Opera Voice Types/Fach

Hi, after experimenting with different texts and opinions I will try and give a more accurate description of what you should look after when determining your voice type. This is a very important step because it guides you to what roles in Operas best suit your voice TYPE. Singing too low or to high will ruin your voice, so take care of it!
Be aware that the voice matures with age, so you can change your Fach during your lifespan. Usually, after 20 years for females and 25 for males the voice doesn`t change that much, but it might be possible.
Determining your Fach usually takes a couple of years of classical training to accurately tell, but here are the guidelines:

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FEMALE VOICES

SOUBRETTE

Soubrette- Young singers. Timbre: light voice, best in middle voice, no extensive coloratura. Range: between C4 and G5(or even to D6)
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 their entire career. The tessitura of the soubrette tends to lie a bit lower than the lyric soprano and spinto soprano.
Watch the following:

SOPRANOS

Highest female voice. Range from E3(or operatically from C4) to C6. C4 is the middle C on the piano.
Sopranos are classified as following:
1) COLORATURA. Timbre: Light voice; can sing through scale, hold notes or jump octaves very easily. Range: from around E3 to F6 in full voice.

**(Piccolo) coloratura: The lightest and sweetest voice, they have great agility and they can do high and fast melissmas. A pure coloratura can hit C7 in full voice (super-head voice).
Example:

**Lyric coloratura: slightly stronger voice than piccolo but not heavy, still high, agile and sweet. They can usually sing up to B-b6, but they must be able to hit F6.
Example:

This is my voice type for now:P

**Dramatic coloratura: They are considered “weird sopranos” and are the hardest to find. Their vocal chords are so special that have the power and stamina of a dramatic soprano when singing over large orchestras, and also the range and agility of a coloratura. Their voices are heavier and stronger than a lyric coloratura and lyric soprano and can hold notes longer. Their upper note is about B-b6 too or F6.
Example:
or Traviata sung by a dramatic coloratura (Maria Callas) to fully understand the difference between a lyric and dramatic coloratura

2) LYRIC SOPRANO: Timbre: warm, beautiful, bright and crystal clear tone like coloratura’s, but stronger, with a full timbre. Range shorter, about E3 (or operatically C4 or B3) to C6 in full voice. 70% of women are lyric sopranos.
It generally has a higher tessitura than a soubrette and usually plays ingenues and other sympathetic characters in opera. There are two types of lyrics:

* 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.

3) SPINTO SOPRANO: Edgier sound and stronger voice, with more weight than lyric soprano…can hold notes for a longer time without any vibratto. Range about E3 (C4) to C6/D6 in full voice.
Also lirico-spinto, means in italian “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.
It generally uses squillo to “slice” through the sound of a full orchestra, rather than singing over the orchestra like a true dramatic soprano.

The spinto repertoire includes many roles written by Verdi, by the various verismo composers, and by Puccini. Some of these roles are extremely popular with opera audiences. Certain Wagnerian heroines such as Elsa, Elisabeth and Sieglinde are also sung by spinto sopranos. The fact that spinto sopranos are uncommon means that parts that are ideal for their voices are often performed by singers from other classifications, and more than a few lyric sopranos have damaged their voices singing heavier spinto roles.

4) DRAMATIC SOPRANO: Heaviest and most powerful soprano voice; They have more stamina to sing over large orchestras. Tessitura is lower than other sopranos. Range E3(C4) to D6
Thicker vocal folds in dramatic voices usually (but not always) mean less agility than lighter voices but a sustained, fuller sound. Usually this voice has a lower tessitura than other sopranos, and a darker timbre. They are often used for heroic, often long-suffering, tragic women of opera. Some dramatic sopranos, sometimes 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. Such sopranos are very very rare (maybe 2 every 100 years) .

A dramatic soprano:
A true Wagnerian soprano:

MEZZOS SOPRANOS

Literally “medium soprano” or middle female voice. With tessitura about a minor third lower than the lyric soprano. Timbre: very soulful, dark, smoky. Range is about C3 to B-b5

– A coloratura mezzo-soprano has a warm lower register and an agile high register. The roles they sing often demand not only the use of the lower register but also leaps into the upper tessitura with highly ornamented, rapid passages. They have a range from approximately the G below middle C (G3) to the B two octaves above middle C (B5). Some coloratura mezzo-sopranos can sing up to high C (C6) or high D (D6), but this is very rare.What distinguishes these voices from being called sopranos is their extension into the lower register and warmer vocal quality. Although coloratura mezzo-sopranos have impressive and at times thrilling high notes, they are most comfortable singing in the middle of their range, rather than the top.

Many of the hero roles in the operas of Handel and Monteverdi, originally sung by male castrati, can be successfully sung today by coloratura mezzo-sopranos. Rossini demanded similar qualities for his comic heroines, and Vivaldi wrote roles frequently for this voice as well.

