Great Voice Loves Small Talk

What London-based soprano Danae Eleni misses and appreciates when she visits Berlin

This blog continues its series of profiles of young American, Canadian, and British singers who visit or live in Germany to sing. Their answers to a small set of questions show what it takes to pursue the career of their dreams. London-based soprano and educator Danae Eleni travels throughout the world to sing and perform, but likes to return to the Berlin area for recitals and inspiration.


Photo: Maximilian Van London

From where?
Born in Bahrain to Greek and English parents. (Bahraini-born Anglo-Greek Soprano)

Your Fach?
Lyric Soprano

Your favorite role:
I have so many… Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro); but in German repertoire I love Pamina, and Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier); Anne Trulove in English… I also love creating roles with/for composers…

Your hero in opera:
Anne Trulove – she follows her heart.

Your recent performance:
Song cycle “The Gift of Life” by Chet Biscardi, for the Sarah Lawrence Programme at Oxford University.

Your recent performance in Germany, Austria or Switzerland:
Recital of Summer Songs in Jüterbog*; and a recital tour of solos for soprano and organ in Berlin and Brandenburg.

The biggest challenge in singing German opera or Lieder:
Remembering not to over darken the second schwa sound.


Photo: Fabien Chareix

A thing or habit of Germans you find funny:
Love how “to-the-point” conversations can be, without the need for small talk.

A thing or habit of Germans you find annoying:
Sometimes I miss the small talk…

A story in which you were glad that you spoke German:
My train was delayed from Hannover to Köln, so I missed the last connection to Brussels. I think that being able to speak some German (through tears), helped me negotiate the (free) overnight taxi from Aachen straight to my digs. Deutsche Bahn’s customer service is amazing!

Your next project or performance, and where:
Poulenc’s “Gloria” at LSO St Luke’s in London, then Sophie excerpts from “Der Rosenkavalier” with Fulham Opera.
(More info here:

Your favorite quality in a singer:
The ability to be completely in the character of a song or role as soon as they enter the stage. I love singers who have a variety of colours in their pianissimi also, they can be used to heartbreaking effect.

Your favorite German words:
außergewöhnlich, relativ.

* Jüterbog is a historic village, around 70 kilometers from Berlin. [AIF]

Watch and listen to Danae Eleni’s performance of Franz Lehar’s “Warum hast du mich wachgeküsst?” accompanied by Naomi Woo; Recorded by Svanholm Productions in London 2016

Find more information about Danae Eleni at:
twitter: @danaeeleni

Listen to her audio recordings at:




Soon in London: German for Opera Singers


Opera singers in Berlin find it at their door step at any time; Vienna’s singers indulged in it in March, and soon it will be brought to the singers’ community in London:

German for Opera Singers.

The Berlin-based German language consultant, writer and tutor Bernd Hendricks will conduct his renowned workshop for the first time in the British capital.

The date will be announced in a few weeks, but it will be most likely in late August, early September.

Several locations are currently under consideration. It will be a place convenient to the participants to reach.

The workshop will be open for everyone who sings, conducts, or directs, seeking insight into the linguistics of German libretti and Lieder or wishes to request an audition at an agency or an opera house in Germany, Austria or Switzerland.

Are you interested in participating in the London Workshop? Drop me a line at


The workshop series German for Opera Singers draws singers from all around the world who live and sing in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. These are some of the themes of previous workshops:


Shakespeare statue across the Berlin opera house

– Ich komme. Haben Sie Zeit? How to write an audition request to agencies in German
– Seien wir wieder gut – The Linguistics of Ariadne auf Naxos
– O namenlose Freude – The Linguistics of Fidelio
– Du heller, wilder Fluss – Understanding the Poetry in Schubert’s songs
– Die Frist ist um – Common Traits in Wagner’s Libretti

In addition, the so-called open workshops are customized for the language needs of the singers who want to discuss aria texts of their upcoming singing engagements.

Read articles series about previous workshops, for example …

The Vienna Workshop: Click.

The Ariane auf Naxos Workshop: Click.

