Home > Blog > Lyric Soprano: Voice Type Characteristics (5/25)

Lyric Soprano: Voice Type Characteristics (5/25)

This post on the Lyric 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.

A lyric soprano is liked for her warm and melodious voice. She is considered the queen of sopranos because she can sing long legato phrases with elegance and sustain top notes with ease. Due to her full voice and bright timber, she is usually casted as a young, innocent girl, and other such sympathetic characters.

Just like all sopranos, a lyric soprano is expected to be able to sing anywhere between a C4 and a C6, though some time she might explore coloratura territory by embellishing her cadenzas with a D6.

Lyric sopranos are usually excellent actresses and display deep emotion and passion in their singing. Due to this aptitude for dramatization, they are usually casted in roles of other soprano fachs and are considered Jacks of all trades. Even though they lack in flexibility, their beautiful and soothing sound tends to mesmerize the audiences.

Though lyric soprano roles tend to be rather one-dimensional and static, there is a great variety of characters to choose from ranging from leading roles to second characters and singing extras. What this means is that a lyric soprano will always have a place in an opera even if she doesn’t aspire or is capable to become a prima dona.

Lyric Soprano Anna Netrebko as Adina in L'elisir d'amore
Lyric Soprano Anna Netrebko as Adina in L’elisir d’amore

The most sought after lyric soprano at this time is the Russian Anna Netrebko, who’s again the leading lady in house at the Metropolitan Opera this year (2013). In the following video she sings Musetta’s narcissistic aria Quando me’n vo’ in La Bohème.

Examples of Lyric Soprano Arias

Aria Character Opera Composer
Quando m’en vo’ Musetta La Bohème Giacomo Puccini
Mi chiamano Mimi Mimi La Bohème Giacomo Puccini
Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden Pamina Die Zauberflöte Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
E Susanna non vien!…Dove sono i bei momenti The Countess Almaviva Le Nozze di Figaro Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Steal me, sweet thief Laetitia The Old Maid and the Thief Gian-Carlo Menotti

Lyric Soprano Roles

Character Opera Composer
Adina L’elisir d’amore Gaetano Donizetti
Gretel Hänsel und Gretel Engelbert Humperdinck
Manon Manon Jules Massenet
Annius (Annio) La Clemenza di Tito Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ramiro La Finta Giardiniera Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Idamantes Idomeneo Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Cecilius Lucio Silla Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Lucius Cinna Lucio Silla Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Countess Almaviva Le Nozze di Figaro Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Amintas Il Rè Pastore Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Pamina Die Zauberflöte Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Antonia Les Contes d’Hoffmann Jacques Offenbach
Giulietta Les Contes d’Hoffmann Jacques Offenbach
Mimi La Bohème Giacomo Puccini
Musetta La Bohème Giacomo Puccini
Fidelia Edgar Giacomo Puccini
Lauretta Gianni Schicchi Giacomo Puccini
Kate Pinkerton Madama Butterfly Giacomo Puccini
Magda La Rondine Giacomo Puccini
Liú Turandot Giacomo Puccini
Anna Le Villi Giacomo Puccini
Belinda Dido and Aeneas Henry Purcell
Clorinda La Cenerentola Gioacchino Rossini
Jemmy Guillaume Tell Gioacchino Rossini
Naiad Ariadne auf Naxos Richard Strauss
Sophie Der Rosenkavalier Richard Strauss
Tatiana Eugene Onegin Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky
Desdemona Otello Giuseppe Verdi
Annina La Traviata Giuseppe Verdi
Magdalene Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Richard Wagner
A young shepherd Tannhäuser Richard Wagner
Agathe Der Freischütz Carl Maria von Weber
Beth March Little Women Mark Adamo
Arline The Bohemian Girl Michael William Balfe
Marzelline Fidelio Ludwig van Beethoven
Teresa Benvenuto Cellini Hector Berlioz
Frasquita Carmen Georges Bizet
Mercédès Carmen Georges Bizet
Micaëla Carmen Georges Bizet
Elena Mefistofele Arrigo Boito
Helena A Midsummer Night Dream Benjamin Britten
Walter La Wally Alfredo Catalani
Laurie Moss The Tender Land Aaron Copland
Rusalka Rusalka Antonin Dvorak
Lady Harriet Durham (Martha) Martha Friedrich von Flotow
Clara Porgy and Bess George Gershwin
Maddalena di Coigny Andrea Chénier Umberto Giordano
Euridice Orfeo ed Euridice Christoph Willibald Gluck
Morgana Alcina George Frideric Handel
The Dewman (Taumännchen) Hänsel und Gretel Englebert Humperdinck
The Sandman (Sandmännchen) Hänsel und Gretel Englebert Humperdinck
Hanna Glawari Die Lustige Witwe Franz Lehár
Valencienne Die Lustige Witwe Franz Lehár
Nedda I Pagliacci Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Suzel L’Amico Fritz Pietro Mascagni
L’Infante Le Cid Jules Massenet
Manon Lescaut Manon Jules Massenet
Thaïs Thaïs Jules Massenet
Sophie Werther Jules Massenet
Laetitia The Old Maid and the Thief Gian-Carlo Menotti
Carmela The Saint of Bleecker Street Gian-Carlo Menotti


