London Workshop (3): Nouns Play Roles, Too

At my recent UK workshop “German for Opera Singers” at the Rich Mix cultural center in London, we discussed the Fidelio quartet. Marzelline falls in love with Fidelio; Fidelio – or better: Leonore – fears complications; Marzelline’s father Rocco gives his blessings to a possible liaison; and because of that Jaquino feels desperate. Four characters, just four lines for each, but a barrage of pronouns. Ich, mich, es, dir, mir, ihn, sie – what is that all about?


On each side of the River Thames, different needs are served.

It has to do with the role nouns, thus things, people, animals, everything that can do something, play in the sentence, in our case, these four characters. In grammar, these roles are called “case”. In the German language, we know four cases. In this quartet we are concerned only with three. One of them is called “accusative.” According to their roles, the pronouns change, too.

Er liebt mich. Two people are involved in this statement, er and the first person narrator, mich. In the middle, we find the verb lieben. Er is active and affiliated with the verb while mich is passive and on the receiving end of the action.


Now, let’s turn it around and reverse their roles. Then we must say, Ich liebe ihn. Er, now on the receiving end of the action turns into ihn, and mich, now active, into ich.

Another role (case) is called dative. Nouns turns into a dative when it becomes the location of an action, or when something is transfered to them, e.g. a present, an opinion, an answer etc, or when something happens to them.


In the latter case, what requires in English two words – to me – needs in German only one, but a new word: Er gibt Blumen. (He gives flowers.)
Er gibt mir Blumen. (He gives flowers to me.)
To me it is strange, miraculous = Mir ist so wunderbar

Please fill in the pronouns.

(2x) mich   (2x) mir   es   ich   er

_____ ist so wunderbar,
_____ engt das Herz _____ ein;
_____ liebt _____, _____ ist klar,
_____ werde glücklich sein.

sie   es   mich

Wie groß ist die Gefahr,
Wie schwach der Hoffnung Schein!
_____ liebt mich, _____ ist klar,
O namenlose Pein!

er   es   sie   ihn   sie

_____ liebt _____, _____ ist klar;
Ja, Mädchen, _____ wird dein.
Ein gutes, junges Paar,
_____ werden glücklich sein.

Three times – which pronoun do we have to use?
mich  or  ich  or  mir?

_____ sträubt sich schon das Haar,
Der Vater willigt ein;
_____ wird so wunderbar,
_____ fällt kein Mittel ein.

Here are the correct answers:

Mir ist so wunderbar,
Es engt das Herz mir ein;
Er liebt mich, es ist klar,
Ich werde glücklich sein.

Wie groß ist die Gefahr,
Wie schwach der Hoffnung Schein!
Sie liebt mich, es ist klar,
O namenlose Pein!

Sie liebt ihn, es ist klar;
Ja, Mädchen, er wird dein.
Ein gutes, junges Paar,
Sie werden glücklich sein.

Mir sträubt sich schon das Haar,
Der Vater willigt ein;
Mir wird so wunderbar,
Mir fällt kein Mittel ein.

Watch and listen to this magnificient recording from 1978 at the Wiener Staatsoper. Marzelline was sung by Lucia Popp, Leonore by Gundula Janowitz, Rocco by Manfred Jungwirth, and Jaquino by Adolf Dallapozza. Leonard Bernstein conducted the orchestra.





London Workshop (Part 2): Blondchen’s Warning

At my UK workshop “German for Opera Singers” at the Rich Mix cultural center in London in early September, we discussed how to write an audition request in German as well as the linguistics of various arias, one of them Blondchen’s aria Durch Zärtlichkeit from Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail. Blondchen lectures her captor’s servant Osmin how to win a young lady’s heart and issues a warning not to lose it, too. The participants of the workshop, singers from Australia, Cyprus, Ireland, the UK, and the US, were eager, based on the method how to approach a German text, to understand the aria – and Blondchen’s reprimand.