Video: Watch and listen what singers have to say about the Ariadne workshop.


Vienna Workshop: Heine’s Grammar Lovefest

At my Vienna workshop “German for Opera Singers,” we examined Wagner arias, and songs from Wolf and Schumann, one of them “Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen.”



View from the Domgasse

This poem appeared in 1827 in “Buch der Lieder” by the German poet Heinrich Heine, a compilation of 237 poems, which were groundbreaking in German poetry because of their clear and simple style, a style of folk songs everybody could understand. More than half of these poems are about broken hearts and unanswered love, and therefore source for many works by some of the greatest composers. In this poem, Heine draws us into a grammar lovefest, which Robert Schumann has put into beautiful music. Verbs sparkle in all forms, in past tense (Präteritum), perfect tense (needing an extra verb, haben or sein), perfect tense, and the imperative. That’s why it is called das Gedicht (poem). It comes from dicht (dense). The art to densify thoughts, observations, or emotions to few words with all language tools at one’s disposal is called dichten (to write poetry).


wandeln = to stroll, to promenade
der Gram = (old) grief
wehtun, es tut weh = to ache
schleichen = to creep, to sneak
lehren = to teach
erzählen = to tell
immerfort = (old) constantly
wunderschlau = (Heine’s compound noun) super smart
trauen = to trust

What it says:

Broken-hearted, the narrator strolls under the trees when birds appear in the skies and sing. His heart aches even more. Talking to them he demands to be quiet and to refrain from that Wörtlein (diminuitive for word = das Wort; das Wörtchen or, prefered in the South of Germany, and in Austria, das Wörtlein). He never speaks out that word, neither do the birds who respond by telling him that they caught it from a young woman (Jungfräulein). He suspects they tell this story only to cheer him up, and concludes that it is best to trust no one anymore.

We at the workshop, looking out of the window at the Viennese trees that lined the street and had started to blossom, thought the word might be Liebe.


Text and grammar:

In the first stanza, the narrator reminisces in simple past which provides some verbs in a short, one-vowel version: Ich komme (present tense) turns into ich kam, ich schleiche into ich schlich.

Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen
mit meinem Gram allein;
da kam das alte Träumen
und schlich mir ins Herz hinein.

Now, he speaks to the birds, using the perfect tense of lehren with the auxiliary verb haben: Wer hat gelehrt? It follows the imperative of schweigen, a command to the birds to be silent: Schweigt still! After that, he explains his order with a conditional: wenn … dann.

Wer hat euch dies Wörtlein gelehret,
ihr Vöglein in luftiger Höh’?
Schweigt still! wenn mein Herz es höret,
dann tut es noch einmal so weh.

The birds respond, beginning with the simple past of kommen (Die Jungfrau kam), and adding the participle of gehen (gegangen):Die Jungfrau kam gegangen. By today’s use of the language, the combination of kommen and gegangen sounds strange and outmoded. In Heine’s times it meant neither kommen nor gehen, but coming unexpectedly and passing by.
Past tense of sie singt = sie sang.
The birds continue with the perfect tense of fangen = Wir haben gefangen.

Es kam ein Jungfräulein gegangen,
die sang es immerfort,
da haben wir Vöglein gefangen
das hübsche, goldne Wort.“

In the last stanza, the narrator speaks in present tense, adding the modalverb sollen to erzählen, which basically means, “Don’t tell me that!”

Das sollt ihr mir nicht mehr erzählen,
Ihr Vöglein wunderschlau;
ihr wollt meinem Kummer mir stehlen,
ich aber niemandem trau’.

Below you find a recording of this song by the German baritone Stephan Genz, accompanied by pianist Claar Ter Horst.



Vienna Workshop: Auf ein altes Bild

At my recent workshop “German for Opera Singers” in Vienna, we discussed the text of the song “Auf ein altes Bild” by the Slovenian-born Austrian composer Hugo Wolf. The song is from the late romantic period, probably written in 1888. At that time Wolf was interested in the themes of Eduard Friedrich Möricke’s works, one of them the six-line poem “Auf ein altes Bild” (auf = here: about, on; das Bild = picture).


