Free Class: What an Aria Text Reveals

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If you are in Berlin and want to brush up your German, come to my workshop “German for Opera Singers”

The goal: Through the analysis of the language, this first of a short series of workshops provides a deeper understanding of the language of German opera. It gives you the tools to unlock the emotions in the vocabulary and the structure of the language. After this workshop you will look with greater care at the texts and libretti of German classical music and find nuances that enable you to perfect your performance.

The participants: The workshop is suited for singers at all levels although a basic understanding or some knowledge of vocabuary may be useful. The size of the group may vary between six and ten participants.

The time: Thursday, September 29, 7 pm – 9 pm
at Prachtwerk Cafe (conference room)
in Berlin-Neukölln, Ganghoferstraße 2.

The teacher: I, Bernd Hendricks, certified teacher for German as foreign language, and author of the book “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing” will prepare and conduct the workshop, and I – believe it or not – am flexible. Get a taste of my teaching style with my video.

The outline: The workshop’s syllabus will consist on your preferences. Pick three of the six choices below. The three most chosen topics will make up the syllabus.

Take a look and choose.

A – Introduce yourself to an agent

B – Request a Vorsingtermin through e-mail communication

C – The meaning comes at last – understanding Wagner’s linguistics

D – Little words – great emotions: feeling through Strauss and Hofmannsthal

E – On stage – follow the direction of the Regisseur

F – Die Zauberflöte – listening to Schikaneder’s wit

What are your three preferences? A, B, C, D, E, or F? Do you have additional topics you like to be covered?

Sign up with your answer at bernducha@gmail.com .

The price: The workshop is free. A review of the workshop by the participants in social media, their blogs and the blog “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers” would be appreciated. The workshop will be documented with photos, in a video or/and with an article for blogs and other publications.

Subscribe to the newsletter “German for Opera Singers” with blog updates and event announcements.

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Der Freischütz (2): Slumber Approaching

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Last week, Ännchen has tried to soothe Agathe’s worries about the whereabouts of her lover Max with a light-hearted arietta. Ännchen went to bed, hoping that her elder cousin were at ease. However, now that she is alone, staring through the window into the dark woods, Agathe speaks aloud her innermost feelings. How could she go to sleep (wie nahte mir der Schlummer), before she has seen Max (bevor ich ihn geseh’n) who has been with the evil Kaspar in the infamous Wolf’s ravine to cast magic bullets for tomorrow’s shooting competition? The text of her aria conveys how it feels to wait for a lover, as though riding a roller coaster of hope and worries, every second an eternity. Trying to connect with Max, she sends a little tune through the star-spangled night, hoping that it will reach him. Next, elevated she marvels at the beauty of nature not without discerning the “army” (das Heer) of dark clouds, deployed at the forest. She reaches out to God and prays, and again, worry creeps into her longing. The text becomes clouded by anguish, until – finally – she spots him at the edges of the forest, turning the aria into a jubilation of relief and again into extreme excitement. Her Herz wallt ungestüm, her “heart surges up” as he approaches the house. By the aria’s end, she is convinced that everything will be good tomorrow; luck and happiness will return.

This analysis of the aria’s linguistics is taken from my book “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers”.

Vocabulary

der Schlummer = slumber, here: sleep
der Pfad = path
fromm: pious,
here: godly, devout
die Weise = tune, manner
aufschwingen =
lit. to swing up in the manner of birds, here: to take wing, die Schwinge = bird’s wing
wallen = old German for to flow,
here: to surge up (emotion) in a wavelike motion
die Sternenkreise = circles of stars,
here: the night sky
die Himmelshalle = hall of heaven, the hall where God resides
die Engelsscharen = flocks of angels
hehr = old, poetic German for noble, sublime
die Grille = cricket
die Täuschung = illusion, delusion
der Wahn = madness
die Zähre = old German for
Träne = tear
der Pfand = deposit, forfeit,
here: pledge

The structure of the language and its intricacies

Take a listen first of a recording by soprano Lotte Lehmann from 1929.