London, five past five


die Zärtlichkeit = tenderness
das Schmeicheln = flattery
die Gefälligkeit = (here) courtesy
das Scherzen = joking, joke
mürrisch = grumpily, grumpy
das Befehlen = commanding
das Poltern = rumbling
das Zanken = quarreling
das Plagen = pestering
die Treue = faithfulness
entweichen = (here) to disappear, to ooze



1. Mark all nouns.
2. Identify the verbs (activity words) and look how they are conjugated (changed in spelling according to
ich, du, er, wir etc.).
3. Look at the meaning of the verb (activity) and find the thing, person (name, function) or pronoun that is doing this activity.
4. Find the thing, person (name, function) or pronoun to whom the activity is directed.


Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln,
Gefälligkeit und Scherzen,
erobert man die Herzen
der guten Mädchen leicht:
Doch mürrisches Befehlen
und Poltern, Zanken, Plagen
macht, dass in wenig Tagen
so Lieb’ als Treu entweicht.

Nouns are always capitalized. There are many of them in this text, most of them nominalized verbs, meaning verbs, turned into nouns, e.g. Scherzen, Zanken etc.
There are three verbs: erobert, macht, entweicht – all of them conjugated for third person singular (er, sie, es) or second person plural (ihr).


Who is doing erobert?

It is man, the indefinite pronoun, someone not specific which implies that Blondchen sets a general rule. One conquers “the hearts of the good girls” (die Herzen der guten Mädchen) easily by (durch – the first word) all these things she mentions in the beginning.

Who is doing macht?

The better question would be, “Whats is doing macht?” It’s grumpily commanding, quarreling and pestering.

What is the object of macht?

Who or what receives this action macht (to do, to make)? It is a process, here presented in a relative clause that includes our third verb: entweicht. Liebe als (here: as well as) Treue entweicht – in a few days (in wenigen Tagen)!

Listen to a recording of Durch Zärtlichkeit with Diana Damrau, available on Youtube:








London Workshop (1): How to Approach a Text

At my recent UK workshop “German for Opera Singers” at the Rich Mix cultural center in London, we discussed the linguistics of arias from Entführung aus dem Serail and Fidelio, as well as the poetry of a Schumann Lied. To the participants, altogether 17 singers from Australia, Cyprus, Ireland, the UK, and the US, I introduced the following approach to a German text, a way to identify the basic meaning, at least the core statement, and the mood of the language.


London Bridge, City Hall, twilight

Before you start, keep in mind:

Old words, hard to find
Many words in classical operas and Lieder are old words and not used anymore (e.g. das Weib, hold, wunderlich). It might be difficult to find them in a dictionary.

Weird word order
The way sentences are build in German can be different from your language, depend on the context, i.e. words show up in places you did not expect. (See below.)

Capitalized nouns
In German, all nouns (proper names, things, ideas) are capitalized as well as verbs and adjectives that were made a noun (e.g. das Singen = the singing, das Schöne = beauty). All other words are written in lower case. A noun is a word that can do something. If in doubt, add the verb haben (to have) and look if it makes sense.

Facing a text, employ the following method:

1. Mark all nouns.
2. Identify the verbs (activity words) and look how they are conjugated, meaning changed in spelling according to
ich, du, er, wir etc.


3. Look at the meaning of the verb (activity) and find the thing, person (name, function) or pronoun that is doing this activity. Keep in mind, the thing that is doing this activity, called “subject” does not have to precede the verb. Depend on the context, it even can be the last word of the sentence. (See below)
4. Find the thing, person (name, function) or pronoun to whom the activity is directed. This thing, called object, is not affiliated to a verb, it is passive, but it’s possible that it is the first word of the sentence. (See below)

Now, you might get a general sense what the text is about.

If you still have trouble understanding the meaning or cannot find the meaning of the verb look at these three questions:


A. Is the sentence written in future or past tense?
Then it has probably a second verb that helps to create the future or the past tense. For future, it is
wollen, for past tense (or the perfect tense) it is haben or sein.

B. What are the “little words”, e.g. negative pronouns (kein, nicht), particles (intensifier, words that carry emotions), etc.? If you remove them, does the sentence make more sense to you?

