Chat First, Pick Up Grammar Later

The acclaimed British-Australian baritone and vocal instructor David Wakeham has been living and working in German-speaking countries since 1993. He rarely gives a voice lesson to young singers without advice for learning German. For this blog, he answered some questions.

DavidWakeham3AIF: What role plays German as an operatic language for a singer who is starting out to make a career?

David Wakeham: If you are starting in Germany as a young singer, having German as a language makes working and living here easier. Also, opera companies appreciate the effort you are putting into your career.

AIF: What is it that makes you not only speak and sing in German but also love the language?

David Wakeham: I particularly love the structure of German and learning new words all the time.
German is not as harsh as people think. It is poetic, romantic and sings well.

AIF: What were for you the biggest challenges in aquiring the German language?

David Wakeham: The biggest challenge was to stop thinking in English and just jump into German and try.

AIF: What advice can you give to young singers who feel overwhelmed or intimidated by all the grammar rules and vocabulary?

David Wakeham: Don’t be overwhelmed by grammar and rules. Learn to talk and chat first, so you can live, and the rest you can pick up on the way. Learn to conjugate verbs as I feel they are important. And don’t be frightened to make errors.

AIF: What are your favourite German word?

David Wakeham: My favourite German words are Dudelsack* and hinterfotzig**.

[* Der Dudelsack means back pipe and stems from dudeln (tootle) and Sack (sack).]

[** The adjective hinterfotzig stands for conniving, sneaky, malicious. It is not the cleanest word. You should neither use it with police nor with the administration of an opera house even if you feel like. Use it with friends when you complain about police or the administration of an opera house and when you strongly want to make a point.]

After his European debut in 1993 at the Opernhaus Zurich, Mr. Wakeham sung at the Scala in Milano and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, at the Theater an der Wien, the Komische Oper Berlin, Oper Leipzig, the Bayerische Staatsoper München, the Staatsoper Stuttgart, and Oper Bonn, performing major roles in the Czech, German and Italian repertoire. He also sung at Opera Australia. For the Berlin Opera Academy he works as a voice instructor. You can find more information about Mr. Wakeham at




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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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