A soprano is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) =880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) =1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody. The lyric soprano is the most common female singing voice.
Types and roles in opera
In opera, the tessitura, vocal weight, and timbre of soprano voices, and the roles they sing, are commonly categorized into voice types, often called fächer (sg. fach, from German Fach or Stimmfach, "vocal category"). A singer's tessitura is where the voice has the best timbre, easy volume, and most comfort. For instance a soprano and a mezzo-soprano may have a similar range, but their tessituras will lie in different parts of that range.
The low extreme for sopranos is roughly A3 or B♭3 (just below middle C). Within opera, the lowest demanded note for sopranos is F3 (from Richard Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten). Often low notes in higher voices will project less, lack timbre, and tend to "count less" in roles (although some Verdi, Strauss and Wagner roles call for stronger singing below the staff). However, rarely is a soprano simply unable to sing a low note in a song within a soprano role.
The high extreme, at a minimum, for non-coloratura sopranos is "soprano C" (C6 two octaves above middle C), and many roles in the standard repertoire call for C♯6 or D6. A couple of roles have optional E♭6’s, as well. In the coloratura repertoire several roles call for E♭6 on up to F6. In rare cases, some coloratura roles go as high as G6 or G♯6, such as Mozart's concert aria "Popoli di Tessaglia!", or the title role of Jules Massenet's opera Esclarmonde. While not necessarily within the tessitura, a good soprano will be able to sing her top notes full-throated, with timbre and dynamic control.
The following are the operatic soprano classifications (see individual articles for roles and singers):
- Lyric coloratura soprano – A very agile light voice with a high upper extension, capable of fast vocal coloratura. Light coloraturas have a range of approximately middle C (C4) to "high F" (in alt) (F6) with some coloratura sopranos being able to sing somewhat higher or lower.
- Dramatic coloratura soprano – A coloratura soprano with great flexibility in high-lying velocity passages, yet with great sustaining power comparable to that of a full spinto or dramatic soprano. Dramatic coloraturas have a range of approximately "low B" (B3) to "high F" (F6) with some coloratura sopranos being able to sing somewhat higher or lower.
In classical music and opera, the term soubrette refers to both a voice type and a particular type of opera role. A soubrette voice is light with a bright, sweet timbre, a tessitura in the mid-range, and with no extensive coloratura. The soubrette voice is not a weak voice for it must carry over an orchestra without a microphone like all voices in opera. The voice however has a lighter vocal weight than other soprano voices with a brighter timbre. Many young singers start out as soubrettes but as they grow older and the voice matures more physically they may be reclassified as another voice type, usually either a light lyric soprano, a lyric coloratura soprano, or a coloratura mezzo-soprano. Rarely does a singer remain a soubrette throughout her entire career. A soubrette's range extends approximately from middle C (C4) to "high D" (D6). The tessitura of the soubrette tends to lie a bit lower than the lyric soprano and spinto soprano.
A warm voice with a bright, full timbre, which can be heard over a big orchestra. It generally has a higher tessitura than a soubrette and usually plays ingenues and other sympathetic characters in opera. Lyric sopranos have a range from approximately below middle C (C4) to "high D" (D6). There is a tendency to divide lyric sopranos into two groups:
- Light lyric soprano – A light-lyric soprano has a bigger voice than a soubrette but still possesses a youthful quality.
- Full lyric soprano – A full-lyric soprano has a more mature sound than a light-lyric soprano and can be heard over a bigger orchestra.
Also lirico-spinto, Italian for "pushed lyric". This voice has the brightness and height of a lyric soprano, but can be "pushed" to dramatic climaxes without strain, and may have a somewhat darker timbre. Spinto sopranos have a range from approximately from B (B3) to "high D" (D6).
A dramatic soprano (or soprano robusto) has a powerful, rich, emotive voice that can sing over a full orchestra. Usually (but not always) this voice has a lower tessitura than other sopranos, and a darker timbre. Dramatic sopranos have a range from approximately A (A3) to "high C" (C6).
Some dramatic sopranos, known as Wagnerian sopranos, have a very big voice that can assert itself over an exceptionally large orchestra (over eighty pieces). These voices are substantial and very powerful and ideally even throughout the registers.
Intermediate voice types
Two types of soprano especially dear to the French are the Dugazon and the Falcon, which are intermediate voice types between the soprano and the mezzo-soprano: a Dugazon is a darker-colored soubrette, a Falcon a darker-colored soprano drammatico.
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- Boldrey, Richard (1994). Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-877761-64-5.
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- Boldrey, Richard; Robert Caldwell, Werner Singer, Joan Wall and Roger Pines (1992). Singer's Edition: Operatic Arias – Soubrette. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-877761-03-4.
- Media related to Soprano vocalists at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of soprano at Wiktionary