  1. Excellent explanation, precise, and beautifully crafted, thanks a lot

  2. I would like to get rid of a doubt surrounding the lyric fach. There seems to be 2 sub-types for the lyric soprano voice; the full-lyric soprano and the light-lyric soprano. Now, I’m not quite sure if they’re really official or not, but I usually hear people talk about them. What do you say about that?

    • Hi Rafael, it is not very easy to explain with words . Light lyric soprano is between light sopran and lyric soprano, I would say Barbara Bonney is a light lyric soprano . Full lyric soprano or spinto soprano is between lyric and dramatic soprano, I think Montserrat Caballe and Renata Tebaldi are full lyric soprano .

      • Well, as a matter of fact, Renata Tebaldi was a spinto, while Montserrat Caballé is a full-lyric. There’s a big difference between full-lyric and spinto.

        • Montserrat Caballé was a spinto soprano

          • I believe that Montserrat Caballe, began as a full lyric, but ended up a spinto. She did, however, sing spinto and even dramatic soprano repertory since the very beginning of her career, and rather well at that.

    • The full lyric soprano has a fuller voice, slightly heavier tone, and sounds more mature. Think Demi Lovato.

      The light lyric soprano is stronger than a soubrette, but still has a more youthful quality, and has a lighter and sweeter timbre. Think Sarah Brightman.

      • It’s impossible to compare classical singing to nonclassical. You’d have to hear the difference. Pretty much, the light lyric has a very girly feminine youthful quality to her voice. Ileana Cotrubas is my favorite light lyric soprano. A full lyric has a more womanly sound. They tend to have more body to their voice. In short, full lyrics tend to have a richer, creamier, plush sound. Light lyrics can be very bright sounding and softer

  3. Yes, there are full and light lyric sopranos, though some might call a light lyric a soubrette. Kathleen Battle was either called a soubrette or a light lyric soprano. Barbara Bonney is a light lyric, as well. Renee Fleming and Angela Gheorghiu are full lyric sopranos. Some people say Kiri Te Kanawa is a full lyric, some call her a light lyric. Basically, it is difficult to put any voice in a box since each voice is unique and an extension of a human being with their own voiceprint. For example, I have been called a light lyric soprano, a lyric coloratura soprano, or just a coloratura soprano. I will add that I, like many fans of the golden age or bel canto age of opera, am not a fan of the direction opera is taking today. The focus these days seems to be on “bigger” (i.e. louder) voices and pretty faces. There seems to be a resurgence of spinto and dramatic soprano voices and repertoire. Netrebko is not a classic lyric soprano – her color is too dark and her voice has a heaviness and even a slight wobble to it. I don’t find her tone to be beautiful like some of the singers from the previous generation. I dislike this supposed do all Russian soprano, and prefer the pure tone of singers like Kiri Te Kanawa, Barbara Bonney, June Anderson, etc. Tenors today can never match the resonance and brilliance of Pavarotti. The man seemed to breathe and sing through his eyes, cheeks, his whole face – such a bright, pure tone. I fear that the attempt to make opera hip and image centered, with a direction more on direction and production, is at the expense of a beautiful, traditional, centuries old art form.

  4. But, primarily speaking, light-lyric and soubrette are two different types of voice, right? It’s very confusing to use the terms “full-lyric” and “light-lyric” to describe someone’s voice, so I’d rather not use those terms if possible. I, for instance, if I find a certain voice quite robust I say it’s a “big lyric” or something like that. Anna Netrebko, for example, I would call her a big lyric.

    Now, I know that according to the German fach system it’s only possible to classify voices if they sing classical repertoire. However, what do you think about classifying popular voices? I mean, it’s very hard to set a vocal fach pattern for pop voices, since they don’t develop themselves to their full extend, and for the fact they all need a microphone for amplification. Anyway, I do find very interesting though, to come up with a more detailed approach regarding certain pop voices which I consider very good within the genre, even if in pop music they don’t give a shit for those things.

    Thanks for replying! Waiting for you response.

  5. When was the term lyric soprano first used and in what opera or vocal work? I find soprano on all my scores not lyric soprano.?

