A soprano is the typical highest singing voice with a vocal range from approximately "low C" (C4) to "high A" (A5) in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) or higher in operatic and soloist music. In four part chorale style harmony the soprano takes the highest part which usually encompasses the melody. Although soprano parts are typically sung by and intended for female vocalists, young boys and males utilising falsetto may also sing these parts. The practice of referring to countertenors as "male sopranos" as well is somewhat controversial within vocal pedagogical circles as these men do not produce sound in the same physiological way that female sopranos do.
The range of a soprano section, as with any other vocal section, can vary greatly from ensemble to ensemble and from vocalist to vocalist. While soloists can often be expected to exceed the range of their full section when employed, the section as a whole is usually confined to a more comfortable range to accommodate those individual members whose ranges do not encompass the full extended range of others.
The average soprano section is typically expected to sing down to D4 or E4. They can be written down to middle C, or even the B below, but this only occurs in extreme cases or for unison with the altos. The typical lowest note associated with the soprano section is a C4.
People will say that sopranos can be written up to high A (i.e., A5, or A above the staff) but this can sound disgusting unless "your average soprano section" happens to be all Soprano 1's. However, since the average soprano section is a mixture of Soprano 1's and 2's, steer clear of high A's. The highest note a composer should ever write a full soprano section up to is probably high G. Note that it is hard to sing at a quiet dynamic up there and still has the tendency to sound mad screechy, especially in an amateur group. The most comfortable upper limit for a full soprano section should be a F5.
Soprano 1 exceptions: when the soprano section has a split, there are two parts, Soprano 1 and Soprano 2. When the sopranos split, the Soprano 1's can go high—theoretically, they should be able to hit that high A without screeching, otherwise they wouldn't be called Soprano 1's. While not exhaustive, the composer can be far more judicious with high notes. If being nice, a composer won't ask a Soprano 1 to go below a low E (E4) in the same phrases as higher notes.
A coloratura soprano is a type of operatic soprano who specializes in music that is distinguished by agile runs and leaps. The term coloratura refers to the elaborate ornamentation of a melody, which is a typical component of the music written for this voice. Within the coloratura category, there are roles written specifically for lighter voices known as lyric coloraturas and others for larger voices known as dramatic coloraturas. Some roles may be sung by either voice.
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). Such a soprano is sometimes referred to as a soprano leggiero if her vocal timbre has a slightly warmer quality. The soprano leggiero also typically does not go as high as other coloraturas, peaking at a "high E" (E6). Bel canto roles were typically written for this voice, and a wide variety of other composers have also written coloratura parts. Baroque music, early music and baroque opera also have many roles for this voice.
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). Various dramatic coloratura roles have different vocal demands for the singer—for instance, the voice that can sing Abigail (Nabucco, Verdi) is unlikely to also sing Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti), but a factor in common is that the voice must be able to convey dramatic intensity as well as flexibility. Roles written specifically for this kind of voice include the more dramatic Mozart and bel canto female roles and early Verdi.
In very rare instances, some coloratura sopranos are able to sing above high F (F6) with great ease. These coloraturas are sometimes referred to as sfogato sopranos. Although both lyric and dramatic coloraturas can be sfogato sopranos, one of the defining characteristics of the Sfogato sound is a light and easy upper extension above F6 making it more unusual for a singer with a darker or heavier sound to be considered a sfogato soprano. Classic examples of a sfogato soprano include Mado Robin, Lily Pons, Toti Dal Monte, and Amelita Galli-Curci.
|Instruments and Voices|
|Woodwinds||Flute (Piccolo/Alto/Bass) • Recorder • Oboe (Cor Anglais/Oboe D'amore/Heckelphone) • Clarinet (E♭/Bass/Contrabass) •|
|Brass||Horn • Cornet • Trumpet • Trombone • Euphonium • Tuba • Saxhorns|
|Keyboards||Piano • Organ • Harmonium • Harpsichord • Clavichord • Celesta • Accordion|
|Percussion||Tuned: Timpani • Glockenspiel • Chimes • Vibraphone • Xylophone • Marimba • Crotales • Musical saw • Hammered Dulcimer|
|Electronic||Theremin • Ondes Martenot • Synthesizer • Electronic Wind Instrument|
|Stringed||Bowed: Violin • Viola • Violoncello • Contrabass|
|Voices||Female: Soprano • Mezzo-soprano (often mistaken with Alto) • Contralto (often mistaken with Alto)|