–Lyric Mezzo or LeggieroMezzo: Lighter mezzo voice, range up to B below high C.
This voice has a very smooth, sensitive and at times lachrymose quality. Lyric mezzo-sopranos do not have the vocal agility of the coloratura mezzo-soprano or the size of the dramatic mezzo-soprano.

–Dramatic Mezzo or HendelMezzo: same range as lyric mezzo, but fuller sound, powerful.
It has a strong medium register, a warm high register and a voice that is broader and more powerful than the lyric and coloratura mezzo-sopranos. This voice has less vocal facility than the coloratura mezzo-soprano. The range of the dramatic mezzo-soprano is from approximately the G below middle C to the B two octaves above middle C.The dramatic mezzo-soprano can sing over an orchestra and chorus with ease and was often used in the 19th century opera, to portray older women, mothers, witches and evil characters. Verdi wrote many roles for this voice in the Italian repertoire and there are also a few good roles in the French Literature. The majority of these roles however are within the German Romantic repertoire of composers like Wagner and Strauss. Like Coloratura mezzos, dramatic mezzos are also often cast in lyric mezzo-soprano roles.

CONTRALTOS

The lowest female voice. Their voice are dark and deep, fairly rare. They can sing in the range of tenor or counter tenor, from about E/F3 to G5 or very rare Bb5 .

Subcategories:

Coloratura contraltos—who have light, agile voices ranging very high for the classification and atypically extensive coloratura and high sustaining notes—specialize in florid passages and leaps. Given its deviations from the classification’s norms, this voice type is quite rare.

Lyric contralto

A lyric contralto voice is lighter than a dramatic contralto but not capable of the ornamentation and leaps of a coloratura contralto. This class of contralto, lighter in timbre than the others, is the most common today and usually ranges from the G below middle C (G3) to the G two octaves above middle C (G5).

Dramatic contralto

The dramatic is the deepest, darkest, and heaviest contralto voice, usually having a heavier tone and more power than the others. Singers in this class, like the coloratura contraltos, are rare. They typically sing in a range from the G below middle C (G3) to the A above middle C (A5).

MALE VOICES

TENOR

High Male Voice. Timbre: Light, colorful, and flexible. Range C (below middle C) to E above high C.

–Tenor Leggiero or Countertenor – Highest male voice; often refered to as “alto”. Timbre: Light and sweet voice with very high range, equivalent usually to an alto voice and mezzosoprano and very rare a soprano.

–Lyric Tenor – Strong, but not heavy lyrical voice. Range up to high C (which is one octave below the soprano high C)

–Spinto or Heroic- range up to high B with stronger and more full voice.

–Dramatic Tenor or Heldentenor- A loud, thick voiced tenor with tremendous stamina, and a lower tessitura than the other tenors. Range up to high A (below high C).

BARITONE

Middle Male Voice, Timbre: thick, rich, and creamy. Range low G to B natural just below the Tenor high C.
It is the most common male voice (G2 to G4)

–Bariton/Baryton-Martin
* Common Range: From the low C to the A♭ above middle C (C3 to A♭4)

* Description: The Baryton-Martin lacks the lower G2-B2 range a heavier baritone is capable of, and has a lighter, almost tenor-like quality. Generally seen only in French repertoire, this fach was named after the French singer Jean-Blaise Martin. Associated with the rise of the baritone in the 19th century, Martin was well known for his fondness for falsetto singing, and the designation ‘Baryton Martin’ has been used (Faure, 1886) to separate his voice from the ‘Verdi Baritone’, which carried the chest register further into the upper range. It is important to note that this voice type shares the primo passaggio and secondo passaggio with the Dramatic Tenor and Heldentenor (C4 and F4 respectively), and hence could be trained as a tenor.

–Lyric baritone- Higher tessitura (average height of pitch within a piece), and very close to a Helden Tenor in vocal timbre, but with a lower tessitura. Range A2 to A♭/A4
A sweeter, milder sounding baritone voice, lacking in harshness; lighter and perhaps mellower than the dramatic baritone with a higher tessitura. It is typically assigned to comic roles.

–Cavalier
* Common Range: From the A below low C to the G above middle C (A2 to G4).
* Description: A metallic voice, that can sing both lyric and dramatic phrases, a manly noble baritonal color, with good looks. Not quite as powerful as the Verdi baritone who is expected to have a powerful appearance on stage, perhaps muscular or physically large.

