces uncertainties about their aria packages. However, there’s a big difference between being uncertain about which English aria to choose from, versus not having any English arias to choose from. If you feel incredibly limited in your aria choices for your package, consider why that is. For some voice types, there simply aren’t any arias available in a certain language or style, and that’s okay. For others though, it may be because you’re looking in the wrong direction.
Trusted professionals disagree about your aria selections
You are never going to be able to please everyone. There’s always going to be that random judge at that one competition who gives you some wild aria suggestion. At the same time though, if you find that respected coaches, voice teachers, conductors, and so on are constantly disagreeing on what kind of repertoire you should be singing, it might be because your current repertoire doesn’t make sense to them.
If it’s not making sense to them, it’s probably because your current vocal “brand” doesn’t fit. Imagine if you were selling sausage patties but were calling them cookies. People would probably not want to buy it. It wouldn’t look right, and it certainly wouldn’t taste right. But because it’s not their product, people would probably also be giving you varying suggestions to figure out what’s going on like, “You should be selling these as savory cookies” or “Have you tried frosting these cookies?”. In other words, they would try to give you suggestions that are helpful, but ultimately don’t make sense because the entire product (your voice) is branded and marketed incorrectly.
You have no evidence of your voice going anywhere
Some singers – scratch that – many singers sit in the wrong voice type because they think their voice is going somewhere else. And to be fair, for a lot of singers, that’s true. No one should really be singing Wagner at 22. However, it’s usually quite obvious when the voice is going somewhere else.
The difference is that those voices tend to work in their substitute home, and have a clear understanding of where their voice is going. If, however, you say your voice is going somewhere but you’re not quite sure where, and your substitute home doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, it may be time to look for a new home.
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You don’t look like anyone else in your current Fach
This is relatively subjective, and there are certainly outliers to this idea. However, there is most definitely a relationship between the size and shape of a person and their voice type. That’s why when you think of basses, you tend to think of taller men, and when you think of full lyric or dramatic sopranos, you imagine a fuller-bodied woman. That’s also why the body image standards for today’s opera singers are ridiculous. Think about it – you wouldn’t see a tuba trying to play a flute part. So if you find that you’re looking around at other singers in your voice type and you just don’t look the same as them, consider if the Fach you’re already thinking about switching to might match up with your body type better.
You don’t identify with your characters
Again, this is not a tell-all sign, it is weirdly subjective, and it is not based in technical or vocal function (which should always come first when considering your Fach). I have this strong belief though that people don’t end up in a voice type where they dislike or don’t identify with the vast majority of their characters. Sure, a good performer can and should be able to act through anything. If you speak to opera singers who clearly fit into a voice type though, they probably love the kinds of roles they play. For example, whenever I speak to coloratura sopranos about their voice type, they tend to enjoy playing beautiful and somewhat showy characters who wear fabulous dresses and strut their stuff.
This is not to say that these singers are like their characters in real life. However, if you find that you don’t identify with your characters in any way, you couldn’t see yourself being friends with them, or you even find yourself making fun of them, you might be hanging with the wrong crowd. (A note too: this works best as a consideration for those who seem to sit between voice types or Fachs, and who may ultimately be able to choose between the two as a result).
You’re out of college, or old enough to be
When you’re in college or younger, your voice is really too young to give any definite labels. Yes, some people know their voice type right away and it will never change. Most of us don’t know though. The larynx begins to noticeably ossify in your late 20’s or early 30’s, so your voice has so much potential for change and flexibility before that. This is not to say that it’s impossible to know your voice type earlier. However, you should take questions about your voice type with a grain of salt if you’re still young and developing. If you’ve hit a point in your technical progress where the question has to be answered though, and you’re old enough to be out of college, then perhaps it’s time to take these questions seriously.
When it comes to Fachs, there’s definitely no “one size fits all” option. It’s possible that you fit between two Fachs, and therefore could choose one. Or, it’s possible that it will morph over time. No matter what though, if you feel confident in your Fach, then others will too. If, however, you or your teacher think it’s time for a change, be sure to come back next week for part two of this post. It will guide you through how to make the switch once you’re ready.
Do you have questions about your Fach or voice type? Do you identify with this list in any way? Questions about voice type and Fach can bring a lot of stress, so feel free to share your experiences and ask your questions so we can all support each other!