Vienna: St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Möricke was a Swabian pastor, poet, and translator who refers with “Auf ein altes Bild” to the religious content of a painting by Albrecht Dürer. It depicts the Knäblein Sündelos (“sinless little boy” or better: the little boy called sinless; the author gives him a name) as it plays in the lap of the Madonna (Jungfrau).The wood of one of the trees in the background will be used to make a cross – the very cross where the child will be crucified many years later.



die Landschaft = landscape
der Sommer = summer, der Flor = bloom, Sommerflor = bloom, blossoming of summer
das Schilf = reed
das Rohr = giant reed
spielen = to play, ich spiele, du spielst, es (das Knäblein) spielet (today: spielt)
der Schoß = lap
der Wald = forrest, woods
wonnesam = (old) filled with bliss, blissful (today: wonnevoll)
grünen = to become green, er (der Stamm) grünet (today: grünt)
das Kreuz = cross
der Stamm = trunk of a tree



Albrecht Dürer: Madona with Child


In these six lines Möricke uses the genitive case three times, creating richness in meaning and substance in that little poem. A case describes the role a noun plays in a sentence. The genitive determines possession or dependence, and changes the article (der, die, das) accordingly.

(today:) der Sommerflor der Landschaft (here: in the “poet’s genitive” in der Landschaft Sommerflor)
(today:) der Schoß der Jungfrau (here:
der Jungfrau Schoß)
(today:) der Stamm des Kreuzes (here:
des Kreuzes Stamm)

Auf ein altes Bild

In grüner Landschaft Sommerflor,
Bei kühlem Wasser, Schilf und Rohr,
Schau, wie das Knäblein Sündelos
Frei spielet auf der Jungfrau Schoß!
Und dort im Walde wonnesam,
Ach, grünet schon des Kreuzes Stamm!

To an Old Picture

In the summer’s blossoming of a green landscape,
Close to cool water, and small and giant reeds,
Look, how the little boy named sinless
Plays freely in the Madonna’s lap!
And there in the forrest filled with bliss,
Alas, the trunk of the cross turns already green!

The following YouTube video provides a recording of the song by the English tenor Ian Bostridge:






Vienna Vignettes: Notes from the City of Music

The following vignettes and some of the photos were recently published on my Facebook page “Ach ich fühl’s” when I reported about my trip to the birthplace of European classical music to give a language workshop to Vienna-based singers from Australia and USA.


COMPOSERS’ HANGOUT. Johannes Brahms drunk wine here with old friends like the violinist Joseph Joachim. For decades writers, artists, and singers debated, celebrated or debunked ideas, art, or themselves at this place: Cafe Sperl on Gumpendorferstraße, close to Naschmarkt. Opened in 1880, it is a landmark today, a corner cafe where you can eat Nockerln and drink Melange and choose from more than a dozen newspapers and magazines that are spread on a giant table. There are many waiters if you consider their ratio to the number of guests, but they do not seem to be idle. Walking back and forth in their uniform, they scan the customers’ faces for any sign of need. The wooden panels on the walls have been darkend by time and cigarette smoke. The chairs and tables have seen better times; the place looks verlebt (raddled) and the best service it gives tonight is to charm the visitors. The guests are from the neighborhood. They pop in just for a little bit to eat, mostly with friends or colleagues with whom they have to discuss urgent matters, at least that’s how some conversations sound. The sing-sang of the Viennese accent floats through the room, pinched by the clicking sound of billiard balls from the end of the room.



FIGARO’S HALLWAY. Don’t take the elevator, take the stairs. He ran them up and down, a melody in his head you treasure today as the most beautiful. Mozart and his wife Konstanze lived on the first floor (in America the second floor) in Domgasse 5, one of 13 apartments he had in Vienna. (Consecutively, not in the same time – he was not in real estate.) The apartment encircles the staircase, has two entrances and seven rooms in which he and Konstanze crammed 18 chairs, seven tables, several canapes, wardrobes, and cabinets. In the large room, facing the Domgasse, the six famous quartets which Mozart had dedicated to Haydn were played. The older composer was present and wrote later to Mozart’s father, ”Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.”


