A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (English: // , // ; Italian pronunciation: [ˈmɛddzo soˈpraːno] meaning "half soprano") is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range lies between the soprano and the contralto voice types. The mezzo-soprano's vocal range usually extends from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above (i.e. A3–A5 in scientific pitch notation, where middle C = C4; 220–880 Hz). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the F below middle C (F3, 175 Hz) and as high as "high C" (C6, 1047 Hz). The mezzo-soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic mezzo-soprano.
While mezzo-sopranos typically sing secondary roles in operas, notable exceptions include the title role in Bizet's Carmen , Angelina (Cinderella) in Rossini's La Cenerentola , and Rosina in Rossini's Barber of Seville (all of which are also sung by sopranos). Many 19th-century French-language operas give the leading female role to mezzos, including Béatrice et Bénédict , La damnation de Faust , Don Quichotte , La favorite , Dom Sébastien , Charles VI , Mignon , Samson et Dalila , Les Troyens , and Werther , as well as Carmen.
Typical roles for mezzo-sopranos include the stereotypical triad associated with contraltos of "witches, bitches, and britches": witches, nurses, and wise women, such as Azucena in Verdi's Il trovatore ; villains and seductresses such as Amneris in Verdi's Aida ; and "breeches roles" or "trouser roles" (male characters played by female singers) such as Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro . Mezzo-sopranos are well represented in baroque music, early music, and baroque opera.Some roles designated for lighter soubrette sopranos are sung by mezzo-sopranos, who often provide a fuller, more dramatic quality. Such roles include Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte and Zerlina in his Don Giovanni . Mezzos sometimes play dramatic soprano roles such as Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana , Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth , and Kundry in Wagner's Parsifal .
The vocal range of the mezzo-sopranos lies between the soprano and the contralto voice types. Mezzo-sopranos generally have a heavier, darker tone than sopranos. The mezzo-soprano voice resonates in a higher range than that of a contralto. The terms Dugazon and Galli-Marié are sometimes used to refer to light mezzo-sopranos, after the names of famous singers. Usually men singing within the female range are called countertenors since there is a lighter more breathy tonal (falsetto) quality difference.In current operatic practice, female singers with very low tessituras are often included among mezzo-sopranos, because singers in both ranges are able to cover the other, and true operatic contraltos are very rare.
Within the mezzo-soprano voice type category are three generally recognized subcategories: coloratura mezzo-soprano, lyric mezzo-soprano, and dramatic mezzo-soprano.
A coloratura mezzo-soprano has a warm lower register and an agile high register. The roles they sing often demand not only the use of the lower register but also leaps into the upper tessitura with highly ornamented, rapid passages. They have a range from approximately the G below middle C (G3, 196 Hz) to the B two octaves above middle C (B5, 988 Hz). Some coloratura mezzo-sopranos can sing up to high C (C6, 1047 Hz) or high D (D6, 1175 Hz), but this is very rare.What distinguishes these voices from being called sopranos is their extension into the lower register and warmer vocal quality. Although coloratura mezzo-sopranos have impressive and at times thrilling high notes, they are most comfortable singing in the middle of their range, rather than the top.
Many of the hero roles in the operas of Handel and Monteverdi, originally sung by male castrati, can be successfully sung today by coloratura mezzo-sopranos. Rossini demanded similar qualities for his comic heroines, and Vivaldi wrote roles frequently for this voice as well. Coloratura mezzo-sopranos also often sing lyric-mezzo-soprano roles or soubrette roles.
Coloratura mezzo-soprano roles in operas (*denotes a lead role):
The lyric mezzo-soprano has a range from approximately the G below middle C (G3, 196 Hz) to the A two octaves above middle C (A5, 880 Hz).This voice has a very smooth, sensitive and at times lachrymose quality. Lyric mezzo-sopranos do not have the vocal agility of the coloratura mezzo-soprano or the size of the dramatic mezzo-soprano. The lyric mezzo-soprano is ideal for most trouser roles.
Lyric mezzo-soprano roles in operas (*denotes a lead role):
A dramatic mezzo-soprano has a strong medium register, a warm high register and a voice that is broader and more powerful than the lyric and coloratura mezzo-sopranos. This voice has less vocal facility than the coloratura mezzo-soprano. The range of the dramatic mezzo-soprano is from approximately the F below middle C (F3, 175 Hz) to the G two octaves above middle C (G5, 784 Hz).The dramatic mezzo-soprano can sing over an orchestra and chorus with ease and was often used in the 19th century opera, to portray older women, mothers, witches and evil characters. Verdi wrote many roles for this voice in the Italian repertoire and there are also a few good roles in the French Literature. The majority of these roles, however, are within the German Romantic repertoire of composers like Wagner and Richard Strauss. Like coloratura mezzos, dramatic mezzos are also often cast in lyric mezzo-soprano roles.
Dramatic mezzo-soprano roles in operas (*denotes a lead role):
All of Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy operas have at least one mezzo-soprano character. Notable operetta roles are:
A soprano[soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) = 880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) = 1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which often encompasses the melody. The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.
A tenor is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone voice types. It is one of the highest of the male voice types. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A♭2 (two A♭s below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.
