This article is from a series about operatic voice types. If you haven't read the other articles, you might want to start at here first.
This week is all about sopranos, and yesterday we talked about three different types (fach): Soubrette, Lyric Coloratura, and Lyric Soprano. Today we will explore the other soprano fachs: Dramatic Coloratura, Spinto Soprano, Dramatic Soprano, and Wagnerian Soprano.
Dramatic Coloraturas usually have a voice that is similar to a lyric soprano in that it can cut through an orchestra and is heavier in quality than a soubrette or a lyric coloratura soprano. The difference between dramatic coloratura roles and lyric soprano roles is that dramatic coloratura roles require even higher notes and more vocal acrobatics. A lot of dramatic coloratura characters are more serious than lyric coloratura or soubrette characters, and they're sometimes less sympathetic. For example, the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute is arguably the villain of the opera. Violetta in La Traviata, Marguerite in Faust, and Lucia di Lammermoor all fit more of a "fallen woman" trope, according to antiquated standards, anyway. Mozart liked his dramatic coloraturas and besides the Queen of the Night, he created two other roles that are a bit more sympathetic while still being strong and noble: Konstanze in Abduction from the Seraglio and Fiordiligi in Cosí fan tutte. Some dramatic coloratura sopranos can also sing lyric soprano repertoire, like NMO fan favorite Mary Lutz Govertsen, who sang the lyric soprano role of Nella in Gianni Schicchi last season but this season will sing the coloratura role of Regan in our workshop of Elizabeth Rudolph's new opera Imogen. The character Regan in Imogen is also a villain, so they fit right in with other characters in their fach.
Diana Damrau: Der Hölle Rache - Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute
Lisette Oropesa: Il dolce suono - Lucia di Lammermoor
Spinto soprano roles don't go as high as lyric coloratura or dramatic coloratura roles and they don't contain much coloratura singing at all normally. They require a more powerful voice than lyric soprano roles as the music the orchestra plays is usually thicker in texture, so the voice needs to be able to cut through. A lot of spinto soprano characters are tragic, like Susannah in the opera of the same name by Carlisle Floyd, Rusalka in the opera by Dvorak, and Tatiana in Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky. Many die at the end of the opera, such as (SPOILER ALERT!) Magda in The Consul, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, and Desdemona in Verdi's Othello.
Cheryl Studer: Ain't it a pretty night - Susannah
Ying Huang: Un bel di vedremo - Madama Butterfly
Dramatic soprano roles have a slightly lower range than most spinto and lyric soprano roles, and they require an even more powerful voice! Dramatic soprano characters are usually heroic and/or tragic, similar to spinto and Wagnerian soprano characters. In fact, a lot of singers sing spinto, dramatic, and Wagnerian roles, such as NMO fan favorite Jessie Oliver, who recently sang the role of Magda in The Consul with Transgressive Theatre-Opera, but has also sung dramatic and Wagnerian roles such as Senta in The Flying Dutchman. Contrary to the name, not all soprano characters in Wagner operas are considered to be in the Wagnerian soprano fach, such as Elsa in Lohengrin, Elizabeth in Tannhäuser, and Sieglinde in Die Walküre. Puccini also wrote some dramatic soprano characters: Turandot and Minnie in The Girl of the Golden West. Richard Strauss was a big fan of the dramatic soprano voice, as evidenced in the roles of Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos, Chrysothemis in Elektra, and Salome in the opera of the same name.
Anja Harteros: Einsan in trüben Tagen - Elsa in Lohengrin
Christine Goerke: In questa reggia - Turandot
There is quite a bit of overlap between what experts consider Wagnerian soprano versus dramatic soprano characters. They are quite similar in vocal weight and range, but Wagnerian soprano characters are expected to have an even more powerful voice that can cut through an extremely thick orchestra texture. These roles are usually very powerful characters, and sometimes they are even villians. Most sopranos who sing Wagnerian and dramatic roles do not get to play comic characters often. Some examples of Wagnerian roles are Brünhilde in the Ring operas, Senta in The Flying Dutchman, Isolde in Tristan und Isolde, Elektra in the opera of the same name by Richard Strauss, and Esclarmonde in the opera of the same name by Massenet.
Kirstin Flagstadt: Ho jo to ho! - Brünhilde in Die Walküre
Leonie Rysanek: Orest! - Elektra
So now that you know all about the different soprano fachs, click through these videos in order of fach, from lightest to heaviest, and compare the differences and similarities.
Soubrette: Dawn Upshaw singing "Deh vieni non tardar" from The Marriage of Figaro
Lyric Coloratura: Edita Gruberova singing "Grossmächtige Prinzessen" from Ariadne auf Naxos
Lyric Soprano: Mirella Freni singing "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" from La Bohème
Dramatic Coloratura: Maria Callas singing the Jewel Song from Faust
Spinto Soprano: Leontyne Price singing "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca
Dramatic Soprano: Aprille Milo singing "O terra, addio" from Aïda
Wagnerian Soprano: Brigit Nilsson singing "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde
Can you hear the differences in the weight of each voice and how thick the orchestration gets as you go further down the list? Each soprano voice is unique and many sopranos can sing in multiple fachs. Some sopranos can even sing mezzo roles! More on mezzos and contraltos next week.