A soprano is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types.
Typically, the term “soprano” refers to female singers but at times the term “male soprano” has been used by men who sing in the soprano vocal range using falsetto vocal production instead of the modal voice. This practice is most commonly found in the context of choral music in England. However, these men are more commonly referred to as countertenors or sopranists. The practice of referring to countertenors as “male sopranos” is somewhat controversial within vocal pedagogical circles as these men do not produce sound in the same physiological way that female sopranos do.
In choral music, the term soprano refers to a vocal part or line and not a voice type. Male singers whose voices have not yet changed and are singing the soprano line are technically known as “trebles“. The term “boy soprano” is often used as well, but this is just a colloquialism and not the correct term.
Historically, women were not allowed to sing in the Church so the soprano roles were given to young boys and later to castrati—men whose larynges had been fixed in a pre-adolescent state through the process of castration.
The term soprano may also be used to refer to a member of an instrumental family with the highest range such as the soprano saxophone.
Greatest Female Opera Singers
Types of Sopranos in opera:
- 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” (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 from 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.
Some dramatic sopranos, known as Wagnerian sopranos, have an exceptionally big voice that can assert itself over a large orchestra (of more than 80 or even 100 pieces). These voices are substantial, often denser in tone, extremely powerful and, ideally, evenly balanced throughout the vocal registers. Wagnerian sopranos usually play mythic heroines. Successful Wagnerian sopranos are rare and often Wagnerian roles are performed by Italianate dramatic sopranos.
In the art of singing, the term “soprano sfogato” (unlimited soprano) designates a singer (contralto or mezzo-soprano) capable of – by sheer industry or natural talent – extending her upper range and being able to encompass the coloratura soprano tessitura. It is sometimes called soprano assoluta.
A sopranist (also, sopranista or male soprano) is a male singer who is able to sing in the vocal tessitura of a soprano usually through the use of falsetto vocal production. This voice type is a specific kind of countertenor. In rare cases an adult man may be able to sing in the soprano range using his normal or modal voice and not falsetto due to endocrinological reasons