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First published in Classical Singer.

Dear Erda,

I sing both mezzo and soprano repertoire quite comfortably. Would it break some unwritten rule for me to audition in both fachs? Can I combine the repertoire on my demo tapes or send two different tapes as if I were two different people? Am I a freak?



Dear Sybil,

No, my dear, you are not a freak. You’re not even particularly unusual. Possibly you are a zwischen á la Frederica von Stade or Cecilia Bartoli, but not having heard you, I really can’t say.

Regardless of whether you are a bona fide zwischenfach, I would not advise attempting to market yourself by sending two different resumes and tapes. Presenting a disparate selection of options at auditions only confuses the panel and leads them to believe that you don’t know your own voice very well, and therefore may be somewhat less polished than what they’re seeking.

You see, plenty of singers can happily and healthily sing all sorts of roles, but very few of them successfully cross fachs with abandon in auditions or on the stage, at least not at the beginning of their careers. Delora Zajick can get away with singing Lady MacBeth, because she’s a star and has proven through her established repertoire that she is capable of judicious “stretches”. I doubt anyone would hire her to sing the Countess. But once you’ve established yourself, you might be able to convince an adventurous General Director to take a similar chance on you.

Meanwhile, as you’re getting your career off the ground, it’s worth investigating whether you can successfully market yourself as a zwischenfach (although you’ll probably have to declare alliance to one general fach or another anyway) and then your resume should reflect logical crossover repertoire. What roles are you singing, anyway? Are we talking Cherubino-Der Komponist-Despina, or Carmen-Die Konigen-Mimi? If the roles you want to market yourself for are related or belong certifiably to the realm of zwischenfach, you have a shot at singing both repertoires professionally. By the way, although the examples I’ve cited are mainly lyric mezzos/sopranos, there are certainly other types of crossover singers, who perhaps sing Santuzza, Eboli, and maybe the occasional Isolde.

Bottom line? It doesn’t really matter in terms of starting your career whether you can creditably sing everything from Amneris to Zerlina. What matters, my dear Sybil, is what people are the most likely to hire you to sing. Based on auditions, feedback from teachers, coaches, general directors, and other qualified professionals who have heard you; as well as on your looks, voice quality, personality, and acting ability --- in which repertoire are you the most marketable? Target those roles for auditions and forget about your other repertoire, except for on concerts for which you get to pick the repertoire … and of course, that moment when your dressing room door is adorned with the elusive golden star.