Wie nahte mir der Schlummer,
Bevor ich ihn gesehn?
Ja, Liebe pflegt mit Kummer
Stets Hand in Hand zu gehn!

Agathe asks a rhetorical question: How could it be that “slumber would approach me,” meaning, that she gets sleepy, before she has seen him? Agathe chooses the subjunctive of nahen (to approach). She can say the subjunctive in two ways, first with the auxiliary verb würden and the infinitive nahen (wie würde mir der Schlummer nahen), or second by turning the verb nahen itself into its subjunctive form nahten. That is what she has decided to do. In the second line we discover the participle of sehen, namely gesehen. She presents us with the perfect tense, but we miss the auxiliary verb haben. In the old days people conveniently often dropped the auxiliary verb (haben or sein) when they saw that the participle was sufficient. The good old times are over. Today, we would say, “Wie würde mir der Schlummer nahen, bevor ich ihn gesehen habe?”

Yes, she confirms,
love usually goes with worries
always hand in hand!”

However, here she cannot do without an auxiliary verb, or else the meaning of her maxim would be lost.
Something/someone + pflegen + zu + infinitive = something or someone is in the habit of or usually does … infinitive. (pflegen as main verb = to nurse, to foster.) Here, love usually goes with worries hand in hand – always (stets).

Ob Mond auf seinem Pfad wohl lacht?
Welch schöne Nacht!

She asks whether the moon is casting light on his – Max’s – path. She uses the verb lachen (to laugh) for casting light, a phrase in German for the shining moon or – more common – the shining sun: Heute lacht die Sonne. As mentioned before, she does not add an article to the moon. She talks about the moon as if it were the name of a person.

What a beautiful night!”

Leise, leise,
Fromme Weise!
Schwing dich auf zum Sternenkreise.
Lied erschalle!

Gently, gently,
godly tune!
Swing up to the stars.
Sound loudly, song!”

She speaks in imperative to her tune and tells it to swing up and to sound loudly.
Imperative second person familiar (du) of
aufschwingen = schwing auf, here: with the reflexive sich to make sure that the tune swings up by itself. The word leise stands for quiet but also for gentle.

Feiernd walle
Mein Gebet zur Himmelshalle!

Agathe chooses another imperative, this time for walle ordering her prayer to surge up rejoicing (feiernd) to heaven.

O wie hell die goldnen Sterne,
Mit wie reinem Glanz sie glühn!
Nur dort in der Berge Ferne,
Scheint ein Wetter aufzuziehn.

Beginning with “O”, the first two lines reveal the euphoria the view at the skies has triggered; five words describe the night sky’s light: hell (bright), golden, rein (pure), der Glanz (glow, luster, radiance), glühen (to glow), just to be followed by a premonition, at the moment nothing more than an observation.
In the distance of the mountains, (
in der Berge Ferne – the “poet’s genitiv”, normally in der Ferne der Berge) a storm scheint (seems) to approach.
Usually, the noun das Wetter means weather, but here with an indefinite article (ein) it means storm, or bad weather. The verb aufziehen means to draw on, here as infinitive (scheinen + zu + infinitive).

Dort am Wald auch schwebt ein Heer
Dunkler Wolken dumpf und schwer.

Now, not assuming anymore, Agathe discovers an “army of dark clouds” that hovers over the forest. Her words counterpose the glory vocabulary just a few lines before: schweben, dunkel, dumpf, schwer.

Over there also, at the forest an army
of dark clouds hovers, hollow and heavy.”

Zu dir wende
Ich die Hände,
Herr ohn’ Anfang und ohn’ Ende!
Vor Gefahren
Uns zu wahren
Sende deine Engelscharen! –

Agathe speaks to God with an image. She turns (wenden) her hands (here: die Hände, meaning her own hands) to him (zu + dative, here: zu dir), constantly and urgently. (Ohn’ Anfang und ohn’ Ende!) She continues in imperative, second person singular, familiar (du) for senden = sende.

To protect (wahren) us against danger (here in plural: die Gefahren)
send flocks of your angels.”

Alles pflegt schon längst der Ruh’,
Trauter Freund, wo weilest du?