View from the room where Mozart and his friends played cards, billiard, and music, amongst others the Haydn quartets.

Next door, I step into Mozart’s study, in a glas box a golden musical clock. French teenage students rush in, turn around and vanish, a whirlwind of youthfull ignorance, leaving me alone for a couple of minutes. I approach the six score sheets that hang on the wall, each with 12 lines of music, Mozart’s daily output. I stare at the notes on the yellowed pages, meticulously written down without corrections, without blots or scratches, and it is impossible not to turn around and look at the room – three by four meters – and turn back to the pages and realize, that these notes had been written, that this music, Le Nozze de Figaro, had been created in this very space.


ACCOUNTANT’S COMPARISSON: A sign in Mozart’s apartment on Domgasse details the annual income of various professions compared with Mozart’s in ducats, the currency of the time:
Prince 100.000 – 500.000 ducats
Count 20.000 – 50.000 ducats
Mozart 3.000 – 4.000 ducats
School teacher 120 – 150 ducats
Choir singer 25 – 60 ducats



MOZART’S DEATH: We heard of his death in the early morning hours. We hurried to his house, Rauensteingasse 8. Thirty of us, maybe 35. It was a mild morning for early December. Someone said they have brought him to the St. Stephan Cathedral already. We saw light in the first floor windows; shadows moved. We heard, he had been working on a Requiem, and he, his wife and his student practiced it a few hours before he died. In around sixty years the house will be torn down and replaced with another one, and after sixty more years a department store will be errected at this place.


In around 150 years, a war will rage, so terrible that the words of our time fail to describe it. So much can be said that the department store will go up in flames. It will be rebuild and named Steffl, will be remodeled, it will catch fire again, this time by a technical failure, be renovated, sold and resold. A man from Duisburg, Germany, will come in 1980. He will discover the Mozart bust in the sports department between bikes and sports suits and running shoes. He will photograph the bust, but he will lose the black-and-white picture. He will return in 2017 and he will be surprised how the store has changed. It has marble floors. The sales people are better dressed. It offers fine clothes; women’s clothes in the first floor, on the left side. Here, between the racks with silk dresses, wardrobe of Philosophy and Boss Orange, is the space where Mozart wrote the Zauberflöte, and where he took his last breath.


The apartment was huge for a family of three, 145 square meters; it even had a billiard table. The man from Duisburg finds a leather sofa. In his head, he hears “Ach ich fühl’s” until he notices that he is staring at changing cubicles. From time to time a curtain is drawn back, and a women looks into the mirror, a price tag dangling on the elegant clothes she is wearing. The man prepares an excuse in case a sales person approaches him. He would say, he is waiting for his wife, but nobody asks him. He gets up and sees a young fellow, dressed in sneakers, blue jeans, and an old jacket. It seems the young fellow is not interested in the clothes but moves like a thief and looks furtively around. The man from Duisburg knows the young fellow is searching for the bust, too. They will find it on the top floor, next to the department store’s restaurant. A sign says it is the first Mozart bust ever created, some years after his passing. The man from Duisburg will take pictures and upload them into eternity.

It started to rain, and it is getting cold. Someone said, a storm is brewing. As we left, we wondered if Konstanze will follow the coffin up to the St. Marx cemetery the next day, a long road, through the mud, the wind, the icy rain, and through her sorrow, which soon will be, few of us sense it already, the sorrow of mankind.


MUSIC LOVERS’ TOILET. If you need to relieve yourself, you will find a special public toilet in the subway station Karlsplatz, close to the Staatsoper, a vintage restroom with an opera theme, subsequently called Opern WC.


When you throw 70 cents into a box, the turnstile opens. At the wall next to the sink hang pictures of singers and stage designs. From loudspeakers, opera recordings are played. Here, the diva is the smell; it dominates the space and gets on your nerves like acid. Across the pissoirs restricting the space stands a piano. A player could hunch over the keyboard and play without disturbing the customers unless the customers would like to be a little bit more active and extend their business at the urinal. No player is in sight, though. Calls to the toilet management to inquire about the vacancy of the pianist post have not been returned.