C. What is the word order?
The iron rule in building a sentence is: The conjugated verb appears always in the second position. It does not matter what you put first, even if a singer like Maria Callas is involved.
Maria Callas singt heute in der Berliner Staatsoper.
You can mention the time, for example
heute (today), or the place, for example Berliner Staatsoper, it must be followed by the verb, for example singt.
Heute singt Maria Callas.
In der Berliner Staatsoper singt Maria Callas.


Rich Mix – The location of the workshop in London-Hackney






Your Career: Just One Click Away (Part Two)

Melanie Lodge advises: Find your passion, sharpen your skill, and trust a friend’s faith in you.

In part two of this interview, Melanie Lodge, founder of the London-based digital casting-book Audition Oracle, tells her own story and gives advice to singers who want to make it in the opera world.



AIF: When you started Audition Oracle, you were a singer yourself?

Melanie Lodge: Yes, but when I first started this venture four years ago, my outlook was bleak. I was heavily in the grip of whooping cough. As a result, I had to axe engagements from my diary left, right and centre, not knowing if I would be left with a voice at the end of it. I started to panic even more than usual about how to make ends meet if I were to maintain a career in the world of opera. Several years ago the idea came to me to start Audition Oracle but a similar successful service already existed in K-AA. When the news came that this was closing, I knew that the time was right to establish a service of my own.


AIF: How did you get the money to start Audition Oracle?

Melanie Lodge

Melanie Lodge, Audition Oracle

Melanie Lodge: A very special singer-friend had been nagging me to do this for a while. She took me out for dinner and offered to lend me the money to get started. Although blown away by her offer I thought the best way forward was for her to pay for her first year’s subscription in advance. Her faith in me was inspiring and I immediately went home to start building a basic WordPress website. I then posted this website on Facebook and Twitter, sat back and waited, and chewed my nails.

AIF: What was the reaction of the singer community?

Melanie Lodge: Having come into opera via other areas of the performing arts, I had to be creative and think outside the box to find out about work. Without realising it, I had developed a reputation for knowing about auditions before the panel knew they were happening! It turned out this was a very valuable skill. People began signing up at a rate that far exceeded my hopes. Even so the last four years have been a learning curve, and a very enjoyable one.

AIF: Looking at the experience your clients make with Audition Oracle, what advice do you give how to get to an audition?

Melanie Lodge: To get the Audition be selective. Don’t carpet-bomb every opportunity as you can do yourself more harm than good. Read and research each opportunity thoroughly. Are you honestly who they are looking for? If not, save your energy. Apply in the manner the company asks you to.

AIF: If a singer is writing a cover letter or email to a casting director, what should it look like?

Melanie Lodge: Thoughtful but concise. Employers only have time to skim read one page so make sure your important relevant experience is clearly displayed and leave out the fillers for both covering letters and CVs. Make an administrator’s life easy. If they have asked for a one page CV saved in your name, voice type and PDF format, do it. Google can tell you how and it takes seconds. (For more details see the links below. AIF)

AIF: Singers might be surprised if they get an offer that is not what they aimed for. What should they to do?

Melanie Lodge: Be willing to explore, uncover, accept and revel in your niche. If people can’t see you as the big dramatic lead but are falling over themselves to get you on-board as the character tenor, why fight it? Embrace it and enjoy a world class (and potentially very long!) career with a list of contacts that could come in very handy when your voice and repertoire adjust in the future. Don’t forget: Having an excellent career is not all about having the greatest voice.







Look at the resources of Audition Oracle about creating your covering letter or email:










Your Career: Just One Click Away (Part I)

A web service in the UK can lead you to opera auditions throughout Europe.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an oracle was a female priest in ancient Greece who gave people “wise advice.” Nowadays, advice for singers comes from the London-based digital casting-book Audition Oracle. Its programming system is designed to offer the wisest help that can be given to singers: connecting them with organisers of musical events. In a two-part interview with AIF, Melanie Lodge, founder of Audition Oracle, lays out the benefits of a membership and gives advice to aspiring singers who want to make it in the opera world.

Melanie Lodge

Melanie Lodge, founder Audition Oracle

AIF: How do singers and the organisers of music events use Audition Oracle to come together?

