24. März 2023

Marking or Singing out?

The split between training and over-challenging your voice

As singers, we usually have rehearsals at 10 a.m. and then again at 5 or 6 p.m. So we get up at 7 a.m., go jogging, eat a healthy breakfast, take a shower, warm up in peace and quiet, leave early and are at the opera house around 9.40 a.m., have a little coffee/tea in the canteen and are fit as a fiddle at the rehearsal shortly before 10 a.m….!

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?!

That can happen, but how often does life get in the way in the morning, especially when we have children to look after? We sing along in the car or hum along on the bike or in the train and arrive at rehearsal more or less warm in body and voice. It’s not wise to sing out straight away! But don’t panic, there is the possibility to MARK. If you mark intelligently, you can make it possible for everyone to work well and sing out after the break when your body has warmed up.

In countries where rehearsal times are later, the singing life is more pleasant in that respect!

How does marking work?

There are different ways to mark:

– singing at the original pitch with half the voice

– singing lower passages on the pitch and singing high passages an octave down.

– a mix of both: singing lower passages with half a voice and octavating high passages.

The following always applies: Marking is only a professional tool if the scenic tension is maintained and the text is still recognisable for the colleagues on stage.

Stage Rehearsals

The 6 -8 (!) weeks of scenic rehearsals until the premiere is a training period that should be used wisely. Of course, we have been preparing the part at home for a long time and have sung it out beforehand in the musical rehearsals, but during the scenic work, a technical disorder often comes back into the singing. I think it is wise to „arrange the limbs“ first and then sing out. It is simply impossible to concentrate on everything at the same time. One should take the time to develop a scene calmly until it sits, and only then use the full voice when hands and feet know why they are doing what and when.  It can also be more relaxed for the director and the colleagues if not everyone sings out all the time.

What are the rules for singing out?

There are none, but there is an observation:

No matter how big the role, singers who never sing out are probably afraid of their part and might not make it to the premiere…

Of course, it makes a difference whether I have sung a part many times before or whether it is a new role, whether the part is small (please don’t mark it if possible), medium (mark it only sometimes) or large/grand (please mark it wisely). If you are healthy, you can always sing a small part, but it is a different story for larger roles and „monster parts“ by Wagner, Verdi, Strauss, Janáček etc.

For these roles, you start preparing as early as possible so that the part can settle into your body. One and a half to two years is normal!

For a new role, we should use the scenic training time to get the part into the body – that can only be done by singing out. Sing out and see how it feels as soon as the scene makes sense, especially in physically demanding productions. If everything doesn’t work right away, don’t give up. Try again tomorrow. And if, after a few days, it turns out that a technically difficult part doesn’t work in the way the director had in mind, you can ask her or him for help and develop alternatives. But you can only do this if you have at least tried the things out in full voice.

Once rehearsals arrive on the main stage, singing out allows us to get a feel for the original space – you do have to get up early and warm up your body and voice before rehearsal then.

In operas with a chorus, you MUST sing out the 10 bars  before the choir starts so that your choir colleagues can hear your cues and you don’t get into trouble 🙂

Singing out in the final rehearsals

That’s another chapter (I wrote a separate article about it, the link is at the end of this article).

In stage orchestra rehearsals, not singing out is not very helpful – neither for you, the conductor, nor the colleagues in the pit. They can only react well to you if they have heard you. The musical director must be able to test the balance between your voice and the orchestra. If you have sung a role many times and know you still have a good command of it, you can mark difficult parts to save energy.

However, with 2 stage orchestra rehearsals (BOs) daily, it becomes difficult to pace yourself well for demanding roles. The time between rehearsals for huge parts is not enough to get fully fit again, and it can quickly happen that tiredness follows tiredness and becomes potentiated. I recommend making a singing plan for the last two weeks before the premiere and sticking to it. For instance, you don’t have to sing out the piano dress rehearsal (although it’s tempting to do so when the costumes and lights are in the original for the first time). If there are 4 or 6 Stage Orchestra Rehearsals within 2-3 days, you can mark some or not sing out a complete one. Suppose there is insufficient time between the Orchestra Dress Rehearsal, the General and the Premiere. In that case, it may be necessary to mark all or part of the General – anything is better than singing below standard on the day of the premiere because you are tired (it happened to me, and I’m still embarrassed about it!)!

You don’t get money and press for the General, but from the premiere on!

Make yourself a plan, AND THEN STICK TO IT!

Remember: a dress rehearsal is a rehearsal, even if there is an audience! It NEVER pays to be tired at the premiere.
You MUST let the musical director and the artistic director know beforehand if it is really necessary to take it easy if there is a public in the rehearsal. With monster parts, there should be understanding.

Every singer has to find out what is right and how best to divide his or her energy.

This blogpost can only be a suggestion,
the Blogpost about the final rehearsal stretch is here

Have fun finding your own solution, and all the best,



hedwig fassbender
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