Ken Scicluna

The Operatic Voice - Part 2

In last week’s blog Ken Scicluna described the main characteristics of the operatic voice. In today’s blog, the second one in the series of blogs on the operatic voice Mr. Scicluna talks about the different registers and categories of the female operatic voice.

There are six main registers of operatic voice

1.Female – Soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto

2.Male - Tenor, baritone, bass

These six registers are just a rudimental basis serving as a guideline for voice classification - yet again, these are flexible, as a voice, which is a living instrument, develops, grows and expands (normally this happens when a voice has already got a recognizable timbre and already few years have passed after making initial studies) besides the fact that no voice can be ever like any other.

I will list hereunder every female register with its variable sub-categories which generally covers most voice types - some list more sub-categories and this system can vary slightly from country to country - for example in German speaking countries this is called the ‘fach’ system. Several roles which on the score are originally marked for a particular voice does not necessarily mean it cannot be sung by another classified in a different register, if the voice in question has the extension and capability.



Coloratura - this is a very agile and lighter soprano voice which can excel in coloratura roles. These include Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Prominent singers in this category include Joan Shuterland and Edda Moser.

Lirico - this is a flexible soprano voice which can sing towards the coloratura and can sometimes even tackle, many a time in later years the heavier spinto repertoire (see below). Roles include Liu in Puccini’s Turandot, Musetta in Puccini’s La Boheme and Traviata in Verdi’s La Traviata. Prominent lirico sopranos include Anna Moffo and Virginia Zeani.

Spinto - a heavier type of soprano normally with a larger and much darker sound than the other two categories which can sing the heavier roles - at times it can sound similar to a mezzo-soprano. Roles include Maddalena in Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, Turandot in Puccini’s Turandot, Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth and Ariadne in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos .Established spinto sopranos include Eileen Farrell, Zinka Milanov, Birgitt Nilsson, Regina Resnik and Kirsten Flagstad.



Lirico - this is a lighter type of mezzo-soprano which is flexible and capable of singing coloratura and many a time is cast in Opera buffa roles- these include Angelina in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Rosina in Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia and Ariodante in Handel’s Ariodante. Renowned lyric mezzo-sopranos include Janet Baker and Marilyn Horne.


Drammatico - this is the heavier of the mezzo-soprano normally singing roles which are heavyweights in opera. Roles include Azucena in Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Dalila in Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, Carmen in Bizet’s Carmen and Amneris in Verdi’s Aida. Established drammatico mezzo sopranos include Giuletta Simionato and Christa Ludwig.



A real contralto voice is extremely rare and roles written for this voice are many a time sung by mezzo-sopranos. A contralto can also be lyric or dramatic. Roles include Mamma Lucia in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, Dyrad in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos and Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Evgeni Onegin .Established contralti include Kathleen Ferrier and Marian Anderson.

In next week’s blog Ken Scicluna will talk about the sub-categories of the male operatic voices.