Singers spend a lot of time worrying about Fach. For the civilians in the audience, Fach is a German word meaning strength, sort of like forte; but more specifically for singers, the specific type of repertoire, the collection of roles, they might be required to sing. There are a lot of factors that go into deciding which Fach a singer belongs to, and the sad thing is, you don't get to pick, ultimately. Each Fach has certain vocal (and sometimes physical) characteristics that are considered ideal, and they cannot be manufactured --- at least not successfully. But the bottom line is, the market decides for you. Behold, ye shall know thy Fach by what you get hired to sing.
Like many singers, over the years I've been told quite a number of different things about what I should be singing; less as I transitioned from emerging to established artist. My roles have been fairly consistent over the years: a lot of character stuff with the occasional big-girl lead mixed in. My agents at ADA Artists Management recently set up some video recording sessions for the roster, and the following are the fruits of this. I think they're pretty representative of what I sing best.
The funny thing is that my next two gigs are for roles that are quite atypical for me. First, I'll be doing Prince Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus with Syracuse Opera.
That's right. PRINCE Orlovsky. I'm doing a pants role. I've played a bearded lady, but never a man! This is a role generally played by lyric mezzos (and, occasionally, character tenors) and suffice it to say that I possess neither the traditional voice nor figure for this role. But this only makes it a more interesting challenge, and one I look forward to embracing.
Directly after that, I will be reprising my role as Mrs. Clancy in The Italian Lesson (the one-woman opera I did at Pine Mountain Music Festival in early August --- you can see a clip here) with Opera Piccola of San Antonio. That's not the part that's fached up --- they have paired it with Leonard Bernstein's fantastic one act, Trouble in Tahiti, and I'll be playing Dinah. This is the character who sings "What a Movie!", the one funny piece in the whole opera and the number for which it's the most famous. Again, it's usually done by a more lyric voice, and provides some interesting (though not insurmountable) technical challenges.
It's incredibly exciting as an artist to get to do something so different! Even though I love the repertoire I usually sing, whenever you get to step outside your usual box it's a holiday. It's sort of like training to play tennis when your usual sport is football. The tessitura (the range where the majority of the pitches lie) of each of these roles sits a bit higher than what I'm used to, I have to choose slightly different vowels and placement to maximize my sound and keep from getting tired. I've also noticed, working on these roles, that I get physically tired in a different way than with my usual repertoire --- certain muscles in the support system are getting a bit more of a workout. Then, there are the acting considerations --- a Russian accent and entirely different characterization for Orlovsky; a 50s' housewife mentality for Dinah.
When I was in high school, I went through a minor obsession with the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. One of my favorite short stories remains the sweet tale of two shy and lonely people in a small town who join the local amateur theater company and become completely different people when they're onstage --- the magic of the theater allows them to step outside themselves and wholly embody the characters they're playing. It's called Who Am I This Time?.
Well. This time, I'm one fached-up mezzo, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it!