Everything and everybody “nurtures rest”, already. Der Ruhe pflegen (dative) is an old phrase for to rest. The adverb längst stands for already; schon is an intensifier.
schon längst = already for a while

Ob mein Ohr auch eifrig lauscht,
Nur der Tannen Wipfel rauscht;

No matter (here ob), how attentively (eifrig) I listen, only the top of the fir trees (die Tannen, singular: die Tanne) rustle.
das Ohr lauscht = the (
here: her) ear harkens, a poetic way to say “listen.”

Nur das Birkenlaub im Hain
Flüstert durch die hehre Stille –
Nur die Nachtigall und Grille
Scheint der Nachtluft sich zu freun. –

Agathe perceives the world in a pattern we earlier discussed. First, her sensitivity, hightened by her longing, lets her hear the tiniest “whisper” in the quiet world. Then, a moment later, her observation of the nightingale and the crickets is restricted by the subjectivity of the verb scheinen (to seem).

Only the leaves of the birches in the grove
whisper through the sublime silence –
only the nightingale and the cricket
seem to enjoy the air of the night.”

sich freuen + gentive object = to enjoy something, here: sich der Nachtluft freuen

Doch wie? Täuscht mich nicht mein Ohr?
Dort klingt’s wie Schritte!
Dort aus der Tannen Mitte
Kommt was hervor!
Er ist’s! Er ist’s!

But how? Does not my ear deceive me?
Over there, it sounds like steps!
There, from among the fir trees
something emerges!
It is him! It is him!”

First she hears something, then she sees something, building up the tension to the last line. (Er ist’s!) The phrase aus der Tannen Mitte (or aus der Mitte der Tannen) means literally from the midst of the many fir trees.

Die Flagge der Liebe mag wehn!
Dein Mädchen wacht
Noch in der Nacht! –

Agathe waves a cloth as a sign for Max, according to the librettist’s stage direction.

The flag of love shall fly!
Your girl is still awake in the night!”

Dein Mädchen means literally “your girl” but here it means “your love” or “your lover.” The infinitive of mag is mögen. It means “to like.” Depend on the context it also means “might,” so the flag of love might fly. Here, it would be more correctly, if Agathe put mögen in its imperative (Die Flagge der Liebe möge wehen.) to express desire and enthusiasm. However, her pattern of observation begins to set in – for her things seem to be.

Er scheint mich noch nicht zu sehn!
Gott, täuscht das Licht
Des Monds mich nicht,
So schmückt ein Blumenstrauß den Hut!

He doesn’t seem to see me yet (noch)!”

She presumes “by God” with a conditional that if the light of the moon does not deceive her, then a bunch of flowers (Blumenstrauß) decorates his hat (“his” hat with definite article, accusative; den Hut). The conditional construction beginning with the verb täuscht and continuing with so in the consequent main clause is rarely used in spoken language.
Täuscht das Licht des Monds mich nicht, so schmückt ein Blumenstrauß den Hut.

Normally we use the conjunction wenn, and dann in the main clause: Wenn das Licht des Monds mich nicht täuscht, dann schmückt ein Blumenstrauß den Hut.
The flowers on his head are a good sign for her.

Gewiss, er hat den besten Schuss getan!
Das kündet Glück für morgen an!

Certainly, he gave the best shot!
That heralds happiness for tomorrow!”
ankünden, or more common ankündigen = to announce, to give notice, to herald

O süße Hoffnung! Neu belebter Mut! –
All meine Pulse schlagen,
Und das Herz wallt ungestüm,
Süß entzückt entgegen ihm!

O sweet hope! Courage, newly refreshed!
All my pulses beat,
And my heart flows towards him (ihm entgegen), vehemently (ungestüm), sweetly delighted!”

Agathe is so excited that she has not only one pulse but several (der Puls, plural: die Pulse, here pronounced with a soft s).
She puts
ihm at the very end of the sentence. She could have said, “und das Herz wallt ihm ungestüm, süß entzückt entgegen”, but then, where would be the flow? The Herz is in the beginning, ihm at the end, in the middle nothing else but the wild flow of emotion, wavelike as the word wallen suggests.

