By Camille van Niekerk
What is a soprano?
The term soprano refers to the highest-pitched singing voice. It comes from the Italian word, sopra, meaning over, on top, or above. While the majority of sopranos are women, male countertenors who can sing in the soprano range are called sopranists, and young boy sopranos are called trebles.
What is the soprano range?
The general soprano range extends from C4 (middle C) to C6 (high C). Some repertoire, however, will demand higher or lower pitches.
What is the mezzo-soprano range?
The mezzo-soprano voice is between alto and soprano, with a general range from A3 (below middle C) to A5 (one ledger line above the treble clef staff). Again, some repertoire will demand a wider range. Mezzos (Italian for half or medium) typically have a darker, richer tone.
Who are some famous sopranos?
Famous sopranos in the world of classical music, from opera to art songs, include Cecilia Bartoli, Maria Callas, Joyce DiDonato, Diana Damrau, Renée Fleming, Anna Netrebko, and Joan Sutherland. See here for video of these sopranos and more: https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/latest/best-sopranos/
Sopranos in contemporary music include Ellie Goulding, Ariana Grande, Chlöe Agnew (of Celtic Woman), Sierra Boggess, and Kristin Chenoweth.
How do I determine if I’m a soprano?
The two main considerations are range (see above) and tessitura. Tessitura is the range in which a singer is most comfortable and presents their best timbre (or their characteristic tone quality).
If you’re still not sure, after considering range and tessitura, consider the passaggio. Passaggi (plural for passaggio) are the points at which your voice shifts from one register to the next; for example, shifting from chest voice to mix, or mix to head voice. Some singers call this the “break” because there can be a noticeable change in tone (especially before training to smooth out or disguise these points of transition).
Tell me more about registers and passaggi!
Within each register, the voice is functioning in a specific way. For example, in chest voice, the TA (thyroarytenoid) muscle is dominant. In head voice, however, the CT (cricothyroid) muscle takes over. A passaggio is the point at which there is a change in function between two registers.
Soprano registers, as outlined in Richard Miller’s “Training Soprano Voices”:
Chest – G3 to E-flat4
Middle (or mixed) – E-flat4 to F-sharp5
Head – F-sharp5 to C6 or C-sharp6
Flageolet – D6 or D-sharp6 to the "highest negotiable pitches"
Mezzo soprano registers:
Chest – E3 or F3 to E4 or F4
Middle (or mixed) – C4 to E5 or F5
Head – F5 or F-sharp5 to B-flat5 or B5
Flageolet – C6 and up
Notice that there is overlap between registers! That overlap is where your passaggio, or point of transition, lies. That is because it’s not necessarily one specific pitch at which you shift; it’s more likely to be a range of pitches.
What are the soprano and mezzo voice types?
Classical singers sometimes determine, in addition to their range, their voice type. Voice types are helpful especially if you’re an operatic singer because roles within operas are assigned according to voice type. See below for both soprano and mezzo voice types.
Soprano voice types
Coloratura: fast-moving voice capable of runs, leaps, and trills
Soubrette: light, sweet voice with brighter timbre and medium tessitura
Lyric: warm, full timbre with carrying power
Spinto: darker timbre and ability to easily “push” for dramatic climaxes
Dramatic: powerful, dark, rich voice with a lower tessitura
Mezzo voice types
Coloratura: warm low register and agile upper register
Lyric: smooth, sensitive voice with less size and agility
Dramatic: broad, powerful voice with strong medium register and warm high register
Both range and voice type can change as you age! Pay attention to the range in which your voice both feels and sounds the best. For selection of both roles and repertoire, tessitura should carry more weight than overall range.