ADMIRER’S KISS. Johannes Brahms got the kiss. Streets, even a bus line, pass through the Central Cemetery in Vienna, with more than 2 two million inhabitants the largest in Europe. The most famous of them are situated around a Mozart statue. Beethoven to the left, then Schubert, then Johann Strauss, and eventually, on the right, Johannes Brahms. Fans brought flowers and put them at their feet. One admirer wearing thick lipstick, left a mark of love on Brahms’ tombstone.



RESISTANCE’S LANGUAGE. The sign “O5”, scratched into the wall of the St. Stephan cathedral, was the secret code of the Austrian resistance against Hitler after the annexation of their country in March 1938. (First thing the nazis did was bringing the Austrian gold reserve from Vienna to Berlin to finance the preparations of the war.) For the nazis Austria did not exist anymore, just the region “Ostmark”. But the resistance thought otherwise: The number 5 in the code stands for the fifth letter in the alphabet, the “E”. Put “O” and “E” together you have “OE” which is the way to write an “O” with umlaut: Ö. The Ö stands for Österreich (Austria). Nearby, next to the Sacher Hotel, in front of the Albertina museum: In April 1945, few days before the end of the war, a bomb hit a house killing more than 100 people who had sought shelter in the basement. The “Memorial Against War and Fascism”, created by the great Austrian sculptor Alfred Hrdlicka, reminds of the tragedy. It is build with granite from the quarry in Mauthausen which was also a concentration camp, not far from Vienna. Thousands of prisoners from all of Europe worked and died here.







Workshop April 10: The Linguistics of Fidelio


If you are looking for Beethoven, you can find him in two places: in the Vienna central cemetery, under bouquets of flowers, as I have seen last week, or in Prachtwerk Cafe at my Fidelio workshop under a sometimes flowery, sometimes heroic language.
When? April 10, 7 pm – 9pm.
Where exactly? Prachtwerk Cafe, conference room, Ganghoferstraße 2, Berlin-Neukölln.
Topic: O namenlose Freude – The Linguistics of Fidelio
Goal: The participants will understand the language of the libretto, the vocabulary and its subtleties, and how meaning, emotions and attitudes are expressed in the structure of sentences.
Content: Using chosen arias and excerpts of recitatives we will examine the
– language of fear and and worries, and the vocabulary of the dungeons,
– language of love and hope, and what is hidden in the subjunctive and the conditional sentence,
– language of heroism and freedom, and what emotions the imperative carries
– language of tyranny, and the power of the imperative.We will look at words and phrases, and their meanings, of arias, duets and trios by Leonore, Marzelline, Rocco, and Florestan.
What you can do: Bring your questions and your arias to discuss their language.
Who consults: Bernd Hendricks, German Language Consultant and author of the book Ach ich fühl’s – German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing.
Price: The workshop is free. A small donation to cover the rent of the room would be appreciated.
Review: I would like to ask the participants to rate and review the workshop in social media, and for this blog. The workshop will be documented with photos, in a video or/and with an article for blogs and other publications.



Ariadne’s Reich

The Linguistics of Ariadne auf Naxos (last part, part V): A ride into the future tense.


Berlin-Neukölln, S-Bahn Station


We hear this aria relatively early in the second act, in what is called die Oper, after three nymphs, Dryade, Najade, and Echo had found her weeping, mourning, and lying in front of the cave on the deserted island. Zerbinetta and her group have appeared on that island, too, a result of the patron’s request to merge opera and vaudeville. They try to cheer her up but find it “hard, very hard to comfort her.” Zerbinetta asks the troupe to “try it with music.” They do but of no avail. Ariadne, oblivious of the furor around her, dreams of the Reich, das Totenreich, the realm of death.

In just a few lines of this aria, we go through three tenses:

1. present tense (es gibt, ist, hat, heissen),
2. past tense (kam – from kommen),
and dominantly
3. the future tense. Ariadne talks about the future, and what will happen when der schöne, stille Gott arrives.

