Vocal Classifications & Fachs

A non-exhaustive list of vocal fachs and classifications and associated terms.

Vocal fachs and voice classifications are a highly controversial topic, even in the operatic world. There exists no universal method in opera, and no widely accepted method for contemporary commercial vocalists. While we give vocal classifications/fachs to each vocal profile on the site, this is not an objective practice, and even in opera, singers perform multiple roles for multiple fachs. As such, no singer has a single fach, although one likely fits better than others, and may change over time as one’s voice changes.

For operatic fachs, acting abilities are heavily weighed in ascribing a fach to a singer – it is not purely about the voice and its abilities. As this site focuses on music and its components, acting fachs and the influence of acting on the operatic fach system are generally not considered in assigning a contemporary commercial singer’s fach, or weighed very lightly. The Handbuch der Oper, by Rudolf Kloiber, provides the basis for assigning vocal fachs to vocalists here as it is used in the operatic world, but with (subjective) modern modifications.

For more, read our pedagogical definitions page.

Baritenor – A male voice “whose tessitura lies between that of a baritone and that of a tenor and whose [passagio] lies between C4 and F4.” Often considered a subtype of baritone but with a tenor’s qualities in the upper register.

Bass-Baritone – Range of E2 to F4. “A huge, rich voice, able to sing long dramatic phrases easily.” Roles for this fach are often reserved for singers with mature, dark lower registers. Examples include Figaro, in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.[1]The Opera Singer’s Career Guide: Understanding the European Fach System, Pearl Yeadon McGinnis. P. 41-42

Buffo Bass – Range of E2 to F4. “A rich, full sound, capable of flexibility and effective coloratura passages.” Roles for this fach are both dramatic and comedic. In operas, they command more through appearance and acting rather than the beauty of their voice. Examples include The devil Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust.[2]McGinnis, p. 42

Buffo Tenor – Range from C3 to B4. “A slim, flexible voice with the capacity to take on various sounds and colors.” This describes an acting heavy operatic role, and one that is more comedic, often leaping across the stage. Examples include Jaquino from Fidelio by Beethoven.[3]McGinnis, p. 33-34

Cavalier Baritone – Range of A2 to G4. “A brilliant voice with warm, beautiful color capable of singing coloratura passages, smooth lyric lines, and dramatic passages without effort.” This fach has a tenor’s top but a baritone’s color. In operas, they are commanding on stage with handsome appearance. Examples include Don Fernando from Fidelio by Beethoven.[4]McGinnis, p. 38-39

Classification – “Classification of voices is made chiefly according to where the best quality of tone is located in the voice, and where the depth and ease of sound are located within the range of pitches.” (Bunch, p. 74) A growing body of modern evidence considers voice classification “to be based on the size and density of vocal folds and the size and shape of the vocal tract, and thus largely quantifiable,” but it is still highly controversial. “The premise of voice classification is that it is possible to divide vocal instruments into groups within which the voices will share vocal traits and characteristics and that the groups will differ from one another according also to vocal traits and characteristics” [5]COTTON, SANDRA, D.M.A. Voice Classification and Fach: Recent, Historical and Conflicting Systems of Voice Categorization. (2007) Directed by Dr. Nancy Walker. 88 pp. P. 12. Criteria used to classify voices are “range, tessitura, registration events [passagi], timbre and agility.”[6]Cotton, p. 13

Coloratura – When describing a singer it denotes great agility. 

Coloratura Mezzo-Soprano -Range of G3 to B5. “A mezzo voice with vocal weight, color, and agility, that is, the ability to sing florid coloratura passages over a wide range and with extreme rapidity.” Similar to Lyric Mezzo’s but with more speed, they could also handle Lyric and Dramatic roles depending on the voice. Examples include Angelina from La Cenerentola and Rosina from Il barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini.[7]McGinnis, p. 28

Coloratura SopranoRange of C4 to F6. A soprano with a high, bright, and flexible voice skilled in coloratura, most famously typified by the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute.[8]Notably, Miller considers this role to be for the Dramatic Coloratura Soprano.