Konnt’ ich das zu hoffen wagen?
Ja, es wandte sich das Glück
Zu dem teuern Freund zurück:
Will sich morgen treu bewähren! –

Could I dare to hope?”
Yes, she answers, happiness (or luck – das Glück has both meanings) has returned (zurückwenden, simple past: zurückwandten) to a precious (teuer) friend.
In the last line it is not clear who or what wants (not “will”, here it means: wollen; er, sie, es will) sich morgen treu bewähren. The verb bewähren means “to prove oneself” or “to stand the test.”

Ist’s nicht Täuschung? – Ist’s nicht Wahn?
Himmel, nimm des Dankes Zähren
Für dies Pfand der Hoffnung an!
“Is it not deception? Is it not madness?”
Ist’s is a contraction for ist es. The affirmative question of a negative is asked with ist es nicht. She addresses heaven (der Himmel) with the imperative of the separable verb annehmen (nimm … an = accept, second person, familiar).

Take the tears of gratitude
as my pledge of hope!”

Des Dankes Zähren in the “poet’s genitive”, normally Zähren des Danks.

Refrain:

All meine Pulse schlagen,
Und das Herz wallt ungestüm,
Süß entzückt entgegen ihm.

 

 

Der Freischütz (1): Ännchen Lightens Up

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Konzerthaus, Gendarmenmarkt

 

195 years ago (I know, this article should be published in 5 years, so we can say in a more festive tone, “200 years ago”, but patience is not the strong point of this author.), again, as I said, 195 years ago, in June 1821, Carl Maria von Weber conducted the premiere of his opera “Der Freischütz” in Berlin at the “Königliches Konzerthaus” (royal concert house) at the Gendarmenmarkt. The opera was immediately a hit. Its popularity spread throughout Europe. “Der Freischütz” was – and is – seen as the first German romantic opera, whose themes deal with the supernatural, with nature, and emotionality. The libretto, and so the texts I will present today and in the following week, is written in simple, effective language suggestive of folksongs. The poet and dramatist Johann Friedrich Kind wrote the libretto after Weber told him about a story he had read in a ghost story book some years before.

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Playbill, premiere

The opera takes place during the 17th century, deep in the woods of Bohemia. The young forester Max has lost a marksman competition. The contest was important to him not only for prestige, but also for the perspective to marry Agathe, daughter of Kuno, the head forester. Kuno presents to Max a challenge: He must succeed in a marksmanship contest the next day, or he will not be able to marry Agathe. Fellow forester Kaspar promises Max a magic bullet that can hit any target and win what his heart desires. Naive as he is, Max agrees to meet him at midnight in the infamous Wolf’s ravine to cast such bullets. Kaspar, however, has been rejected by Agathe and is actually plotting revenge. With the help of the huntsman sorcerer Samiel, Kaspar molds the magic bullets, one of which, as Kaspar hopes, will kill Agathe while she is present at the test.

Meanwhile, Agathe is waiting anxiously for Max in her father’s house. With her is her younger cousin Ännchen (diminuitive of Anna), a light-hearted character. To diffuse Agathe’s fears, Ännchen rhapsodizes in an arietta about an imagined handsome soon-to-be groom.

In this arietta we find a few combinations of words, so called collocations, that help you to memorize faster when you understand their meaning:

kommt gegangen = to arrive
ein schlanker Bursche = a slim fellow (often we say, “großer Bursche”, “starker Bursche”.)
Blicke finden sich = eyes meet, (often we say, “Blicke treffen sich”.)
rot werden = to blush

Other vocabulary:

hell = bright
das Mieder = corsage
verschämt = shy, bashful
verstohlen = secret, furtive, here: to steal a glance
gewahren = to notice
sich trauen = to dare
seufzen = to sigh
der Kranz = here: chaplet

Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen,
A slim young fellow is arriving
Blond von Locken oder braun,
Blond the locks or brown
Hell von Aug’ und rot von Wangen,
Bright the eye and red the cheeks,
Ei, nach dem kann man wohl schaun.
Ah, one can certainly look at him

Zwar schlägt man das Aug’ aufs Mieder
Although one lowers the eyes to one’s corsage
Nach verschämter Mädchenart;
according to the bashful way of girls;
Doch verstohlen hebt man’s wieder,
But secretely one lifts them again,
Wenn’s das Herrchen nicht gewahrt.
When the little man does not notice.

