VOICE TYPES - based on range
SOPRANO: - The highest female voice, with a range similar to a violin. In opera, the soprano is most often the heroine, since a high bright voice traditionally suggests femininity and virtue. The normal range of a soprano is two octaves up from middle C, sometimes with extra top notes.
MEZZO SOPRANO: - Also called a mezzo, the middle female voice similar to an oboe in range. The mezzo sound is often darker and warmer than the soprano. In opera, composers generally use the mezzo voice to portray older women such as mothers, villainesses, seductive heroines, and sometimes even young boys (like Hansel). This is a special operatic convention, called trouser roles. The mezzo's normal range is from the "A" below middle C to the "A" two octaves above it.
CONTRALTO: - The lowest female voice. A true contralto is a very rare voice type, similar in range to a clarinet. It is usually used for an older female or special character parts such as witches and old gypsies. Its range is two octaves from F below middle C to the top line of the treble clef.
TENOR: - Usually the highest male voice in opera. It is similar to a trumpet in range, tone, color, and acoustical ring. The tenor is usually the hero or the love interest in an opera. His voice ranges from the C below middle C to the C above.
BARITONE: - The middle male voice, close to a French horn in range and tone color. In comic opera, the baritone is often the ring-leader of the comedy, but in tragic opera, he is usually the villain. The range is from the G that is an octave and a half below middle C to G above.
BASS: - The lowest male voice, it is similar to a trombone or bassoon in range and color. Low voices usually suggest age and wisdom in serious opera. In comic opera they are generally used for old characters who are foolish or laughable. The range is roughly two octaves down from the F above middle C.
Voice types based on size and quality
VOICE TYPES - size and quality
There are small, medium, medium-large and large voices in opera. The quality of a voice can be defined using the following terms:
COLORATURA: - Great vocal agility and high range, able to sing complicated vocal ornamentation.
DRAMATIC: - The heaviest voice, capable of sustained declamation and a great deal of power, even over the largest operatic orchestra of about 80 instruments.
FALSETTO: - The upper part of a voice in which the vocal chords do not vibrate fully, more often used in reference to male voices. Falsetto is frequently used by male characters when they are imitating females, but it is not only used for comic effects. Some tenors have been able to integrate the falsetto into the rest of their voice, which makes for beautiful soft singing.
HELDEN: - A German prefix meaning heroic, applied to a large voice capable of performing the most demanding roles, usually used in reference to roles written by Richard Wagner.
LYRIC: - Average-sized voice, specializes in singing long phrases with a very beautiful tone.
LYRIC-SPINTO: - Spinto literally means pushed, but understood as somewhat heavier than a true lyric.
SOUBRETTE: - A soprano or mezzo of very light vocal weight and comparatively small range, generally cast as a young girl with a happy disposition.
Adapted from Nashville Opera's 2005 OperaNET (Nashville Educational Tour) Study Guide. Original version written by Kelly Claus, Education Director
VOICE TYPES - based on range