Spit over Your Shoulder! Toi! Toi! Toi!



Although the opera houses in the German speaking countries are very different in their artistic emphasis, their repertoire, roots and traditions, they, nevertheless, have one thing in common: The people who work here – singers, directors, administrative and stage workers – share the same superstitions (der Aberglaube).

– Never whistle

Nobody ever whistles inside an opera house, not even after a phenomenal salary raise that makes everybody happy. To whistle a song or even the little minuet from “Don Giovanni” is not allowed, nor is it permissible to whistle to call or signal to a person.

– Greet always with “toi, toi, toi”

Everybody who comes across a singer before a performance on or behind the stage or in the corridors of the theater is required to greet them with “toi, toi, toi.” Toi stands for “Teufel”, the devil; no one less should hold the artist’s fate in his hands. It means “good luck” although to wish “viel Glück” is considered inappropriate, a greeting from an outsider.

– Don’t respond to a greeting

After hearing “toi, toi, toi,” the artist passes by without uttering a word. The artist must shut his or her mouth; there is no other way. To thank the greeter or to say something else will bring bad luck. For polite people from the English speaking world it will be difficult to be silent when a person wishes them all the best, but it is essential for their success in the upcoming performance.

– You can wear a hat on stage, but don’t eat or drink

What happens on stage during the day is also crucial for the success of the evening’s performance. During the rehearsals, only actors or singers are allowed to wear a hat. Everybody else who enters the stage with a cap or a hat on his or her head will be kicked out. Eating and drinking on stage brings bad luck, too.

– Spit over your shoulder

If you are going to sing in the premiere, you better spit three times over your shoulder.

Otherwise, your performance will fall through.

From: Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing


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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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