AskDefine | Define soprano

Dictionary Definition

soprano adj : having or denoting a high range; "soprano voice"; "soprano sax"; "the boy still had a fine treble voice"; "the treble clef" [syn: treble]


1 a female singer
2 the highest female voice; the voice of a boy before puberty
3 the pitch range of the highest female voice [syn: treble] [also: soprani (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Italian soprano, from Latin sopranus, adjective form from preposition super (above).



  1. Musical part or section higher in pitch than alto and other sections.
  2. Person or instrument that performs the soprano part.





soprano or uncommonly
  1. soprano (see above)



  1. a singer, commonly a woman, with a register higher than alto and the rest of the parts: soprano leggero, soprano lirico
  2. the upper part in harmony for mixed voices: parte di soprano
  3. instrument that performs the soprano part: flauto soprano



soprano or uncommonly
  1. soprano (see above)

Extensive Definition

This article is related to a series of articles under the main article Voice type.
A soprano is a singer with a voice range (using scientific pitch notation, where middle C = C4) from approximately (C4) to "high A" (A5) in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) or higher in operatic music. In four part chorale style harmony the soprano takes the highest part which usually encompasses the melody. For other styles of singing see Voice classification in non-classical music.
Typically, the term "soprano" refers to female singers but at times the term male soprano has been used by men who sing in the soprano vocal range using falsetto vocal production instead of the modal voice. This practice is most commonly found in the context of choral music in England. However, these men are more commonly referred to as countertenors or sopranists. It should be noted that the practice of referring to countertenors as "male sopranos" is somewhat controversial within vocal pedagogical circles as these men do not produce sound in the same physiological way that female sopranos do. The singer Michael Maniaci is the only known man who can refer to himself as a true male soprano because he is able to sing in the soprano vocal range using the modal voice like a woman would. He is able to do this because his larynx never fully developed like a man's voice does during puberty.
In choral music the term soprano refers to a vocal part or line and not a voice type. Male singers whose voices have not yet changed and are singing the soprano line are technically known as "trebles". The term "boy soprano" is often used as well, but this is just a colloquialism and not the correct term.
The term soprano may also be used to refer to a member of an instrumental family with the highest range such as the soprano saxophone.

Types of soprano and soprano roles in opera

In opera, the tessitura, vocal weight, and timbre of soprano voices, and the roles they sing, are commonly categorized into voice types, often called ( , from German or , "vocal category").
A singer's tessitura is where the voice has the best timbre, easy volume, and most comfort. For instance a soprano and a mezzo-soprano may have a similar range, but their tessituras will lie in different parts of that range.
The low extreme for sopranos is roughly B3 or A3 (just below middle C). Often low notes in higher voices project less, lack timbre, and tend to "count less" in roles (although some Verdi, Strauss and Wagner roles call for stronger singing below the staff). Rarely is a soprano simply unable to sing a low note in a song within a soprano role.
The high extreme: at a minimum, non-coloratura sopranos have to reach "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C), and many roles in the standard repertoire call for D6 or D-flat6. A couple of roles have optional E-flat6’s, as well. In the coloratura repertoire several roles call for E-flat6 on up to F6. In rare cases, some coloratura roles go as high as G6 or A6 such as the role of Europa in Antonio Salieri's Europa riconosciuta. While not necessarily within the tessitura, a good soprano will be able to sing her top notes full-throated, with timbre and dynamic control.
The following are the operatic soprano classifications (see individual articles for roles and singers):

Coloratura soprano

  • Lyric coloratura soprano- A very agile light voice with a high upper extension, capable of fast vocal coloratura. Lyric coloraturas have a range of approximately middle C (C4) to "high F" (F6) with some coloratura sopranos being able to sing somewhat higher or lower. To hear an example of a Lyric coloratura soprano (Beverly Sills in the title role from Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix) click on this link: Watch Here
  • Dramatic coloratura soprano- 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. Dramatic coloraturas have a range of approximately middle C (C4) to "high F" (F6) with some coloratura sopranos being able to sing somewhat higher or lower. To hear an example of a Dramatic coloratura soprano (Joan Sutherland singing the title role from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia) click on this link: Watch Here


