The Fach System
First of, Fach is a German word and is pronounced like the composer Bach, only with an f. For the proper pronunciation, check out Google Translate and click on the Listen button.
The Fach System was developed by German opera houses towards the end of the 19th century and the reasoning behind it was to create distinct categories for all the roles in an opera, as well as, for singing voices, in order to aid auditions and casting.
Fach means classification, specialty, category. Singers were placed in a Fach according to their voice types and they would only study the characters that belonged in that category. Opera houses would keep records of singers according to Fach and they would call them in for auditions according to which roles were available.
All together singers and roles were placed in a Fach according to the following vocal characteristics:
- range – the notes your body can produce
- weight – light voices, bright and agile; heavy voices, powerful, rich, and darker
- size – the amount of sound you can produce and your voice’s dramatic effect
- tessitura – part of the range which is most comfortable to sing
- timbre or color – unique voice quality and texture
- transition points – points where you change from chest, to middle, to head register
- vocal registers – how extended each register is
- speech level – speaking range
- physical characteristics – height and build
- age and experience
The Fach System is still used today, mostly in Europe, and although it might seem as a very rigid way of classifying singers, knowing your specific voice type can help you make better decisions when auditioning.
Most composers had particular voice types in mind, some times even specific singers, when they were working on their operas. Nowadays, directors and conductors try to recreate the feeling of particular characters by choosing singers whose voice power, size, timber, color, and range match the composer’s intentions.
Think about it: would a soprano with a heavy and powerful voice be a good fit for the role of a young girl like Gilda in Rigoletto? And how about a bright and airy tenor for the role of a dramatic character like Canio in Pagliacci?
If you speak German, you’d, also, like to pick up a copy of Rudolf Kloiber’s Handbuch der Oper, the absolute and complete manual on voice types, auditioning, and roles. Unfortunately no publishing house has come up with a translation yet, so I’m going to be summarizing the details of each one of the voice types listed in the Handbuch der Opera in a series of 25 posts. Keep up with these posts by subscribing to my free newsletter.
This is a collective table of the main 25 voice types in the Fach system.
The 25 Voice Types
|Soprano Voice Types||Soubrette||Spielsopran||Young, light, bright|
|Lyric Coloratura Soprano||Lyrischer Koloratursopran||High, bright, flexible|
|Dramatic Coloratura Soprano||Dramatischer Koloratursopran||High, dark, flexible|
|Lyric Soprano||Lyrischer Sopran||Warm, legatto, full|
|Character Soprano||Charaktersopran||Bright, metallic, theatrical|
|Spinto /Young Dramatic Soprano||Jugendlich-dramatischer Sopran||Powerful, young, full|
|Dramatic Soprano||Dramatischer Sopran||Powerful, dark, rich|
|Mezzo-Soprano Voice Types||Coloratura Mezzo-Soprano||Coloratura Mezzo-Soprano||Agile, rich, bright|
|Lyric Mezzo-Soprano||Lyrischer Mezzosopran||Strong, flexible, lachrymose|
|Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano||Dramatischer Mezzosopran||Rich, powerful, imposing|
|Contralto Voice Types||Dramatic Alto||Dramatischer Alt||Powerful, full, metallic|
|Low Contralto||Tiefer Alt||Low, full, warm|
|Tenor Voice Types||Countertenor||Contratenor||High, agile, powerful|
|Lyric Tenor||Lyrischer Tenor||Soft, warm, flexible|
|Acting Tenor||Spieltenor||Flexible, theatrical, light|
|Dramatic Tenor||Heldentenor||Full, low, stamina|
|Character Tenor||Charaktertenor||Bright, powerful, theatrical|
|Baritone Voice Types||Lyric Baritone||Lyrischer Bariton||Smooth, flexible, sweet|
|Cavalier Baritone||Kavalierbariton||Brilliant, warm, agile|
|Character Baritone||Charakterbariton||Flexible, powerful, theatrical|
|Dramatic Baritone||Heldenbariton||Powerful, full, imposing|
|Bass Voice Types||Character Bass||Charakterbass||Full, rich, stamina|
|Acting Bass||Spielbass||Flexible, agile, rich|
|Heavy Acting Bass||Schwerer Spielbass||Full, rich, imposing|
|Serious Bass||Seriöser Bass||Mature, rich, powerful|
I’m sure that at this point you’re thinking that you’d like to learn more about telling the different voice types apart so that you can figure out in which one you belong. Worry not! I’m working on a series of 25 more articles that will analyze each of the 25 voice types in the Fach and offer audiovisual examples.
Keep up with these posts by subscribing to my free newsletter. Learn more about your singing voice and choose the right music for auditioning!