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What Is a Lyric Soprano?

Emily Pate
Emily Pate

A lyric soprano is an operatic voice type embodied by a female with a high vocal range and a particularly youthful, bright quality, with full timbre and primary strength in her higher registers. The singer's voice carries all of the characteristics of a soprano, with additional qualities placing her in the lyric category. Lyric sopranos may have coloratura, or the ability to reach extremely high notes with strength and clarity, and are described as being either "light" or "full."

All sopranos share general defining elements that classify them as such. Range typically reaches from just below middle C to at least a "high C," two octaves above middle C. Lower notes are written for this type less often because the voice loses volume, quality, and strength in the lower range. Specific vocal quality, range, and tessitura — a singer's "sweet spot" — divide the soprano type into sub-categories.

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Woman painting

This voice type has a high tessitura, so her bright voice sits comfortably, has effortless volume, and strong timbre in the higher registers. Typical range for a lyric soprano ranges from middle C to a high D. A lyric coloratura soprano has a higher range still, stretching from about a middle C to a high F.

A light lyric soprano has the youthful and light quality that a soubrette has, a soprano with a lower tessitura, but maintains a higher range. This voice type requires a balance of stage presence and musical ability because typical roles include characters with which the audience can sympathize, such as ingenue parts. While a light lyric soprano has a strong voice that can be heard over an orchestra, her abilities are best featured in a smaller house where she can maximize her stage presence and vocal power without straining it beyond its limits. The versatility of a light lyric soprano allows her to sing parts written for similar types, like the soubrette. Roles written for a lyric soprano include Pamina from The Magic Flute and Zerlina from Don Giovani.

The full lyric soprano has the same range as her light counterpart, but the voice carries more vocal weight and mature quality. She can typically be heard over a larger orchestra. These characteristics may be limiting for the full lyric soprano because many roles demand a younger sounding lightness. A particularly strong full lyrical soprano, however, may use her volume in roles requiring more vocal weight. Roles for this "darker" voice type include Mimi from La Boheme and La Contessa from The Marriage of Figaro, among others.

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