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Opera Singers, Sopranos, Mezzo to Basso.. The Voice

Updated on October 12, 2012
Enrico Caruso in pagliacci
Enrico Caruso in pagliacci

Opera Basics to Get Your Feet Wet

For many years now I have been listening to Opera singers and classical music. However, unfortunately, with the majority of junk music dominating television, radio and night clubs, one must go out of their way to find serious music, and as a result, most people have no idea what opera is and what a real singing voice sounds like. Classical singers know their range and what particular pieces of music are suitable to their voice.

If you would like some basics on what opera voices are and how to get started appreciating opera, you have come to the right place. Although opera is music at its absolute finest, it can be hard to understand at first, and a little overwhelming. I will present light facts about operatic voices and a general guide for getting familiar with particular singers and pieces of music for enjoyable listening before you start going to major operas.

Operatic roles were written for powerful singers whose voices could be heard without microphones, in an enormous opera house.

Female opera singers: They come in soprano, mezzo soprano, and contralto, soprano being the highest, and mezzo is italian for medium. Sopranos with the most agile voices are called coloratura sopranos, for an example of a coloratura, see Jane Powell, you will hear what I mean right away.

Male opera singer: tenor, baritone and basso

Opera voices are considered to be either Lyric or dramatic. Lyric being the softer sounding voices, some opera singers like Deanna Durbin, would be considered a lyric soprano. The dramatic voices are used for blasting their voices in large opera houses. Enrico Caruso is a fine example of a dramatic tenor.

Historical note: Before women were permitted to sing in operas, men played the women's parts. Usually, castratos (castrated boys) played the female parts. Castrating boys for singing was outlawed sometime in the mid 1850's, one can only wonder what those high notes combined with the large chest and lungs of a man must have sounded like.

Recomended Voices for getting to know the Sound

Coloratura - Lily Pons Lyric soprano - Eleanor Steber contralto - Francis Langford Lyric Tenor - John McCormack Baritone- Nelson Eddy Basso-Fyodor Chaliapin

Rise Stevens is the only Mezzo soprano I can think of who is easy to find and like while learning opera. She sang with Nelson Eddy in the Chocolate Soldier.


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      Keke 2 years ago

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    • Skarlet profile image

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      Hi sugamola,

      You are right. Deanna is the queen. She is a superior singer and honestly every time I let months go by without listening to her, I play one of her songs and I am impressed all over again. She is very mysterious too. I saw one photo of her from the 1980's, and that is it, as far as her retirement. Today's films cannot come close to the sweetness and sheer talent that encased Deanna Durbin films.

      As far as trying out other sopranos who are within the Deanna Durbin style,watching other stars who were popular in her time is a good place to start. Listen to Jeanette MacDonald, a fine lyric soprano, and Rise Stevens, a mezzo soprano, Lily Pons, a coloratura soprano, and Kathryn Grayzon.

      On youtube it can be fun to watch coloratura Beverly Sills singing "Italian Street song," and compare her voice with Jane Powell's beautiful, but not ready for grand opera voice.

      Thank you for commenting. Any questions,comments or conversation are never a burden, I love talking opera, and you have some great comments and questions.

    • profile image

      sugamola 5 years ago

      Thank you for your reply. Watching the movie "Nancy goes to Rio" with Jane Powell is what stimulated my interest. A wonderful soprano. But watching and listening to Deanna Durbin,has stimulated my obsession. Her voice is unsurpassed,in my opinion.I have gotten all her records and films (which are great compared to today's moronic offerings. I have joined the Deanna Durbin society. Her life is quite a story.

      Maybe you could be kind enough to suggest some more

      singers that you might think would be of interest to me. I certainly prefer female sopranos. Thanks for your time.

    • Skarlet profile image

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      Thank you sugamola.

      Yes you can say that someone is either a lyric or a dramatic Mezzo. I think Deanna Durbin still inspires more new Opera fans than anyone else. If you enjoy getting to know voices, it can be fun to go to youtube and listen to Deanna singing something such as Musettas Waltz song, and then listening to Jane Powell, who could be considered a coloratura, singing the same song.

      A beautiful classic lyric tenor from the past is John McCormack, the Irish tenor. He had a perfect timber and grace notes accompanied with victorian singing.

    • profile image

      sugamola 5 years ago

      I am pretty much a beginner in appreciating opera. My interest came about listening to Deanna Durbin. I can understand (with your explanation),why she is considered a lyric soprano. Another singer I like is Abigail Wright. She is considered a lyric mezzo soprano.Could that be considered a correct term?

      I really enjoy your site.Thanks.

    • Skarlet profile image

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      Thank you Frog Prince. It takes time to like it because it is so unlike music that is readily available, this is why I wrote this hub to the lighter side of Opera. Basically "songs", sung with operatic voices. Thank you again for the comment...

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 5 years ago from Arlington, TX

      Skarlet - While opera isn't my forte I find your writing of it informative. What I have found about opera is that people either like it or they don't. Not too many neutral positions are taken.