Sollten ja sich Blicke finden,
In case, glances meet,
Nun, was hat das auch für Not?
Well, what distress is that?
Man wird drum nicht gleich erblinden,
One will because of that not go blind at once,
Wird man auch ein wenig rot.
Even though one blushes a little bit.

Blickchen hin und Blick herüber,
A little glance there, a glance back,
Bis der Mund sich auch was traut!
Until the mouth dares something, too!
Er seufzt: Schönste! Sie spricht: Lieber!
He sighs: You most beautiful! She speaks: Dear!
Bald heißt’s Bräutigam und Braut.
Soon it’s called groom and bride.

Immer näher, liebe Leutchen!
Come closer, dear people!
Wollt ihr mich im Kranze sehn?
Do you want to see me under a chaplet?
Gelt, das ist ein nettes Bräutchen,
Well, that is a nice little bride,
Und der Bursch nicht minder schön?
And the young fellow not less beautiful.

In YouTube you can listen to this rendition of “Kommt ein schlanker Bursch gegangen”.

 

Sing jetzt! How to Form a Command

 

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Have you ever dreamed of taking the role of a stage director in a German opera house and barking orders? Maybe, one day you will, and then you will not only have to manage stagehands and singers, but also the German language. How do you form what is grammatically called an imperative, the tool that transforms a verb into a command, an instruction, a demand, or simply a recommendation? My book Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing gives the answer. Here is an excerpt:

 

To form a command we have to put the verb like machen, singen, lachen in the first position. If we address the person with du (second person familiar), the verb must appear as verb stem only, blunt and without the ending -en. Also, we have to drop the personal pronoun (du).

Mach eine Pause.
Sing!
Lach!

The same applies, if we speak to a group of people we individually address with du. We say ihr (y’all!).

Macht eine Pause!
Singt.
Lacht.

We include the pronoun, when we address the person with the formal Sie.

Machen Sie eine Pause.
Singen Sie.
Lachen Sie!!

In olden times, and certainly in libretti, blue-blooded characters address people of lower class in third person. In this case we conjugate differently but include er, sie, es, or man.

Albert Lortzing’s opera “Zar und Zimmermann” takes place in a shipyard in Saardam, Holland. Here, the Russian carpenter Iwanow has to pretend to be the tsar while the real tsar is negotiating incognito in the corner with the British and French ambassador. Iwanow loves the maid Marie, who loves him back, although they have their quarrels from time to time.

Marie enters. Duett. (Watch the video below.)

Vocabulary:

befehlen = to order, to command
der Grobian = ruffian

IWANOW
Jungfrau Marie!

MARIE
Sie befehlen?

IWANOW
Man geht hinaus! (“One leaves” – imperative third person)

MARIE beiseite
Sieh einmal an. (“Look at this” – imperative second person)

IWANOW
Jungfrau Marie!

MARIE
Sie befehlen?

IWANOW
Man bleibt! (“One stays” – imperative third person)

MARIE beiseite
Der Grobian!

To tease Marie, Iwanow uses the most distancing pronoun possible, the indefinite pronoun man that stands for everyone, no one specifically. He doesn’t even form a real imperative, but simply states a fact. To make an imperative he should have said, “man gehe hinaus” and “man bleibe.”

The verb sein (to be) changes for second person formal (Sie-people).
Seien Sie nett. (Be nice.)

First person singular, familiar (du-people)
Sei still! (Be quiet!)

After an argument with his music teacher, the young composer of “Ariadne auf Naxos” asks in a conciliatory tone to be good again.

