Let’s Learn to Speak Opera

This week I found the inspiration for my blog post when reading back through some comments on previous blog posts. I came across a comment from my blog-friend Eric Christopher Jackson, a wonderful artist who tells stories through Photography it got me thinking. He wrote:

When you say things like “bel canto phrasing” or “arpeggios progressing to coloratura exercises” I’m at a loss. However, as I continue to read your Blog, I’m learning how to speak “Opera.”

So I thought that I could perhaps create a little glossary, that I could expand upon over time, to help explain some of the details and vocabulary that I may use. Today we will be discussing Voice Types.

But first here are a couple of Buzz Words that you may be helpful:

Vocal Range: A measurement of the range of the notes/pitches that a human voice can phonate/sing.

Vocal Weight: The amount of volume the voice can naturally produce. This is important because it can dictate the size of orchestra that a soloist can comfortably perform with (without any artificial amplification )

Colour: This describes the particular sound of the singer, and is what allows a singer’s voice to be individual and unique. You can describe a voice as warm, bright, dark, light and much more. Preference depends upon the listener.

Vocal Runs: A fast succession of notes that can ascend and descend in pitch rapidly.

Coloratura: An elaborate ornamentation/decoration of a vocal melody, which will often involve runs.

The Voice Types

The initials SATB, which are often used in choirs, stand for the four main voice Types: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass. These initials are to show that the choir uses the full range of the human voice, as opposed to an all-female or all-male choir.  When singing as a soloist, you will also come across the terms Mezzo-Soprano, [usually the same range as an Alto], Contralto, [the lowest female voice], Counter-Tenor, [a male voice who has the equivalent range to a mezzo-soprano] and Baritone, [the male voice lying in between Tenor and Bass].


The Seven Main Voice Types [High to Low]

  • Soprano
  • Mezzo-Soprano
  • Contralto
  • Countertenor
  • Tenor
  • Baritone
  • Bass

In the Opera World, these main Voice Types are further categorized to facilitate casting. This system was created in Germany and is called the Fach system. These sub-categories depend upon much of what we have discussed so far one’s vocal range, vocal weight, Colour, flexibility, characters and more.

Listen to the above youtube video created by the Royal Opera House, to hear the different voice types and excerpts of them singing Opera.

I will now explain a little more about my own vocal Fach. If you find it interesting and want to know more, please comment below and I will expand in later weeks.

The Soprano voice:

  • Soubrette
  • Character Soprano
  • Lyric Coloratura
  • Full Lyric Soprano
  • Spinto Soprano
  • Dramatic Soprano

At the moment, I am categorized as a Lyric Coloratura. This means that I have an extended upper range. Personally, I can sing up to an F#, which is needed for roles such as the Queen of the Night from Die Zauberflöte by Mozart and The Controller in Flight by Jonathan Dove. My voice is quite flexible and I can sing a variety of vocal runs. The characters that Lyric Coloraturas would sing are generally young women, who are charming, sometimes short-tempered, coquettish, cheeky and stubborn. In theory, audition songs I select should enable casting directors to see which roles I could be appropriate for and possibly be cast for within their operatic season. This is similar to typecasting for actors in the Movie and Theatre World.

Well known examples of my current voice type: Beverly Sills, Kathleen Battle, Diana Damrau and Natalie Dessay.


To end this evening I have included a link to my live recording of Danny Boy which I performed last week at the Tideswell Male Voice Choir’s Remembrance concert.  I was asked if I could share the video of my performance but unfortunately, my Dad was a little too wobbly with the video camera so I hope you enjoy the audio recording instead.

