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Dramatic Soprano: Voice Type Characteristics (6/25)

This post on the Dramatic Soprano is part of a series of 26 posts on the German Fach System of voice categorization. To follow the series, sign up for my free monthly newsletter, or subscribe through RSS.

The characteristic of a dramatic soprano is that she can sing over a full orchestra and at the same time command the attention of the audience with her imposing and electrifying presence. Her voice is full, rich, and powerful, and her dark timbre can arise feelings of awe.

Dramatic Soprano Jessye Norman
Dramatic Soprano Jessye Norman receiving a National Medal of Arts by President Obama. Photo by Richard Frasier, February 25, 2010.
Though a dramatic soprano is expected to cover the full soprano range, i.e. from a C4 to a C6, her tessitura is lower. This doesn’t mean that she won’t be called to sing long hight notes. On the contrary, many dramatic sopranos are know for their intense and full fermatas on high notes.

Dramatic sopranos are a very interesting fach because they have been treated so differently by Italian/French composers and German composers. In Italian/French operas, they are casted in roles of tragic and fragile heroines like Aida and Tosca. Similarly the melodies they sing are ethereal and delicate.

In German operas, on the other hand, dramatic sopranos portray mythic heroic characters like Wagner’s Brünnhilde and Senta, who dwell in bold and grandiose melodies. Singers who specialize in those heroines, do so exclusively, and are therefore called Wagnerians.

Unlike their counterparts in Italian and French operas, Wagnerians require an impressive and demanding presence. They are the ones that many popular cartoons depict and have, unfortunately, made known to the general public as ladies with viking helmets singing at the top of their lungs. That’s, also, where the expression “It’s not over until the lady sings” comes from.

Many young sopranos aspire to become dramatic sopranos, but only a few of them actually make it, and many a times only after they have matured both as singers and as women. The following video is of the amazing Jessye Norman, five-time Grammy Award winner and National Medal of Arts recipient, as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos waiting for the Angel of Death to take her to another world where everything is pure.

Examples of Dramatic Soprano Arias

Aria Character Opera Composer
O Patria Mia Aida Aida Giuseppe Verdi
Suicidio! Gioconda La Gioconda Amilcare Ponchielli
Pace, pace mio Dio! Leonora La Forza del Destino Giuseppe Verdi
Vissi d’arte Floria Tosca Tosca Giacomo Puccini
In questa reggia Turandot Turandot Giacomo Puccini

Dramatic Soprano Roles

Character Opera Composer
Ellen Peter Grimes Edward Benjamin Britten
Alceste Alceste Christoph Willibald Gluck
Santuzza Cavalleria rusticana Pietro Mascagni
Minnie La fanciulla del West Giacomo Puccini
Tosca Tosca Giacomo Puccini
Marschallin Der Rosenkavalier Richard Strauss
Arabella Arabella Richard Strauss
Lady Macbeth Macbeth Giuseppe Verdi
Leonora La forza del destino Giuseppe Verdi
Vanessa Vanessa Samuel Barber
Leonora Fidelio Ludwig van Beethoven
Cassandre Les Troyens Hector Berlioz
Princess Yaroslavna Prince Igor Alexander Borodin
Médée (Medea) Médée (Medea) Luigi Cherubini
Lucrezia Borgia Lucrezia Borgia Gaetano Donizetti
Chimène Le Cid Jules Massenet
Annina The Saint of Bleecker Street Gian-Carlo Menotti
Marina Mnishek Boris Godunov Modest Mussorgsky
La Gioconda La Gioconda Amilcare Ponchielli
Turandot Turandot Giacomo Puccini
The Prima Donna/Ariadne Ariadne auf Naxos Richard Strauss
Daphne Daphne Richard Strauss
Chrysothemis Elektra Richard Strauss
Elektra (Electra) Elektra Richard Strauss
Aïda Aïda Giuseppe Verdi
Leonora Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio Giuseppe Verdi
Amelia Un Ballo in Maschera Giuseppe Verdi
Senta Der Fliegende Holländer Richard Wagner
Brünnhilde Die Götterdämmerung Richard Wagner
Gutrune Die Götterdämmerung Richard Wagner
Third Norn Die Götterdämmerung Richard Wagner
Elsa of Brabant Lohengrin Richard Wagner
Eva Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Richard Wagner
Kundry Parsifal Richard Wagner
Irene Rienzi Richard Wagner
Brünnhilde Siegfried Richard Wagner
Elisabeth Tannhäuser Richard Wagner
Venus Tannhäuser Richard Wagner
Isolde Tristan und Isolde Richard Wagner
Brünnhilde Die Walküre Richard Wagner
Sieglinde Die Walküre Richard Wagner


  1. every dramatic soprano can became wagnerian soprano?

