Opera is Real Life

Soprano Sashell Beck knows the coolest places to sing and live in Berlin.

With the presentation of Californian soprano Sashell Beck, this blog continues to publish a series of profiles of young American, Canadian, and British singers who went to Germany to sing and live. Their answers to a small set of questions show what it takes to move to a foreign place, mainly to Berlin, and pursue the career of their dreams.

Sashell Beck. Photo credit: Sven Sindt Photography

Your name:
Sashell Beck

From where?
Pasadena, California

What is your Fach?
Soprano, somewhere between lyric coloratura and lyric.

Since when in Berlin?
I’ve lived in Hamburg for 2 ½ years, but I go to Berlin often to have voice lessons, do master classes, or perform in small productions.

Your favorite role:
That I have or haven’t played? Favorite role played: Musetta. She’s a lot of fun because she’s so fiery and it’s a fairly easy sing. Dream roles would include Juliette from the Gounod Roméo et Juliette and Violetta from La Traviata.

What do you think of Regietheater?
ometimes too “innovative”

Best opera production you saw in Germany:
I think that would be a production of Eugene Onegin I saw at Kiel Opera. For it being a smaller house I felt they did a fantastic job with the set in creating space, and of course the singing was amazing.

Craziest opera production you saw in Germany:
I haven’t seen any of the “My German opera experience involved giant penis’ on stage” performances unfortunately, so I guess I’ll go with a version of “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” that I again saw at Kiel Opera. There was nothing stand out strange about it. I think it’s just generally a weird opera, and it’s not my favorite.

Your hero in opera:
Renée Fleming.

Your hero in real life:
Opera is real life

Two things you like about Berlin:
There’s so much going on. You can go to a show every night of the week if you wanted to, and all in different venues. I recently did a production of Le Nozze di Figaro in an old silent film theater that had been closed for 70 years. At one point during a rehearsal a small piece of the ceiling fell down onto the stage, but everyone was all right and it was still one of the coolest places I’ve sung.

(Sashell Beck’s performance at Ehemaliges Stummfilmtheater Delphi, Berlin.)

What you don’t like about Berlin:
The occasional smell of sewer can be off-putting.

A story in which you were glad that you spoke German:
Everyday. The first year was made much more difficult by not speaking the language.

A story in which you made an embarrassing mistake in German (if you want to tell):
One time I was in a coaching and he was saying something about a Bvs a B. In German B is “B” and Bis “H”. I didn’t know this and took a guess and said something about the “BH”, thinking it must mean B. Unfortunately BH is just short for “Büstenhalter” which is bra in English. We laughed about it in the end but it was certainly embarrassing at the time.

Your most recent performance:
Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Ehemaliges Stummfilmkino Delphi in Prenzlauer Berg with The Berlin Opera Group.

Your next project, performance, and where:
I’m trying to bring some of the Berlin culture to Hamburg so my friend Corinne and I have started up Opera on Tap Hamburg. Our next and third performance will be on November 16th at Mathilde Bar Ottenesen with the theme “Family Feud”.

Your favorite quality in a singer:

Your favorite German word:

More information about Sashell Beck:


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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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