In Opera: Do Not Die without Proper Grammar


Opera is a dangerous business, because in almost every performance characters die an untimely death, mostly in front of an frenetic audience. The mezzo-soprano Kristen Seikaly has compiled statistics about deaths in opera in her blog A graphics shows murder as the top cause of death with 52 percent, followed by suicide (24 %), illness (17 %), and other causes (7 %). Other statistics inform us about the ways characters are murdered in opera (with stabbing as the surprise winner with 59.3 %), ways characters commit suicide as well as the illnesses they contract.

Of course, if administered in German opera all these stage deaths must be performed in German. No character will ever die successfully without uttering their last words in proper grammar. The use of a wrong case, a wrong article or – even worse – wrong verb conjugation prolongs the suffering of the character unnecessarily. To help the characters to finish their drop-dead gorgeous performance I included in my book “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers” a brief glossary of theater weaponry.

Here is an excerpt:

You live (and kill) and die by…

Degen m rapier
Gewehr n gun, rifle plural: –e
f cannon plural: –n
n knife
Pistole f pistol, gun plural: –n
m revolver
Schwert d sword plural: –er
f weapon plural: –n

The verbs of killing and dying are …

present             simple past           perfect

bluten               bluteten                geblutet       to bleed
verbluten           verbluteten            verblutet       to bleed to death
bombardieren    bombardierten    bombardiert   to bomb
fechten                fochten                gefochten     to fence
schießen            schossen            geschossen    to shot
erschießen       erschossen           erschossen    to shot to death
stechen              stachen               gestochen     to stab
erstechen         erstachen            erstochen       to stab to death
sterben              starben               gestorben       to die
töten                  töteten               getötet            to kill

You can read more about the German language on the opera stage in my book “Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing.” Lulu Press, 373 pages, ISBN: 978-1-312-46345-5


More information about my book: Click.

Here is the link to Kristen Seikaly’s article “Death in Opera: A Visual Represetation”:

Published by


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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