    • Hi ele, wagnerian soprano is a dramatic soprano category,the true wagnerian soprano is a very rare voice .
      No, a dramatic soprano sings not always Wagner, she can sing, for exemple, Puccini, Verdi or Richard Strauss .
      The real dramatic soprano is one the rarest of all human voices .

      • Yes, and conversely, Italian dramatics will not necessarily sing Wagner. Dimitrova had a very large instrument, but stayed away from Wagner. Here more than every, tessitura plays a part in distinguishing the Italian Dramatic vs. the Wagnerian. Had Dimitrova sung Wagner, she might have lost the piani and the top of her range.

  2. Your web site is AMAZING! I have one like this in portuguese and i have to say, CONGRATULATIONS for this!

  3. My teacher told me I – in classical music – would be put in the category dramatic soprano. I try not to use that for locking myself into one track, since I want to learn how to use my voice in all ways. I really enjoy singing, now I can go from A3 to B5 without any troubles. By trying a bit harder (not straining, just focusing more), I reach a C6 and by using the whistle register I’ve sung up to A6. Is this good, and how much better can I expect from myself?
    My dream is to get good enough to live by this, and learn how to use my voice in a way that can go along with metal music, since I’m only 13 years old I’ve got loads of time to get there. The goal is to be part of at least one album released officially by the time I turn 20.

  4. Hi Olga

    I’m very confused about my range and what I am classified as.
    I’m a female and can sing. E2-G6. I’ve always classed myself as Mezzo Soprano but now I’m not sure. My head voice begins around F5 and in the lower register from about C3
    What type of singer am I please?

  5. The expression is “It’s not over until the FAT lady sings,” and it refers to American singer Kate Smith singing after a victory by the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

  6. Some of the roles and arias here aren’t primarily dramatic soprano area. Some of them can be sung by full lyric and spinto voices. Also pigeonholing Jessye Norman as a dramatic soprano doesn’t portray the range of her voice. She sang lyric, dramatic, mezzo and spinto roles and her voice has been said to encompass all three female ranges, from contralto to soprano.

  7. It’s not a good idea to categorise a 13 year old as a dramatic as it can make the young singer fixed on becoming one, and thus hinder the voice to develop to maybe a full bel canto coloratura like Joan sutherland. I have been classified as a dramatic in different schools even in the operra school and was offered Tosca, cavalleria rusticana, Aida and the likes as a 28 year old. I have a big voice and couldn’t do coloratura well until I met a bel canto singing teacher that learned from the great Carlo bergonzi. I am now 40 and I can sing lyric and dramatic coloratura roles and spinto roles with finesse and strength. One of the teachers in the opera school in Stockholm said I was a Wagner soprano. I didnt listen to him. They also offered me dramatic mezzoroles at the opera school. I went to a doctor that looked on my vocal chords. He said they were very thick but short. I asked him to write it on a paper and I gave it to the headmaster. When In said I should sing for example la sonnambula, she said if you are going to sing that what are the other sopranos is going to sing? I went my way with my bel canto teacher and: Now i can sing Norina in don pasquale AND in the right time I will sing Tosca again. Without a heavy wobble. Remember that singing teachers schools and operahouses tend to categorise their singers by what they have in store. Many great talents are spoiled or hindered because of this lack of knowledge and technique. There are examples of such I’ll development even in the metropolitan. Lovely natural voices that became heavy and screamy already when around 40. Start listening to the old recordings and try to find the old bel canto literature to read about the technique. By the way I have background in a metal band and released albums but I quit when I strarted at the conservatory since I wanted to focus and not put strain on my voice since I did a lot of experimental singing with the band.

  8. I tend to always like color beettr and this picture in color is beautiful but there are wonderful things about the black and white as well….The road seems to be so more dominate in the black and white and really draws your eye in…..

  9. Victor Rodrigues

    Patti Labelle… True dramatic soprano! Jennifer Hudson also.

  10. Well, BIRGIT NILSSON !!