The aria is called, “Seien wir wieder gut!” (More about this aria: Click.) The character introduces another level of imperative, directed at wir, the first person plural. The imperative with wir is less a command, more a suggestion.

Trinken wir einen Tee.

Singen wir jetzt.

Pron.             singen                    sein
Sie                 Singen Sie!             Seien Sie still.
du                  Sing!                       Sei still.
ihr                  Singt!                     Seid still.
er, sie, e         Singe er                 Sei er still.
wir                 Singen wir!           Seien wir still.

More information about the book: Click.

The following recording was taken from YouTube. Lucia Popp (Marie) und Peter Haage (Iwanow) sing the aforementioned duet from Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann.

Sat. 5/28 at 2 pm EST: Free Webinar Live Broadcast

Please click below if you want to follow my free webinar “Ich komme. Haben Sie Zeit? How to introduce yourself to an agent or an opera house and how to write a request for an audition”

If you want to participate with questions or comments, send me an email:
bernducha@gmail.com

If you have difficulties receiving the live stream, click here to get to my YouTube channel:

http://youtu.be/f5jgNkYTm6E

See you soon.

 

 

 

Free Webinar: How to Introduce Yourself

I am happy to invite you to my free webinar.

 

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When: On Saturday, May 28, at 2 pm EST
and
on Sunday, June 5, at 3 pm EST
live from Berlin, Germany.

Duration: 60 minutes.
The webinar is for beginners (not of singing of course, but of the German language).
You will learn …
– to introduce yourself to an agent or an opera house,
– to write a request for an audition to a German agency.
The webinar will be held over Google Hangouts.

You can …
– participate with questions or comments
or
– watch a live broadcast here at my blog
https://achichfuehls.wordpress.com.

If want want to participate with questions or comments,
– please send me a short notice at bernducha@gmail.com until Friday, May 27.
(First come, first serve – the number of participants is limited.)
You need
– a Google account
– a browser
– a good internet bandwidth for live streaming.
No software download is necessary.

If you just want to watch the webinar, please go to this blog and follow the live broadcast.
https://achichfuehls.wordpress.com

The host: Bernd Hendricks.
I am a Berlin-based language instructor and author of the book “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing”.

If you want to receive updates about this and following webinars, articles and interviews about German opera and language, please subscribe my newsletter below.

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I look forward to seeing and hearing you soon.

A Dictionary Alone Won’t Work

Interview with Berlin-based American mezzo-sopranos Anne Byrne and Sarah Ring about the opera organization Opera on Tap, living in Berlin, and the German language

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Co-managing divas: Mezzo-sopranos Anne Byrne and Sarah Ring present opera in Berlin-Neukölln

More than a decade after it started in “Freddy’s Bar and Backroom” in Brooklyn, Opera on Tap, a network of classically trained singers, has spread throughout America. Small groups of singers meet in a bar or a cafe on a regular basis, and present arias, opera scenes, or Lieder to a young and new audience. A chapter of Opera on Tap exists for a year now also in Berlin, Germany. Ach ich fühl’s spoke with Anne Byrne and Sarah Ring, the two Berlin-based co-managing divas, as they call themselves. Anne Byrne is a New York-born mezzo-soprano who moved to Germany after she received her Masters of Music from the New England Conservatory. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Ring, born and raised in Michigan, has been living in Berlin since September 2014.

AIF: The Berlin chapter of Opera on Tap is the first outside the U.S. How many singers have joined it, and where do they come from?

Anne: Opera on Tap has thirty-five to forty singers. They appear on a rotating basis, six singers per show. We are all from all around the world, many from English-speaking countries, but also from Europe, who came to Berlin to practice their art and develop their careers.

AIF: Where do you perform?

Anne: We perform in venues that are unusual for opera. Once a month we give a show at Prachtwerk, a cafe with performance space in the hip and raw neighborhood of Neukölln, where young people usually sit with their laptop computers and drink local beer. We also give a monthly Liederabend in another venue in Berlin, at the Das Galerieforum “Berlin am Meer”, in Prenzlauer Berg.

AIF: And the patrons with their laptop computers leave when you enter the stage?