Melanie Lodge: There are several ways that Audition Oracle connects people. Organisers can post a vacancy and professional singers who meet the criteria can apply with our one click application process. Organisers can then offer a job directly or select which candidates they would like to invite for audition. Alternatively, organisers can browse our database of professional artists and offer work directly, or invite to audition, any artist(s) that they feel might be suitable.

AIF: What is the benefit for professional singers?

Melanie Lodge: Membership of Adition Oracle gives professional singers access to the latest vocal auditions and opportunities in the industry. We are the largest source of professional opera, classical and choral auditions in Europe. Artists can upload their CV, publicity materials and media to enable employers to find and view them based on their experience, voice type and more.

AIF: How much does the membership cost?

Melanie Lodge: Student professional membership costs £54/year and professional, £99/year. Audition Oracle offers a free 30-day trial to singers so they can experience directly how beneficial the service is before becoming a full member. Membership to the service includes access to a mobile friendly work and auditions board that keeps them up to date with hundreds of auditions, work and Young Artists Program opportunities throughout the UK, Europe and North America every day.


AIF: Presenting a centuries old art form, Opera houses and agencies might be hesitant to embrace the use of digital technology. How do you convince opera houses and agencies to change their habits of recruiting singers the traditional way?

Melanie Lodge: We find that once we have helped a company or an individual employer out, they have been swift to embrace our system and continue to use it without prompting in the future. Many companies have registered their own account and choose to receive applications for their opportunities exclusively via Audition Oracle.

AIF: What happen when singers apply?

Melanie Lodge: When singers apply via the website for an opportunity, they can do so at a click of a button as their CV’s, media files and experience are automatically attached to the application. This saves companies precious admin time, protects their email inbox and organises applications into one format in one designated space. Here companies can clearly view individuals name, head shot, voice type, cover letter, CV and all associated media from their applications and sort them to follow up as required.

More information can be found at

Soon: Read part 2 of this interview – Melanie Lodge’s advice for auditions and how to get hired again.



Tosca Writes Poems and Sings Them, Too

For London-based soprano Katerina Mina, generosity of emotions is the most important trait on stage.

This blog continues its series of profiles of young American, Canadian, and British singers who sing German repertoire. Their answers to a small set of questions show what it takes to pursue the career of their dreams. Katerina Mina’s singing ranges between Wagner and Puccini, Barber and music to her own poetry.


Photo: Shantha Delaundy Photography

From where?
I was born in Cyprus to a Greek father and a Cypriot mother.

Your Fach?
Spinto Soprano

Your favourite role:
My absolute favourite role has to be Tosca! I’m so looking forward to performing this role next year in a tour in the USA with the American National Opera Company.

Your hero in opera:
Joyce DiDonato

Your hero in real life:
My beloved mother Anastasia

Your recent performance:
Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater” & “Te Deum” in Bishop’s Castle, England.

Best opera production you saw in Germany:
“La Forza del Destino” at Bayerische Staatsoper.

Craziest opera production you saw in Germany:
“Faust” at Deutsche Oper Berlin.

The biggest challenge in singing German opera or Lieder:
Organising and forming the consonants in such a way that they are prominent, yet part of the legato line.

The latest opera production you’ve put on stage:
Santuzza from Mascagni’s opera “Cavalleria Rusticana”, one of my favourite characters of verismo opera.

And the reaction of the audience was …
It was such a great feeling to experience the love and warmth of the audience, something I am very thankful for. After I changed fach recently from the lyric to the more dramatic soprano repertoire, it is also very encouraging for me to receive the positive reaction of the audience, colleagues and my mentors.


As Elle in Francis Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine”

Your next project or performance, and where:
Next week I am recording a new CD Album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, with Maestro Grzegorz Nowak. The recording will consist of many beautiful arias from the Spinto Soprano repertoire including two German pieces, Leonore’s aria from Beethoven’s “Fidelio” and Elsa’s Dream from Wagner’s “Lohengrin”. There will also be arias by Puccini, Verdi, Cilea, Giordano; Samuel Barber’s “Andromache’s Farewell” and two world-premiere pieces written by Swiss composer Stephan Hodel on two of my poems with titles “Love” and “Angel of Fire” . It is the first time my poetry is set into music!