In classical music and opera, the term soubrette 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. 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. A soubrette's range extends approximately from middle C (C4) to "high D" (D6). The tessitura of the soubrette tends to lie a bit lower than the lyric soprano and spinto soprano. To hear an example of a Soubrette (Dawn Upshaw as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro) click on this link: Watch Here

Lyric soprano

A warm voice with a bright, full timbre which can be heard over an orchestra. It generally has a higher tessitura than a soubrette and usually plays ingenues and other sympathetic characters in opera. Lyric sopranos have a range from approximately middle C (C4) to "high D" (D6). There is a tendency to divide lyric sopranos into two groups:
  • Light lyric soprano- A light-lyric soprano has a bigger voice than a soubrette but still possesses a youthful quality.
To hear an example of a Light lyric soprano (Lucia Popp as Pamina in The Magic Flute) click on this link: Watch Here
  • 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.
To hear an example of a Full lyric soprano (Kiri Te Kanawa as Marguerite in Faust) click on this link: Watch Here

Spinto soprano

Also lirico-spinto, Italian for "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. Spinto sopranos have a range from approximately middle C (C4) to "high D" (D6). To hear an example of a Spinto soprano (Leontyne Price in the title role of Tosca) click on this link: Watch Here

Dramatic soprano

A dramatic soprano 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. Dramatic sopranos have a range from approximately middle C (C4) to "high D" (D6).
Some dramatic sopranos, known as Wagnerian sopranos, have a very big voice that can assert itself over an exceptionally large orchestra (over eighty pieces). These voices are substantial and very powerful and ideally even throughout the registers.

Intermediate voice types

Two types of soprano especially dear to the French are the Dugazon and the Falcon, which are intermediate voice types between the soprano and the mezzo soprano: a Dugazon is a darker-colored soubrette, a Falcon a darker-colored soprano drammatico.


Further reading

soprano in Bosnian: Sopran
soprano in Bulgarian: Сопран
soprano in Catalan: Soprano
soprano in Czech: Soprán
soprano in German: Sopran
soprano in Estonian: Sopran
soprano in Modern Greek (1453-): Υψίφωνος
soprano in Spanish: Soprano
soprano in Esperanto: Soprano
soprano in Persian: سوپرانو
soprano in French: Soprano
soprano in Scottish Gaelic: Neach-seinn àirde
soprano in Korean: 소프라노
soprano in Croatian: Sopran
soprano in Indonesian: Sopran
soprano in Italian: Soprano
soprano in Hebrew: סופרן
soprano in Hungarian: Szoprán
soprano in Malay (macrolanguage): Soprano
soprano in Dutch: Sopraan (zangstem)
soprano in Japanese: ソプラノ
soprano in Norwegian: Sopran
soprano in Polish: Sopran
soprano in Portuguese: Soprano
soprano in Russian: Сопрано
soprano in Simple English: Soprano
soprano in Slovenian: Sopran
soprano in Serbo-Croatian: Soprani
soprano in Finnish: Sopraano
soprano in Swedish: Sopran
soprano in Ukrainian: Сопрано
soprano in Chinese: 女高音

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Heldentenor, Meistersinger, accompaniment, alto, aria singer, baritenor, baritone, bass, basso, basso buffo, basso cantante, basso continuo, basso ostinato, basso profundo, bassus, blues singer, bravura, canary, cantatrice, canto, cantor, cantus, cantus figuratus, cantus planus, caroler, chanter, chantress, choral, choric, coloratura, coloratura soprano, comic bass, continuo, contralto, countertenor, crooner, deep bass, descant, diva, dramatic, dramatic soprano, drone, falsetto, figured bass, ground bass, head register, head tone, head voice, heroic, heroic tenor, high, high-pitched, high-sounding, high-toned, hymnal, hymner, improvisator, lead singer, lieder singer, line, liturgical, lyric, male alto, melodist, mezzo-soprano, opera singer, operatic, part, plain chant, plain song, prick song, prima donna, psalm singer, psalmic, psalmodial, psalmodic, rock-and-roll singer, sacred, singer, singing, singstress, songbird, songster, songstress, tenor, thorough bass, torch singer, treble, undersong, vocal, vocalist, vocalizer, voice, voice part, warbler, yodeler
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