* Roles:
o Don Giovanni, Don Giovanni (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
o Justin Labelle, Wakonda’s Dream (Anthony Davis)
o Count, Capriccio (Richard Strauss)
o Giorgio Germont in La traviata (Giuseppe Verdi)

– Verdi baritone

* Common Range: From the G below low C to the A♭ above middle C (G2 to A♭4).
* Description: A more specialized voice category and a subset of the Dramatic Baritone, a Verdi baritone refers to a voice capable of singing consistently and with ease in the highest part of the baritone range, sometimes extending up to the C above middle C, or “High C.” The Verdi baritone will generally have a lot of squillo, or “ping”.

–Dramatic Baritone
Stronger and fuller voice. More like a bass than a baritone, lacks the low bass notes. Lower tessitura with range to G below high C. (G2 to G4).
A voice that is richer and fuller, and sometimes harsher, than a lyric baritone and with a darker quality. This category corresponds roughly to the Heldenbariton in the German fach system except that some Verdi baritone roles are not included. The primo passaggio and secondo passaggio of both the Verdi and Dramatic Baritone are at Bb and Eb respectively, hence the differentiation is based more heavily on timbre and tessitura. Accordingly, roles that fall into this category tend to have a slightly lower tessitura than typical Verdi baritone roles, only rising above an F at the moments of greatest intensity. Many of the Puccini roles fall into this category. However, it is important to note, that for all intents and purposes, a Verdi Baritone is simply a Dramatic Baritone with greater ease in the upper tessitura (Verdi Baritone roles center approximately a minor third higher). Because the Verdi Baritone is sometimes seen as subset of the Dramatic Baritone, some singers perform roles from both sets of repertoire. Similarly, the lower tessitura of these roles allow them frequently to be sung by bass-baritones.

Lyric Low Baritone/Lyric Bass-baritone
The following are more often done by lower baritones as opposed to high basses.

* Roles:
o Don Pizarro Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven
o Golaud Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy
o Méphistophélès, Faust by Charles Gounod
o Don Alfonso, Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
o Figaro, The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Dramatic Bass-baritone/Low Baritone

Range: From about the G below low C to the F♯ above middle C (G2 to F#4)
Roles:
* Aleko, Aleko by Sergei Rachmaninoff
* Igor, Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin
* Dutchman The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner
* Hans Sachs Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner
* Wotan Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner
* Amfortas Parsifal by Richard Wagner

Baryton-noble

Description: French for noble baritone and describes a part that requires a noble bearing, smooth vocalisation and forceful declamation, all in perfect balance. This category originated in the Paris Opera, but it greatly influenced Verdi (Don Carlo in Ernani and La forza del destino; Count Luna in Il trovatore; Simon Boccanegra) and Wagner as well (Wotan; Amfortas).

BASS

Low Male Voice. Timbre: dark, heavy, and voluminous. Range low E to E/G above middle C. E2–E4
The low extreme for basses is roughly C2 (two Cs below middle C). At the highest extreme, some basses can sing up to the A above middle C (A4).

Within opera, the lowest note in the standard bass repertoire is D2 (Osmin), but few roles fall below F2.

–Basso Cantante – High bass voice suitable for solo singing, Able to move through runs, but with real depth to tone. Range from low F to high F (2 octave split). Possesses a faster vibrato, than its closest Germanic/Anglo-Saxon equivalent, the bass-baritone.

–Jugendlicher Bass

(Juvenile Bass) denotes the role of a young man sung by a bass, regardless of the age of the singer.

Roles

* Leporello, Masetto, Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
* Colline, La bohème (Giacomo Puccini)

–Basso Buffo: The word “buffo” means fool, or clown. The comic relief of the opera world. Usually a voice of indeterminate range but with enormous personality and range of colors. Basses are lyrical roles that demand from their practitioners a solid coloratura technique, a capacity for patter singing and ripe tonal qualities if they are to be brought off to maximum effect. They are usually the blustering antagonist of the hero/heroine or the comic-relief fool in bel canto operas.

–Basso Profundo or Heavy Bass – Lowest voice. Timbre: dark and deep bass voice with an unusual extension the bottom. -Range from low E to E below high C (2 octave split).
According to J. B. Steane in Voices, Singers & Critics, the basso profondo voice “derives from a method of tone-production that eliminates the more Italian quick vibrato. In its place is a kind of tonal solidity, a wall-like front, which may nevertheless prove susceptible to the other kind of vibrato, the slow beat or dreaded wobble.”

——————
TERMS YOU HAVE TO KNOW

- Octave (The piano keyboard has a total of 52 “white keys” or 7 octaves. So each octave correspond to 8 notes…In other words, an octave is an scale of 8 notes starting from any note up to 7 notes above -being that the eight notes has twice as many vibrations as the starting note-… Usually people count octaves from C to C but it can be counted from any note up or down. How many octaves a person can have? let’s say more than 2 is unusual. Professional singers with lots of training sometimes develop some 2.5 or even 3 octave range and that’s to say a lot.)

-Vocal Timbre (The tone “color” of an instrument, voice, or
register. Vocally, it’s the traits that are found in the voices belonging to a certain fach. Example: a mezzo have a “dark and smoky” timbre)

-Vocal Tessitura (The overall range of an instrumental or,
more commonly, a vocal part. Example: The overall range of a mezzo soprano or “tessitura” is lower than a lyric soprano… A singer’s tessitura is also defined as the most “comfortable” part of their total range, or the one they usually sing in)

- Notes / Musical Notes (There’s 7… C D E F G A B…and then C again; “do re mi fa sol la si…do”)

- Soprano (The terms means: The highest female voice)

- Coloratura (is the ability to sing in very fast and high “melissmas”)

- Melissmas (Playing with phrases…let’s say ad-lib, vamping, frills)

- Piccolo (Means light and small in Italian)

- Lyric tone (“Feminine” and sweet tessiture in voice)

- Dramatic Tone (More heavy, powerful and maybe soulful tone in voice).

- Types of soprano (From highest to lowest…soprano coloratura, soprano lyric, soprano spinto, soprano dramatic)

- Mezzo or Mezzo Soprano (Middle female voice)

- Numbers in notes (Give the octave in which the note is on the piano. Tenor sings between the 3rd and the 4rd octave…sopranos sing between the 3rd, 4rd and 5th octave (E3 to B-b5 for ex)…few soprano sing in the 6th..and even fewer in the 7th octave..but it’s extremely rare in the world).

- Octave Jumping To jump from one octave to the next…from let’s say…C5 to C6 without changing the dynamic of the voice (volume)

- Pitch (the ability to match exactly the note that is emited on any note that is played on the piano. There are two ways of not being on pitch: Being “flat” means the note has not been reached, because it’s slightly lower…Or, if the note sung is slightly higher, it means one is “sharp”.)

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  1. Very interesting article and good analysis of voice types

    • Leo Kaufman
    • July 22nd, 2011

    This was suppeerrr informative!!! :)

    • Oliver
    • October 13th, 2012

    Interesting and informative and with helpful examples, but one thing I disagree with – tenor leggiero and countertenor should not be listed in the same section as they are completely different. A leggiero tenor has the same range as other tenors (about C3 to C5) though sometimes a few more than usual at the top, to about an E or F. It’s like the male voice equivalent of a coloratura soprano – a light, agile voice. However like the other most common male voice categories (baritone, bass..) it still uses a chest-voice dominant form of voice production. Countertenor has a head-voice based production and ranges that are similar to a female contralto or mezzo soprano (or, rarely, soprano). I used to sing leggiero (range about B2-C#5), but recently changed to singing countertenor (about F3-Bb5), which I find suits me better.

    • Oliver
    • October 13th, 2012

    Just going down through the male voices… I don’t personally agree with some of the other things you’ve listed together either (though it’s more debateable than the difference between countertenor and leggiero). I could class tenors in order of heaviness as follows:

    leggiero / also called light lyric tenor – eg. Alfredo Kraus, Juan Diego Florez, John McCormack
    Lyric
    Spinto
    Dramatic
    Heldentenor(mostly used for people specialising in Wagner)/Heroic tenor

    There are also some other not-so-common categories in the light/high male voices, like tenor altino, which is a very high and light tenor with a range almost like a contralto, or haute contre, which is similar and especially related to French repertoire of around the 18th century.

  2. Hello Serinia!
    I too, am an (aspiring) lyric coloratura..
    I’d like to train more on melisma’s and just fast passages in general..
    Do you know of any exercises that might help? I’ve looked on youtube forever and can’t seem to find any.. I do train with a coach from France who loves bel canto, but I see him only once a week, and I’d like some fresh technique examples..

    I’d be very grateful for your help on this!! (my email is yarazeitoun@gmail.com)

    • brian
    • March 12th, 2013

    I can sing from baritone to countertenor

  3. Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful post.

    Thank you for providing this info.

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    Usually it’s a result of the passion communicated in the post I read. And on this article Opera Voice Types/Fach | Classical Singing. I was excited enough to drop a commenta response ;) I do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright.
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    • Matthew
    • July 2nd, 2013

    Oliver is correct!!!! There is a HUGE difference between a Leggiero and a Countertenor! ALSO Spinto, Dramatic, and Helden are all separate tenor fachs! You should read David Jones, he speaks all about it on his website and facebook page. YOU SHOULD ALSO CHANGE THE ARTICLE SINCE IT IS MISLEADING PEOPLE. I see Oliver commented almost a year ago…

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    • Holly
    • January 5th, 2014

    I’m still trying to decide if I’m a sfogato soprano, or a dramatic coloratura contralto. I sing to bass and up to soprano. C2 to c8

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