55 thoughts on “Let’s Learn to Speak Opera

    1. Thanks again for my birthday gifts Pascal you are too generous and I will wear my new scarves all winter long.
      All my best wishes

  1. Wow, that’s really interesting Charlotte. Such a variety of Voices !
    You missed mine … bass out-of-tune kindergarden humming with the odd, “Shut up !” and cat meow in the background. Heehee 😉 <3

    1. Glad to hear you joined in the singing Ralph, I sang the cat duet once 😺😸 at the Glasgow Concert Hall great fun. Thanks for visiting and leaving a lovely message 🥰.
      All my best wishes

  2. Wow, your knowledge is immense. I’m always impressed by how much you have to learn, it’s not just about having a wonderful voice. Respect Charlotte. I have to tell you how much me and Terry enjoyed the remembrance concert, it was wonderful well done👏👏👏😘

    1. It was lovely to see you both, thanks Gill you’re always so supportive of me 💕.
      All my best wishes

  3. Very informative Charlotte! I wish that I could sing Danny Boy as well as you can, but I can’t! I also have a brother Danny. That song was terrific. Loved every verse….Loved your singing. Thanks for all of the information Opera Speak,

    1. Thank you Darlene, I was amazed it was listened to so much on Soundcloud I began to wish it was a professional recording hehe. Danny Boy has always been a favourite of mine, in fact I’ve always enjoyed singing folk songs I must refresh a few more.

      Best wishes

  4. Fascinating! Personally, I’d be more than happy to hear more about the different kinds of voices and the different ‘characters’ they have.
    What exactly is a Spinto Soprano?

    1. My first vocal teacher Jane always used to say she thought I’d progress to Spinto soprano as it is a young voice but still powerful and has a lot of volume, heavier voice than lyric and lighter than a dramatic soprano but as I’ve progressed I’ve aimed for coloratura instead. A Spinto is able to sing long lyric phrases and able to be heard over a full symphony orchestra without amplification. Basically my understanding is that it is a lyric soprano who has the capability of singing louder and more dramatically than her sister lyrics. More power is required in the lower register, requiring much more chest voice to be integrated into the whole voice. Verdi singers are often this type.

      Best wishes

    1. Thank you Annette you never know when you’re in a quiz one day and you’ll just know the answer to what a coloratura soprano is hehe.

      Best wishes

  5. Really useful Charlotte, though I knew some of that there was a great deal I did not know. I haven’t yet had time to listen to the Covent Garden youtube but I will with interest. I’m looking forward to further lessons in ‘opera speak’. Thank you.

      1. Thank you Roger, I’ve always found Danny Boy is well received in a recital program, I try to imagine I’m a Mum sending my young son off to war and giving him hope and reassurance he will return.

        Best wishes

      2. I think your imaginings came over very well. Going back to an earlier ‘discussion’, for me the words are just as important as the music (otherwise it might as well as be a ‘song without words’) and particularly with a song like this. The words in opera are often banal of course but as far as I’m concerned I still want to hear them, even if I don’t understand them (eg German; French or Italian I’ll get the gist). I don’t underestimate the difficulty this must often present but, eg, without the clear words ‘Did you not hear my Lady’ sung by Aled Jones would not still bring ‘goosebumps’ despite hearing it probably hundreds of times. So it was a delight to hear every word of Danny Boy.

    1. You are such a fabulous supporter Rev Tim, I’m hoping to see one of my absolute favourite opera singers this December I don’t want to say yet in case I jinx it but fingers crossed it’s literally a dream coming true.

      Best wishes

  6. Hi Charlotte, I trust you are doing well.

    Can I kindly request you to write a very brief testimonial (1-3 lines) for my blog that will show up on my new website?

    Thank you dear! Best wishes X

      1. Yes gorgeous! About the blog posts. You could write it here itself and I will copy-paste it where it has to be placed.

        Thank you so much! You’re the kindest soul I’ve ever met.

        Lots of love to you X

      2. My delightful blog friend Urvashi, The Little Mermaid, has created a monthly tea party themed blog post as a get together opportunity for bloggers. As a tea party loving Brit. Is just a super idea to get to know other bloggers and build your on-line friendships. It can be quite difficult to get conversations going, just as in real life you can’t walk into a club and expect everyone to talk to you, but The Little Mermaid has created a lovely, warm and welcoming community and as an excellent hostess has shared it for you to join in the communication and expand your blog friends and conversations.