Your favourite quality in a singer:
I love sincere singers who possess an individual sound in their voice and who are emotionally generous on stage.

Your favourite German word:


Find more information about Katerina Mina at

Watch and listen to her performance of “Vier Lieder” by Alma Mahler-Werfel.






Schade, mein Idol!

The British soprano Kirstin Sharpin on favorite singers and favorite words.

This blog continues its series of profiles of young American, Canadian, and British singers who sing German repertoire. Their answers to a small set of questions show what it takes to pursue the career of their dreams. For soprano Kirstin Sharpin it means also to find her home in Berlin.

From where?
Scottish Kiwi or Kiwi Scot, depending on your point of view! Born in New Zealand, huge Scottish ties and family, moved there in 2001 and eventually gained British citizenship. My family is scattered all over the world, though.



Photo: Axel Michel

Your Fach?
Jugendlich Dramatisch Soprano

Since when in Berlin?
January 2015

Your favorite role:
That’s tricky! I’ve enjoyed different aspects of all my roles – Elettra, Tatyana, Suor Angelica, Vitellia, Leonore (Beethoven) are some of my favourites to date. Valkyries are fun, too.

Your hero in opera:
I grew up idolising Dame Joan Sutherland. Then she was replaced by Jessye Norman, Régine Crespin, Birgit Nilsson…. Sorry, Joan!

Your hero in real life:
I admire people who don’t choose the easy road, who break the mould and go for what they believe in. I’m very lucky to have a number of people like that in my life, and they are my heroes.

Best opera production you saw in Germany:
Lohengrin at the Deutsche Oper Berlin or Elektra at the Staatsoper – I can’t choose!

Idomeneo - Mozart - Blackheath Halls Community Opera - 14th July 2015Musical Director - Nicholas Jenkins
Director - James Hurley
Designer - Rachel Szmukler
Lighting Designer - Ben Pickersgill

Idomeneo - Mark Wilde
Idamante - Sam Furness
Ilia - Rebecca Bottone
Electra - Kirstin Sharpin
Arbace - William Johnston Davies

Pupils from Charlton Park Academy, Greenvale School, Year 5 from Beecroft Garden Primary School and Year 5 from Mulgrave Primary School

Blackheath Halls Chorus and Blackheath Halls Orchestra

As Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo. Photo: Robert Workman

Craziest opera production you saw in Germany:
There was a Fliegende Holländer I really couldn’t find the key to. Still puzzling over that one!

Your recent performance:
I had the huge privilege and pleasure of singing at a benefit for ‘Pulse of Europe’ recently. It was organised by Alban Gerhardt, and I sang a special arrangement of Wagner’s ‘Träume’ with some of the best musicians in Europe, if not the world. When you struggle to sing because the playing is so beautiful… that’s a real treat.

A thing or habit of Germans you find funny:
It’s very unfair of me, but I do find the use of “oder?” at the every second sentence amusing, especially when it gets translated literally into English!

A thing or habit of Germans you find annoying:
I’m not a big fan of the high specificity of much of German bureaucracy/rule-following behaviour – a little room to improvise/adapt/use your own judgement is sometimes necessary.

A story in which you were glad that you spoke German:
Every day! I started with almost none, and can now have reasonable conversations in most circumstances. I love being able to build pleasant relationships with the people I encounter regularly, and having a language in common helps hugely with that! You also get to find out how many Germans are huge opera fans (and often, why – the assistant at my local Apotheke has very strong opinions on Tristan & Isolde!)

Your favorite quality in a singer:
I love hearing singers who take risks to convey the emotion of their characters. Even if it doesn’t quite work out, or isn’t the most beautiful sound, there’s a truth in it I can’t get past.

Your favorite German word:
Schade! So useful to have an all-purpose, non-rude exclamation.

Listen to Kirstin Sharpin singing “Einsam in trüben Tagen” from Wagner’s Lohengrin.

More information at