What Is a Lyric Soprano?

A lyric soprano is an operatic voice type characterized a high vocal range and a youthful, bright quality, as well as a full timbre and primary strength in the higher registers. The singer’s voice has all of the characteristics of a soprano, but she also has lyric qualities. Coloratura, or the ability to reach extremely high notes with strength and clarity, is a characteristic of lyric sopranos, who are described as “light” or “full.”

All sopranos have common defining characteristics that distinguish them from one another. The range usually spans two octaves above middle C, from just below middle C to at least a “high C.” Because the voice loses volume, quality, and strength in the lower range, lower notes are written less frequently for this type. The soprano type is divided into sub-categories based on vocal quality, range, and tessitura (a singer’s “sweet spot”).

Because this voice type has a high tessitura, her bright voice sits comfortably in the higher registers, has effortless volume, and a strong timbre. A lyric soprano’s typical range is from middle C to high D. The range of a lyric coloratura soprano is even wider, ranging from about a middle C to a high F.

A soubrette, a soprano with a lower tessitura but a higher range, has the youthful and light quality of a light lyric soprano. Because typical roles include characters with whom the audience can empathize, such as ingenue parts, this voice type necessitates a balance of stage presence and musical ability. While a light lyric soprano’s voice is powerful enough to be heard over an orchestra, her abilities are best showcased in a smaller venue where she can maximize her stage presence and vocal power without overworking it. A light lyric soprano’s versatility allows her to sing parts written for similar types, such as the soubrette. Pamina from The Magic Flute and Zerlina from Don Giovani are two roles written for a lyric soprano.

The light lyric soprano has the same range as the full lyric soprano, but the full lyric soprano’s voice has more vocal weight and maturity. Over a larger orchestra, she can usually be heard. Because many roles require a younger sounding lightness, these characteristics may be limiting for the full lyric soprano. However, in roles requiring more vocal weight, a particularly strong full lyrical soprano may use her volume. Mimi from La Boheme and La Contessa from The Marriage of Figaro are two examples of this “darker” voice type.