        Do also check out her poetry and stories as she has a natural talent and is just a genuinely nice person.

        All my best wishes
        Charlotte 🙋🏼💕

  7. Thank you so much for this, Charlotte. A wonderful lesson! I am familiar with most of these terms because my brother is a tenor who sings with a symphony chorale. I had pegged you as a coloratura soprano, and now I know you are a lyric coloratura. No matter the label, your voice is AMAZING and so wonderful to listen to!

    1. Thank you Noelle for your lovely message, when I first starting singing I sang mezzo soprano repertoire, my teacher was a Lyric Spinto and after starting with aria’s such as Dido’s Lament and O Del Mio Dolche Ardor, we would learn big lyric arias as time went on like Rusalka’s Song to the Moon and Porgi Amor in Scotland with a new teacher Kath I readjusted my aria package to learn more soubrette and lighter lyric choices. Once in London after working with Judy for a year in Scotland (she is a coloratura) I began to work on arias in this vocal type and have made real progress with Rosa Mannion who I wanted to work with for another year after finishing my Masters to consolidate everything we have been achieving for the previous two years.

      Best wishes

    1. I sing the Caccini version of Ave Maria as well as the Schubert, I must get around to learning the Bach/Gounod version. I love Maria Callas’ version of the song.

      Best wishes

      1. *grin* Tell you what: I’ll play the Prelude that forms the accompaniment to that one and then, after a brief pause, throw you into total confusion by following with the Fugue!

  8. Thanks, Charlotte. I married into Opera and for the life of me, I’ve haven’t been able to really catch some of the terminology until I saw it presented here. Much obliged.

    1. Thank you Jeremiah, you are most welcome, marrying into Opera what a treat 😊.

      All my best wishes

  9. You know, despite 8 years of music theory, there are a lot of things I still don’t know about singing. This was actually very helpful. I can now say with confidence that I am a mezzo-soprano (I *might* be able to sing full-on soprano, but I would need some professional coaching. This is where being self-taught has its limitations.) Anyway, thanks again for the mini-lesson, and your rendition of Danny Boy was phenomenal, as always. 🙂

    1. I started singing mezzo soprano arias around the age of 14. Lessons are an excellent idea for vocal safety and improved technique 😊.

    1. Thank you, Hilary, I’d love to share more as it helps me to focus on becoming a more educated singer especially after coming out of the conservatoire system. Learning to be more self-sufficient this past five months has been challenging in order that I can use my private lessons with my singing teacher and vocal coaches more efficient and effectively.

      All my best wishes

  10. What a fab post! I learned a lot, and had a few questions. However, all escape me, as I try to control my tears and choked up throat. Danny Boy is my favourite traditional song, and hearing you sing it has been an incredibly moving experience.
    You’re amazing, Charlotte! Thank you! 🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹

    1. You are so kind Resa, I’m happy you enjoyed the home video recording Danny Boy is well loved and one of my favourites too.

      Best wishes

  11. Thanks for a post that’s so essential for your blog! So glad you’ve thought of it. I was a ‘piano mom’ for 12 years accompanying my son when he was 4, started learning the piano until 16 at the ARCT level. So I learned a great deal in terms of general knowledge and music history but not specifically the opera language. So all the info you’ve included here is just wonderful. Also, even though I’m from a totally different culture, “Danny Boy” never fails to tug at the heartstrings for me.

    1. Thank you Arti, I have my blog friend Eric to thank for the idea as terms that seem to be in everyday use to me are completely alien outside a musician’s hub. I’m pleased you enjoyed reading it and for the lovely complement.

      Best wishes

    1. Thank you Arti, I have my blog friend Eric to thank for the idea as terms that seem to be in everyday use to me are completely alien outside a musician’s hub. I’m pleased you enjoyed reading it and for the lovely complement.

      Best wishes

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