Voice type, body type, personality type... everyone's got a type. Humans like labels, and understandably so! Labels are helpful; they allow us to organize information, filter out the useless and filter in pertinent information. Cognitively speaking, they allow us to function simply. But if you've interacted with any sort of human, you'll notice that we tend to defy simplicity.
At a glance, voice types (or fachs) are pretty simple. On paper, it should be easy to slot yourself into a voice type and stay there until kingdom come. But our voices are dynamic, ever-evolving invisible marionettes of muscle, tissue, bone and air. In addition to puberty induced voice changes, hormonal fluctuations, weight loss, weight gain, altitude, barometric pressure and probably even the damn planetary alignment have an effect the voice. Discovering your voice type as well as the repertoire that works for you within it is not set in stone. It's more of an ongoing lab experiment.
When I was in my undergrad, I wanted SO BAD to fit into a nicely shaped fach box. ANY would do, but I just wanted to know! Mezzo? Soprano? After some dubious years of vocal experimentation, I discovered significant movement and height, so I decided to try some coloratura repertoire on for size. For a moment in time, my audition package was as follows (I've provided YouTube links for those of who aren't operatic repertoire aficionados)
"Einst träumte meiner sel'gen Base" from Der Freischütz This is a role for a soubrette or some variety of light soprano. I wasn't a soubrette at this point and (spoiler alert), I'm not going to be.
"Quando m'en vo" from La Boheme. Okay, not too much of a stretch. These two arias could be sung by the same person.
"Embroidery in childhood" from Peter Grimes
Alright this is where we digress. This aria would not be sung by a soprano who sings the previous two arias.
"Adieu, notre petite table" from Manon
Okay, we're in the same ball park of arias 1 and 2 but... it's a stretch
"Caro nome" from Rigoletto
Here we enter into full on Twilight Zone. Why did I think this was a balanced, appropriate audition package?
These 5 arias are confusing. And it only got weirder for a while. I wanted to be a high soprano so bad that I would sing anything and everything to prove it. The joke was I already was a high soprano (not a coloratura, I just happen to be good at moving my voice). Trying to be super-dramatic yet lyric coloratura-with a low extension-soprano did me no favors. It confused panel members, coaches and teachers the world round. But! It was just a moment in time. Things changed (Jo), and they continue to.
Niche is nice. BUT often when you try to pigeon hole yourself you end up missing the mark. I struggled with finding an aria that would show all of the things I was good at, and each aria had to showcase completely different set of skills. That's too much. It's perfectly fine to not be good at everything.
And if you're sitting there thinking to yourself:
"I'm between fachs" : Good news, my friend; You get to offer a little from column A and a little from column B! Embrace the in-between time.
"I think bigger rep would suit me, but I don't want to scare a panel of strangers": Find a similar style/composer from around the same time. I get this all the time with Verdi and Strauss- so I steer clear of the Lady Macbeth's and Elektra's in favor of Luisa Miller, Ernani and Marietta's Lied. Also- Have you looked at Gluck?!??! It's HARD and won't raise any eyebrows, and the dude wrote like 50 operas.
"There's just too much rep!!!!" :Truly. Look at singers that are similar to you (past or present): what did they do, and in what order? Google an opera of your choice- where is it being performed, who is singing in it, and what else are they singing? This way you can identify patterns and then identify when and when not to follow them.
Give yourself as many strategies as you can for success. Try as much stuff out as possible. This is the only way you will find out if it works. This means there will be much risk involved, so weigh your options
What are things you do really well? Character, story telling, middle singing, high stuff, languages... your rep exists. It just takes some trial and error. Singing is demanding enough, don't make it harder on yourself by trying to be the best at everything all at the same time.
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