The Opera Voice

How Opera Voices are Classified - Just the Fachs Please!

Want to impress the opera expert you know? All you have to do is ask them about a singer’s Fach (pronounced “FAHkh”). 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 world wide, but primarily in Europe, especially in German-speaking countries and by repertory opera houses.

The Fach system is a convenience for singers and opera houses. A singer who is identified as being of a certain Fach or voice type will usually be asked to sing only roles that belong to that Fach. This prevents a singer from being asked to sing roles which he or she is incapable of performing. Opera companies keep lists of available singers by Fach so that when they are casting roles for an upcoming production, they do not inadvertently contact performers who would be inappropriate for the part.

The six basic varieties of voices from highest to lowest are: soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone and bass. Within those classifications are subcategories as well.

Some of the most common categories are listed below with a singer whose voice represents each category and a sample of their singing. You will be fluent in Fachs before you know it! 

Beverly Sills Lyric Coloratura - Beverly Sills

Usually a light soprano who has a high voice and expansive range.  Must be able to do fast acrobatics with easy high notes.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRDtitw7RCs
Joan Sutherland Dramatic Coloratura Soprano – Joan Sutherland

The same as the lyric coloratura, only with a more dramatic, rich voice.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSC3zkjRcSc
Barbara Bonney Soubrette – Barbara Bonney

A beautiful, sweet light lyric voice usually capable of executing florid passages similarly to that of a coloratura. The range is usually intermediate between that of a coloratura and lyric soprano.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmHyA4WsJAM
Renee Fleming Full Lyric Soprano -  Renee Fleming

A more supple soprano, capable of legato and portamento, and some agility; generally has a more soulful and sensuous quality than a soubrette.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRaMOka3xzo
Deborah Voigt Dramatic Soprano - Deborah Voigt

Characterized by their rich, full sounding voices, dramatic sopranos are expected to project across large orchestras, a feat that requires a powerful sound.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-5IglEpauA
Jessye Norman Wagnerian Soprano - Jessye Norman

A voice capable of answering the demands of operas of Wagner's maturity.  Basically, a full dramatic soprano voice taken to the next dimension. The voice is substantial, very powerful, and even throughout the registers.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swTTWurVnKc
Cecilia Bartoli Coloratura Mezzo-Soprano - Cecilia Bartoli

Found especially in Rossini's operas, these roles were written originally for altos with agility and secure top notes. Today they are often played by mezzo-sopranos and sometimes even by sopranos.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rISjBGOtHhs
Frederica von Stade Lyric Mezzo-Soprano - Frederica von Stade

A lyric soprano's instrument in a lower range; the resulting sound is less piercing, more lachrymose and rather sensitive. In fact, many lyric mezzos with strong extensions to their upper vocal registers make the transition to singing as sopranos at some point in their careers.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x66UhqsLa7U
Luciano Pavarotti Lyric Tenor - Luciano Pavarotti

A warm graceful voice with a bright, full timbre that is strong but not heavy and can be heard over an orchestra.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs-p1oEvuGg
Placido Domingo Dramatic Tenor - Placido Domingo

An emotive, ringing and very powerful, clarion, heroic tenor sound. Some dramatic tenors have a rich and dark tonal colour to their voice - a bright, steely timbre.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R0iaRcUqDI
  Dramatic / Verdi Baritone –   Alberto Gazale

A voice that is richer and fuller than a lyric baritone and with a darker quality. A Verdi Baritone is a Dramatic Baritone with greater ease in the upper tessitura. Because the Verdi Baritone is sometimes seen as subset of the Dramatic Baritone, some singers perform roles from both sets of repertoire.
 
Bryn Terfel Bass Baritone – Bryn Terfel

A high-lying bass or low-lying "classical" baritone voice which shares certain qualities with the true baritone voice type. The bass-baritone voice is distinguished by two attributes. First, it must be capable of singing comfortably in a baritonal tessitura. Secondly, however, it needs to have the ripely resonant lower range typically associated with the bass voice.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST_NBgJqlyA
Alexander Kipnis Bass – Ezio Pinza
Basses are the lowest of them all. They sing the lowest notes that a human voice can reach.
Hear a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrxMLxe711I