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  6. I’m not sure on this. I don’t care too much for the vocals, but the inlsrumentats sound good. The cleans AND the screams sound a little lazy, though, for lack of a better term.

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  8. The fact is, the greatest singers defy classification. With good reason….This need to catorgorize a voice beyond soprano, mezzo, contralto, tenor, bass-and so forth, is a fairly recent development in the history of singing. Dive of the 19th century, for example, concentrated their efforts more on their virtuosity in ALL vocalization skills. The renowned soprano AND later professor of voice as the conservatoire in Paris, Laure Cinthie Damoreau, excited audiences with her incredible ability to ornament her singing on the spot, so to speak. (Ornament means to embellish-you may draw a modern comparison to a rock guitarist who “riffs” in the middle of a song, or a jazz singer who improvises on the spot in the middle of a song-for those who are new to the wonderful world of opera-welcome). Audiences would come to as many performances as possible because they knew that Madame Damoreau never sang her rôles the same way from performance to performance. The reknowned teacher of singing, Mathilde Marchesi (who spent six years working with Manuel Garcia, tenor, pedagogue who was one of the first to quantify the bel canto technique, and quite literally our first Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor-as he was the first to stick a mirror on the end of a stick and use it to view the human vocal chords in motion and classify maladies therein…) said quite elegantly in her treatiste: Bel Canto Technique; ” There is much talk of the German, French, And Italian schools of singing. In my opinion there are only two schools: the good and the bad. Quite so. Luclily we have surviving examples of what true “bel canto technique” sounded like, as some of her student’s voices have been preserved on recording into the early part of the twentieth century. Though some of those singers were much older and even retired from the stage, one is able to hear the remnants of the glorious sound and imagine it spinning out into a theater. If you care to experience these singers may I suggest you look up the great Dame Nellie Melba (who would now be considered a lyric soprano I suppose) and Emmy Destin (who would now be considered a lyrico spinto, much like Montserrat Caballé). As you listen to these singers, please note that recording technology was in it’s infancy. Singers literally had to position their heads, most uncomfortably into the horn of a device, and there was a very limited amount of space which led to VERY truncated versions of works. Their voices being so close into a brass horn, resonance that would “fill out” their sound is often absent as the “squillo” (an italian word which describes the core of a singer’s voice) takes precedence. We must use our imaginations and allow our hearts to be our guides as we experience their noble and elegant phrasing, artistry, and sheer vocal production.
    I believe that many obsessed fans of singing (like myself) are in great distress as we have experienced a decline in vocalism, especially over the last twenty years. There are many things responsible for this unfortunate and distressing decline, in my humble opinion (though I am a professional singer myself, with a burgeoning international career and in some pretty fine theaters, I might add, and a teacher of singing).. I believe this incessant need to quantify and qualify a singer’s voice into a catergory or “box” as I like to call it. The choice of theaters to cast with their eyes instead of with their ears, not that some directors of theaters would even know what they were listening to. The shift towards giving the artistic control to stage directors over the conductor. (Please note that the stage director is a modern concept as well. The conductors who were more times than not also the composer of the work being presented, directed stage traffic, but mostly left it up to the singers to do as they pleased. I can only imagine how rehearsals must have been conducted…with ego flaring, etc. Directors are a great addition to the opera house, however, they should fully understand the art form and the human voice. Too many absolutely do not right now. It is quite disturbing actually…I showed up to rehease an opera once, my first time in a particular role, and I was a last minute replacement and had just a couple of weeks to prepare my part, and I spyed the stage director using the translation in a CD jacket to direct from! He did not even have the music in front of him! The only direction I was given was to “Do what I did last time”. I WISH I were making this up). Singers are no longer as rigorously trained as in years past, and those who are training them are often simply not qualified to do so. Despite the idea that there is a decline in interest in classical music-especially opera, I would say is false. There is a dearth of folks pursuing the vocal art. Unfortunately. not all of them have the natural “instrument” -basic goods- a voice- to really do this thing on stage. So, there are too many singers who pursue degree after degree in academia and then are awarded positions as professors of singing. I don’t care how many pieces of paper you have paid for, nothing and I mean NOTHING replaces the experience of standing on an opera stage, in costume, in a real opera theater, and projecting one’s voice over an orchestra comprised of 70-120 players, over the span of several hours, in front of a live audience. Period. So we have professors of voice who can only teach the theory of singing and have no clue about the practice of a thing. I am hard pressed to think of any other field where such a thing would be allowed. Certainly, none of us would allow a physician to operate on us who has only ever read about it in books… It is laughable.
    The great singers of the post WWII era are leaving us and with them their knowledge of how to sing. Many young singers are being hired to do jobs they are ill prepared to do and the glory of the human voice is misrepresented. I cannot express the frustration of trying to craft art with people who do not have their own history or tradition of singing , knowing only the current fad, they having careers fabricated by large PR machines, basic language skills have not be acquired, musicianship (knowing your notes, good start) has been ignored, as have basic technical skills, and like Narcissus- their concern lay only in the attractiveness of their own reflection. There are some phenominal voices out there- basic human physiology is in play. There are also some really wonderful “natural” singers who have wonderful instincts and feel how to make beautiful music from deep in their souls. That is not in question. It takes time to study and acquire the skills necessary to do this job well-nevermind be worthy of the revered firmamentlike the singers mentioned before. The great Joan Sutherland did not become so until the age of nearly 34, when Covent Garden gave her her first crack at Lucia di Lamermoor, Montserrat Caballe was over 36 years old when she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera-etc. Now with this ridiculous focus on appearence and youth over skill, talent, experience, and substance- the operatic landscape is often confusing jumble of singers who are miscast in roles which do not suit their vocal abilities.
    Rather than voice types, I think about how roles fit into the throat of a particular singer. Please remember that roles were usually conceived and penned with specific singers in mind by the composer. Rossini intended all four soprano heroines of his French Grand Opere (like Guillaume Tell for example) to be interpreted by Madame Cinthie Damoreau. Each voice is like a fingerprint- yes there are similarities-but the great voices stand apart and are immediately recognizable to the ear. In modern times, I liken to singing roles that were not written expressly for me (opera composition is alive and well) to borrowing a dress from a friend. Sometimes that dress fits perfectly and requires only that I make myself comfortable, sometimes it will do-with minor alterations and a great deal of work, then there are those which simply do not fit, and sadly, I must return them to their owner.
    In conclusion, I suppose that having these catorgries help to guide those who have just begun their odyssey into our wonderful world. It is a helpful sliderule to determine why one singer may be more suited to a role than another. However, as an audience member, I would love to hear some old fashioned, great singing done by singers who care deeply about their art. I want my opera back.
    N.B. “Coloratura” is a skill…NOT a voice type. Many roles require flexibility and movement, and rightly so. It is a basic tool that should be in the tool box of any singer seeking greatness. Thank you.