Sarah: Not anymore, if they ever have. In the beginning we invited our colleagues, but the crowd grew quickly. Sometimes it is very big event here at Prachtwerk with more than hundred people. People who heard our music on the street when they were passing by come in and stay. Many are curious because they don’t expect that kind of music in this neighborhood. They don’t have to order tickets in advance. There is no entrance fee, but we do go around asking for donations during the pause. Everything is relaxed.

AIF: For you, too?

Anne: Yes, we can chill. We get on stage, sometimes with a drink in our hand, dressed casual, sometimes with the horns on our heads, and start singing.

AIF: What do you present? Complete operas?

Sarah: We give concerts of arias, mostly with a theme. For Halloween for example we presented only Bösewichte (villains). The last show was dedicated to duets and trios, and the next show will be dedicated to German repertoire. We encourage the singers to introduce the aria before they start singing, and to talk briefly about the context in the plot.

Anne: We did a full opera production of The Tales of Hoffmann, recently. We produced it after a successful Kickstarter campaign in a former silence movie theater called the ehemaliges Stummfilmkino Delphi. It is from the 1920s, was closed for some time after the war and reopened a while ago. The original interior is still that of the 1920s, so we didn’t need much stage setting. The theater itself was the stage.

AIF: Why did you choose Berlin as the place to be as a singer?

Sarah: It is a center of opera in many respects. There are three opera houses in Berlin, and as a result there is a large network of very talented coaches and teachers. The level of teaching here is outstanding. We can meet great singers, too, and going to opera is incredibly affordable. You can get a ticket as cheap as ten Euro. Sometimes, I see an opera twice a week. There is an artistic atmosphere in Berlin. It has a thriving art and music scene and a growing Internet start-up industry. Also, Berlin is an affordable place to live.

AIF: How do you experience the language in Berlin? To study the language at your university in the U.S. is one thing, but another thing is to be in the actual enviroment where you have to understand, to read, and most important, to talk.

Anne: Actually, Berlin is unlike other cities in Germany a place where you can live, maybe for years, without speaking or understanding one German word. You can get through life using only English. So, I had to be proactive and ask my German friends to speak German with me and to correct me when I make mistakes. My attitude is, “Why live in a foreign country and not speak its language?”

Sarah: It feels great to have a conversation, actually understand what is being said and get your point across. Germany has many dialects and accents. My husband has a family friend here in Germany, from Swabia. We recently went to visit her and it was interesting to hear the schwäbisch dialect, though certainly a challenge to understand as a non-native speaker at times.

AIF: What are the biggest challenges in singing German opera?

Sarah: The challenge is to keep the natural cadence of the language when I sing. It requires a lot of control. I also feel the pressure when singing to a German audience, that I would like to understand what I sing. They are honest and direct, and tell you when they did not understand what was sung.

Anne: I noticed that my speaking German has been seeping into my singing German. The pronunciation of spoken German is different than that of the German we sing. For example, there is the “ch”-sound in “ich”. In their accent, old Berliners say “ick” or “icke”. New Berliners with an immigrant background tend to say “isch”. Only few people in Berlin say “ich” in standard pronunciation. When I found a certain touch of Berlin accent in my singing I asked a diction teacher to correct my diction.

AIF: How do you prepare an aria or a role in German language?

Sarah: There are translations available, but I try to translate the text myself. This way, I can dig deep into the language and find many parts of the texts that are moving.

Anne: I always start with the text, even when the temptation is big to sing first and take care of the text later. It is important for me to know the text thoroughly before I sing it. The first thing I do as well is making my own translation.

AIF: What advice do you have for voice students regarding the language?

Anne: Learn the language, as much as you can. If you really understand the language, you will see how much thoughts and emotions the arias convey.

Sarah: I agree. To understand a text just by using a dictionary does not work.

***

More information about Opera On Tap in Berlin and in the U.S.: Click.
Watch here a report of the German-French tv station Arte about Opera On Tap in Berlin: Click.
Watch the Kickstarter video for the Opera On Tap production of The Tales of Hoffmann last February.

 

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