Sopranos have the brightest timbre and highest range of all the voice types. Within the soprano voice classification are five sub-types which are often combined to fit the characteristics of each singer's voice. Composers who want to write successful vocal music should know these sub-types so the music will fit an individual vocalist's register. Singers need to know these voice types to work on music that fits their voice classification.
The coloratura soprano sings virtuosic melodies and is capable of singing extremely technical music. Most of the music for coloratura soprano involves ornamentation of the melody and agile flexibility of the voice. Within this category of voice there is an additional distinction of lyric and dramatic coloratura. A lyric coloratura will have a narrow, highly defined voice quality that is light in texture. A dramatic coloratura has a larger, wider and richer sound suitable for darker roles. The larger sound often means less flexibility which makes the dramatic coloratura a rare instrument.
A soubrette in opera refers to both a type of comedic role and a voice sub-type of soprano. The timbre generally has a bright, light and playful tone and doesn't sing very virtuosic melodies. The range of the soubrette lies a little lower than most other sopranos. Many young singers are classified as a soubrette and as their voices mature, they are classified into a different category of soprano.
A lyric soprano has a tender and almost weightless character that lends it to singing young characters in the opera. Many beginning soubrettes will make the transition to a lyric soprano at some point in their singing careers. This voice-type has a high vocal range and a penetrating sound that can easily be heard over an orchestra despite the light and warm character of the voice. This voice-type has two subcategories, including light and full lyric sopranos. The light lyric soprano is characterized with a light sound that is still full and penetrating. The full lyric has a more mature sound with more layers of density within the texture.
Spinto sopranos are similar to lyric sopranos in their extended high vocal range. However, they also have the dramatic qualities of a dramatic soprano and can be heard easily over the orchestra. This voice type can be identified by its dark timbre in relation to a lyric soprano. Spinto sopranos are rare and capable of singing heavy lines for extended periods. Lyric sopranos who are not true spintos must use caution singing spinto roles as they can easily over-extend their voices and harm their vocal cords.
The dramatic soprano does not have the flexibility of the other voices, but maintains a strong and powerful voice that is capable of covering and penetrating a full orchestra. Many lead roles in Wagnerian operas are written for dramatic sopranos for their dark tone color and powerful voices. There are many layers of sound that exist within a dramatic soprano's tone. These sopranos are highly valued in opera literature.
- "Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias"; Caldwell, Robert; 1994
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