    • Excuse you, ableism is not a friendly thing to find within the music world.

      Some of us can sing even in spite of struggling with sight-reading, I do assure you. I have dyscalculia (the numerical equivalent of dyslexia), which tends to cause difficulties in sight-reading along with arithmetic and estimation of size or distance, but I have been singing successfully and publicly with my small chamber choir for a decade despite that (I’m only 30, now, so that’s a fair proportion of my life).

      It’s not through lack of trying to learn, either; I studied both violin and piano for a number of years, though ultimately had to abandon both due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as one cannot – for example – hold a violin with a shoulder that constantly dislocates. I learn and memorise by ear because I must; but I do so well and quickly. Please stop acting as though sight-reading is the be-all and end-all of singing. It isn’t. I agree with you that casting often seems to be done more on the visual aspect of a role or performer than on the auditory aspect nowadays, and that this is not a positive development – but please watch yourself.

      That I find sight-reading nearly impossible doesn’t mean I lack musicianship, merely that I happen to have a learning difficulty that isn’t particularly uncommon. As with my physical disabilities (I’m a full-time wheelchair user), I can get round that and perform without it being a major problem. It would be good if you learned to acknowledge that not everybody can do or learn things in exactly the same way you might think best.

      • Well said. Sight-reading is most certainly NOT the be-all and end-all in music. Pavarotti couldn’t read a single note of music – he learned all of his roles through the memorization of the notes.

    • After reading this article and rolling my eyes to the heavens, your comment, Redheaded Diva, was a breath of fresh air! I want to take you out to coffee and commiserate…. Best of luck on your burgeoning career ;}

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  10. Is it possible to change my voice from lyric soprano to dramatic soprano if I will try hard to do it? However, isn’t it dangerous for my vocal chords?

    • It is. You may end up straining them and ruining your voice. It isn’t possible, except to subsitute vocal weight for volume, but usually ruins your vocal cords and.

    • In no voice teacher but I would say no because then it wouldn’t sound natural. But maybe you could with strong technique. However nothing is more thrilling than hearing a dramatic soprano with a lyric technique (e.g. hildegard Behrens, Sharon sweet). More musicality. Dramatic sopranos, like Guleghena and Marton, can sound too inflexible…just loud.

  11. Is it possible to change my voice from lyric soprano to dramatic soprano if I will try hard to do it? However, isn’t it dangerous for my vocal chords???

  12. I note from the date above that this article harks back to 2013. Much has changed in the musical world since, especially with regard to individual singers cited in the article. It’s past time for an update.