The future tense is build with the auxiliary verb werden and the infinitive.

Wir werden singen.

The verb werden must be conjugated:

ich werde                                      wir werden
du wirst                                         ihr werdet
Sie werden
er, sie, es wird                               sie werden

rein = pure
heißen = here: to give a name: sie heißen den Mann Hermes.
der Stab = staff in the sense of: stick
welk = withered
reinigen = to clean, participle: gereinigt = here: cleansed
nicken = to nod, here: to greet
die Feierkleider = festive clothes
die Glieder = limbs
geben = to give, here in past tense: gab

Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist:
Es hat auch einen Namen: Totenreich.
Hier ist nichts rein!
Hier kam alles zu allem!
Bald aber nahet ein Bote,
Hermes heißen sie ihn.
Mit seinem Stab
Regiert er die Seelen:
Wie leichte Vögel,
Wie welke Blätter
Treibt er sie hin.
Du schöner, stiller Gott!
Sieh! Ariadne wartet!


Ariadne talks about a realm where everything is pure and has also a name: Totenreich. Then she refers to the island: Here, nothing is pure.
The next line consists of four grammatical rules:
The past tense (kam > kommen), the nominative case alles (the thing that is active in the sentence), everything), the dative case allem (here: the form the object of the sentence takes when it is preceded with the preposition zu; note the different word endings.), and last but not least the word order. (We always place the verb on the second position.)

The next line indicates the future with the words bald (soon) and nahet (today: naht; to approach), an omen of what she will foresee.

She described the messenger Hermes, the Greek god of transitions, who rules the souls with his staff. Here, we find a poetic use of the word order by librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal:
Wie leichte Vögel,
Wie welke Blätter
Treibt er sie hin.
The (separable) verb is hintreiben and the subject, the one who treibt is er, almost at the end of the sentence, followed by sie, the pronoun for the souls.

In the last part of the aria, I marked the future tense with bold letters for the auxiliary verb (werden), and underlined the infinitive verbs. (nicken, sein etc.) Only once, the verb werden appears as main verb (marked with *), which means to become.

Ach, von allen wilden Schmerzen
Muss das Herz gereinigt sein,
Dann wird dein Gesicht mir nicken,
Wird dein Schritt vor meiner Höhle.
Dunkel wird auf meinen Augen,
Deine Hand auf meinem Herzen sein.
In den schönen Feierkleidern,
Die mir meine Mutter gab,
Diese Glieder werden bleiben,
Stille Höhle wird* mein Grab.
Aber lautlos meine Seele
Folget ihrem neuen Herrn,
Wie ein leichtes Blatt im Winde
Folgt hinunter, folgt so gern.

Dunkel wird auf meinen Augen
Und in meinem Herzen sein,
Diese Glieder werden bleiben,
Schön geschmückt und ganz allein.

Du wirst mich befreien,
Mir selber mich geben,
Dies lastende Leben,
Du, nimm es von mir.
An dich werd‘ ich mich ganz verlieren,
Bei dir wird Ariadne sein.

At the end, von Hofmannsthal unleashes some pronoun pyrotechnics: du, mich, mir, es, dir.
Ariadne knows (or believes to know) that Hermes will liberate her (mich befreien), and give her the gift of: herself!
Du gibst mich = you give me.
To whom?
We use the dative for indirect object: mir (dative pronoun first person)
and as an amplifier, Ariadne adds selbst (myself).
Then she asks the god, “This burdensome (lastende) life, take it (es) from me.” The preposition von must be followed by a dative (mir).
The next line has even three pronouns. She (ich) will lose herself (mich) totally to him (dich). She will be with him: The preposition bei leads to a dative, thus bei dir. She does not say mit dir which would imply that she wants to accompany the god. She wants more and says bei, making herself completely available to him.

Kiri te Kanawa sings the aria, presented on Youtube:

Three sopranos talk about my recent workshop on the linguistics of Ariadne auf Naxos: