The soprano has the highest vocal range of all voice types, with the highest tessitura, or vocal range. A soprano and a mezzo-soprano have a similar range, but their tessituras will lie in different parts of that range. 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 soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano. The lyric soprano is the most common female singing voice.
- Coloratura Soprano – The coloratura soprano may be a lyric coloratura or a dramatic coloratura. The lyric coloratura soprano is a very agile light voice with a high upper extension capable of fast vocal coloratura. The dramatic coloratura soprano is 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.
- Soubrette Soprano– A soubrette soprano 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.
- Lyric Soprano – The lyric soprano is 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 endearingly wholesome young girl or woman or other sympathetic characters in opera.
- Spinto Soprano – The Spinto soprano 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.
- Dramatic Soprano – 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.
Listen to the aria “Bella mia fiamma—Resta, o cara” by Beethoven.
Below is a video of Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón in Verdi’s La Traviata at the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Carlo Rizzi and directed by Willy Decker.