A baritone is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the bass and the tenor voice-types. The term originates from the Greek βαρύτονος (barýtonos), meaning "heavy sounding". Composers typically write music for this voice in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C (i.e. F2–F4) in choral music, and from the second G below middle C to the G above middle C (G2 to G4) in operatic music, but the range can extend at either end. The baritone voice-type is generally divided into the baryton-Martin baritone (light baritone), lyric baritone, Kavalierbariton, Verdi baritone, dramatic baritone, baryton-noble baritone, and the bass-baritone.
A contralto is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type.
A bass-baritone is a high-lying bass or low-lying "classical" baritone voice type which shares certain qualities with the true baritone voice. The term arose in the late 19th century to describe the particular type of voice required to sing three Wagnerian roles: the Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer, Wotan/Der Wanderer in the Ring Cycle and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner labelled these roles as Hoher Bass —see fach for more details.
The word coloratura is originally from Italian, literally meaning "coloring", and derives from the Latin word colorare. When used in English, the term specifically refers to elaborate melody, particularly in vocal music and especially in operatic singing of the 18th and 19th centuries, with runs, trills, wide leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material.
The German Fach system is a method of classifying singers, primarily opera singers, according to the range, weight, and color of their voices. It is used worldwide, but primarily in Europe, especially in German-speaking countries and by repertory opera houses.
A breeches role is a role in which an actress appears in male clothing. Breeches, tight-fitting knee-length pants, were the standard male garment at the time breeches roles were introduced.
Leopoldine Rysanek was an Austrian dramatic soprano.
A soubrette is a type of operatic soprano voice fach, often cast as a female stock character in opera and theatre. The term arrived in English from Provençal via French, and means "conceited" or "coy". A soubrette is also defined as a young woman regarded as flirtatious or frivolous.
A coloratura soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that specializes in music that is distinguished by agile runs, leaps and trills.
Lucia Popp was a Slovak operatic soprano. She began her career as a soubrette soprano, and later moved into the light-lyric and lyric coloratura soprano repertoire and then the lighter Richard Strauss and Wagner operas. Her career included performances at Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, and La Scala. Popp was also a highly regarded recitalist and lieder singer.
A voice type classifies a singing voice by vocal range, vocal weight, tessitura, vocal timbre, vocal transition points (passaggi) like breaks and lifts, and vocal register. Voice classification was developed for European classical music and seldom applies to other kinds of singing; voice classification is in the opera to pair roles with voices. Several different voice classification systems are available to identify voice types, including the German Fach system and the choral music system among many others; no system is universally applied or accepted.
A spinto soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that has the limpidity and easy high notes of a lyric soprano, yet can be "pushed" on to achieve dramatic climaxes without strain. This type of voice may possess a somewhat darker timbre, too, than the average lyric soprano. It generally uses squillo to "slice" through the sound of a full orchestra, rather than singing over the orchestra like a true dramatic soprano.
A dramatic soprano is a type of operatic soprano with a powerful, rich, emotive voice that can sing over, or cut through, a full orchestra. Thicker vocal folds in dramatic voices usually (but not always) mean less agility than lighter voices but a sustained, fuller sound. Usually this voice has a lower tessitura than other sopranos, and a darker timbre. They are often used for heroic, often long-suffering, tragic women of opera. Dramatic sopranos have a range from approximately low A (A3) to "high C" (C6). Some dramatic sopranos, known as Wagnerian sopranos, have an exceptionally big voice that can assert itself over a large orchestra (of more than 80 or even 100 pieces). These voices are substantial, often denser in tone, extremely powerful and, ideally, evenly balanced throughout the vocal registers. Wagnerian sopranos usually play mythic heroines. Successful Wagnerian sopranos are rare and often Wagnerian roles are performed by Italianate dramatic sopranos.
There is no authoritative system of voice classification in non-classical music as classical terms are used to describe not merely various vocal ranges, but specific vocal timbres unique to each range. These timbres are produced by classical training techniques with which most popular singers are not intimately familiar, and which even those that are do not universally employ.
A lyric soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that has a warm quality with a bright, full timbre that can be heard over an orchestra. The lyric soprano voice 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). This is the most common female singing voice. There is a tendency to divide lyric sopranos into two groups: light and full.
Soprano sfogato is a contralto or mezzo-soprano who is capable—by sheer industry or natural talent—of extending her upper range and being able to encompass the coloratura soprano tessitura. An upwardly extended "natural" soprano is sometimes called soprano assoluto.
A bass ( BAYSS) is a type of classical male singing voice and has the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a vocal range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C (i.e., E2–E4). Its tessitura, or comfortable range, is normally defined by the outermost lines of the bass clef. Categories of bass voices vary according to national style and classification system. Italians favour subdividing basses into the basso cantante (singing bass), basso buffo ("funny" bass), or the dramatic basso profondo (low bass). The American system identifies the bass-baritone, comic bass, lyric bass, and dramatic bass. The German fach system offers further distinctions: Spielbass (Bassbuffo), Schwerer Spielbass (Schwerer Bassbuffo), Charakterbass (Bassbariton), and Seriöser Bass. These classification systems can overlap. Rare is the performer who embodies a single fach without also touching repertoire from another category.
Renate Behle is an Austrian operatic mezzo-soprano and soprano who made an international career, based in Germany. She was professor of voice at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg from 2000 to 2010.