What’s Up, Fach?
It is probably a good time to describe the categories of soprano that are used in opera. We’ll get to the categories of the male voice at another time. I am ignoring countertenors (men singing in falsetto) because they are not my cup of tea.
The Fach system of voice categorization is a German system. I’m just going to list the female voice types and give a very brief description of them.
Now, these are horrible generalizations. Suffice it to say, that if the word “dramatic“ is in the description, we’re talking about a very big voice. Also, the German Fach system doesn’t always apply to roles in Italian and French. It’s more complicated than necessary. For example, Leontyne Price used to call herself a Lyric with juice. You try to figure that out.
Coloratura Soprano or Lyric Coloratura Soprano
- Usually (but not always) a light soprano who has a high voice. Can often have small voices lacking the richness and resonance of a dramatic soprano. Must be able to do fast acrobatics with easy high notes. Many have extremely high ranges (with notes above the F of the “Queen of the Night”), but there are also singers in this Fach who do not regularly sing higher than the high E♭6.
Dramatic Coloratura Soprano
- The same as above, only with a more dramatic, rich voice. Often heavier and more lyrical than a coloratura soprano. Must also be able to do fast vocal acrobatics and reach high notes.
- A light voice usually capable of executing florid passages similarly to that of a coloratura. The range is usually intermediate between that of a coloratura and lyric soprano. This adjective is also used to refer to a young, coquettish female singer.
- A suppler soprano, capable of legato, portamento, and some agility. The voice is very common; therefore, the purity and character of the basic timbre is essential. It is the “basic” soprano voice, which is at neither extreme of the soprano range of voices.
Lyric Dramatic Soprano
- Description: The Italian version of this Fach is the spinto (Callas had been called a spinto, but I think that she was really a dramatic soprano; see below), which literally translated means “pushed”. However, this is not accurate in terms of these singers’ vocal production. A lyric dramatic soprano has a lyric instrument that can also create big sounds, cutting through an orchestral or choral climax.
- These are the big voices, characterized by their rich, full sound. Dramatic sopranos are expected to project across large orchestras, a feat that requires a powerful sound.
High Dramatic Soprano
- These are the Wagnerian sopranos. The voice is substantial, very powerful, and even throughout the registers. It is immense, and even larger than the voice of the “normal” dramatic soprano. Although the two voices are comparable and are sometimes hard to distinguish between, this voice has even greater stamina, endurance and volume than the former. The top register is very strong, clarion and bright. Successful high dramatic sopranos are few and far between.
- I’m going to be crude here. This is a soprano without the high notes, although some do have very high notes. This is sometimes referred to as a mezzo with an extension. This denotation is based on the sound of the voice.
Lyric Mezzo Soprano
- A lyric soprano in a lower range.
Dramatic Mezzo Soprano
- Dramatic mezzo-sopranos have ranges very similar to a dramatic soprano. The main difference is the endurance and ease in which the two voice-types sing – a mezzo will concentrate singing most of the time in her middle and low registers and will go up to notes like high B-flat only at the dramatic climax. Consequently, many dramatic mezzo-sopranos have success in singing some dramatic soprano roles that are written with a lower tessitura (vocal range).
- Stylistically similar to the dramatic mezzo, just lower. Marian Anderson was a contralto as was Kathleen Ferrier. A deep, penetrating low female voice. This is a very rare voice type with a darker, richer sound than that of a typical alto.