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Thread: How do the different voices compare

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    Senior Member SixFootScowl's Avatar
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    Default How do the different voices compare

    According to this article (see page 15), there are five operatic voices with four types:

    Soprano
    Mezzo-Soprano
    Tenor
    Baritone
    Bass

    Then they indicated that each voice had four possible variations:

    Coloratura (the highest range and very flexible in the upper part of the range)
    Lyric (rich in tone)
    Spinta (kind of a combination between lyric and dramatic)
    Dramatic (the most powerful voice)

    Does this make sense? What happened to alto? Is alto the same a mezzo-soprano? I thought mezzo-soprano was between alto and soprano?

    The coloratura and lyric make sense with sopranos and I have examples of both, but how can a bass be coloratura?

    And are the voices indicated differently outside opera?
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    Senior Member ahammel's Avatar
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    Pretty incredible coloratura bass:


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    Senior Member ahammel's Avatar
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    And yes, I think operatic mezzo-sopranos are generally expected to sing about the same range as a choral alto. There are a few roles specifically for contraltos, but there are very few singers with an operatic contralto voice.

    EDIT: in fact, Wikipedia tells me that it is not strictly correct to describe a voice as 'alto' since that word originally described the second highest part of a piece of contrapuntal music, whether that part was sung or played on an instrument. Regardless, the range is about the same as what's expected of an operatic mezzo: about A3 to A5.
    Last edited by ahammel; Dec-01-2013 at 03:12.

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    Well that is my ignorance of the technical part of music. I always though coloratura was something that was only associated with a soprano.


    Gunter Wewel is amazing! Thanks for posting the video of him.
    Last edited by SixFootScowl; Dec-01-2013 at 03:35.
    “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent look guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the mind of the masses.”
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    Quote Originally Posted by TallPaul View Post
    According to this article (see page 15), there are five operatic voices with four types:

    Soprano
    Mezzo-Soprano
    Tenor
    Baritone
    Bass

    Then they indicated that each voice had four possible variations:

    Coloratura (the highest range and very flexible in the upper part of the range)
    Lyric (rich in tone)
    Spinta (kind of a combination between lyric and dramatic)
    Dramatic (the most powerful voice)

    Does this make sense? What happened to alto? Is alto the same a mezzo-soprano? I thought mezzo-soprano was between alto and soprano?

    The coloratura and lyric make sense with sopranos and I have examples of both, but how can a bass be coloratura?

    And are the voices indicated differently outside opera?
    So, that's list is true as a rough outline, but opera vocal types are kind of like electronic music genres -- there's an infinite regress, depending on how specific you want to be. One could easily argue that a Verdi baritone is different from lyric or spinto. Or that a bass-baritone should have its own category. What about soubrettes? Also, as you mention, what about altos? And the german fach system is somewhat different.
    So, use that list as a general guideline.

    One easy point to address is indeed the alto issue. The range is similar to a mezzo but the tessitura of an alto voice will generally be a bit lower, and produced more in the chest. An example of a mezzo and an alto singing Una Voce Poco Fa



    The terms soprano et al are used outside of opera too, but generally with less precision and don't always mean the same thing. Many choirs will only have two male parts -- tenor and baritone, with their baritones being kind of a combo baritone and bass.
    Last edited by rgz; Dec-01-2013 at 05:05.
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    re: coloratura and voice types - listen to anything by Rossini; he wrote coloratura for all voice types. You get that in Mozart and Baroque as well, but Rossini is the surest example. You can't sing Rossini without a good coloratura technique.

    also these voice types are kinda rough guides. Singers will sometimes sing out of their usual fach, if their voice copes with the specific tessitura of the role (composers roughly before Verdi and even afterwards sometimes wrote roles for specific singers who had already been assigned to sing in their opera, so they wrote for the possibilities of that particular singer which could "transcend" a given fach. Also before the 19th century they didn't differentiate much - the recognised voices were castrato, soprano, tenor and bass).

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    Senior Member MAuer's Avatar
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    In an interview in the December issue of Opernwelt, the countertenor Franco Fagioli claims that, in the early 19th century, the concept of a mezzo soprano didn't exist; women were either considered sopranos or contraltos. He also says that "soprano" was a common designation for castrati.

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    Senior Member ahammel's Avatar
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    Castrati were indeed classified into the voice types which are now applied to female singers.

    The unaccountable dearth of castrati these days has lead to the practice of casting mezzos and contraltos in roles originally intended for a high-voiced man, along with the ever popular evil alto role. It's said that the only roles available to operatic contraltos are witches, britches, and, uh, unpleasant women.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ahammel View Post
    The unaccountable dearth of castrati these days
    Unaccountable? Surely it's on account of the fact that we no longer castrate young boys.
    Last edited by mamascarlatti; Dec-02-2013 at 21:07. Reason: corrected typo

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    Oh if only one could modify posts! What on earth was I thinking? "Know" when I meant "no"? Only just noticed it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GregMitchell View Post
    Oh if only one could modify posts! What on earth was I thinking? "Know" when I meant "no"? Only just noticed it.
    Than you shoed half though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GregMitchell View Post
    Oh if only one could modify posts! What on earth was I thinking? "Know" when I meant "no"? Only just noticed it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GregMitchell View Post
    Unaccountable? Surely it's on account of the fact that we no longer castrate young boys.
    I was shocked to find that there is actually a phonograph recording of the last castrato (Alessandro Moreschi?) I had assumed they stopped at the latest by 1810-ish.

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    Quote Originally Posted by marinasabina View Post
    I was shocked to find that there is actually a phonograph recording of the last castrato (Alessandro Moreschi?) I had assumed they stopped at the latest by 1810-ish.
    Indeed:



    Makes one wonder why they didn't just use women.
    Last edited by ahammel; Dec-03-2013 at 01:54.

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