Contralto Range from F3 to A5. An extremely rare female voice. A huge, warm, and even voice with an extreme low range. [9]McGinnis, p. 30

Countertenor – Range from C4 to C6. “A male voice with the ability to sing in the falsetto, or soprano, registers, with beautiful tone, power, and agility.” Examples include Oberon, the King of the Fairies, in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.[10]McGinnis, p. 31-32

Dramatic – Denoting a darker timbre and ability to project above an orchestra without amplification.

Dramatic Baritone – Range of G2 to F#4. “An imposing, powerful voice with an extended range and a large, warm sound.” Sometimes noted as a Helden baritone, they must be able to project over an orchestra with ease. Examples include Wotan in Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Die Walküre.[11]McGinnis, p. 39-40

Dramatic Contralto – Range of G3 to B5. A large, flexible, agile, and metallic voice with well-developed high and low ranges, dramatic ability to penetrate over an orchestra. They have both well-developed top range and powerful low notes, and are similar to Dramatic Mezzo’s but notably missing a Soprano C (C6). Examples include Azucena from Il trovatore and Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera by Verdi.[12]McGinnis, p. 29-30

Dramatic Mezzo Soprano – Range of G3 or B3 to C6. A rich, agile, metallic voice of a dark color, with good high notes. Similar sounding to a Dramatic Soprano, some consider this to be a subtype of the Dramatic Soprano, “but the soprano can sing in a slightly higher tessitura for a longer time, while the mezzo has more bite and power in the lower register.” They often sing as high as their Soprano counterpart, but have a darker timbre. In operas, they must command a stage and are often given tragic roles. Examples include Kundry from Parsifal and Brangäne from Tristan und Isolde by Wagner.[13]McGinnis, p. 28-29[14]Training Soprano Voices, R. Miller. P. 12

Dramatic Soprano – Range of G3 or B3 to C6 or E6. The most ample of soprano voices,[15]Miller, p. 11 it is a powerful, brilliant, and metallic voice with great volume and the ability to penetrate without amplification. In operas, they are commanding on stage. Examples include Octavian from Der Rosenkavalier.[16]McGinnis, p. 24-25

Dramatic Tenor – Range of C3 to C5. A similar voice to the Spinto Tenor but with a baritone sound and an extended upper register. This fach describes “a voice of unusual power, with the capability to sing long phrases for endless amounts of time with no decrease in voice or energy.” Examples include the titular character of Siegfried by Wagner.[17]McGinnis, p. 35

Dramatic Coloratura Soprano – Range of C4 to F6. A high, bright, agile voice with great heights; dramatic ability to penetrate and considerable power in the upper register. They must execute “high-velocity passages yet have great sustaining power.”[Miller, p. 8] Examples include Queen from Die Zauberflöte and Konstanze from Die Entführung aus dem Serail by Mozart.[18]McGinnis, p. 21-22

Dugazon (Mezzo Soprano) – Describes an intermediary voice type between a mezzo-soprano and a soprano. They have a darker timbre than a soprano but a brighter timbre than a mezzo. Dugazons take their name from the types of operatic parts French mezzo-soprano Louise-Rosalie Lefebvre (also known as Madam Dugazon) would often take, now given to dark-timbre sopranos and lighter-timbre mezzo-sopranos. A modern example of a dugazon would be Cora Canne Meijer.

Fach – Translates from German as specialty or category. “Denotes category and implies restrictions or boundaries. In the world of opera, Fach describes a certain voice category and roles sung by that type.” Often identical with voice classification, this method was created to prevent singers from signing contracts on roles that might be harmful to their longevity and to market the performer. There is no universal agreement on voice or fach classification, but the six category model – soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass – with subdivisions lyric, dramatic, and coloratura, is most popular today.[19]Cotton, p. 55-58 Factors in determining fach in opera “include the singer’s basic vocal equipment, combined with his or her physical appearance, age, and experience,”[20]McGinnis, p. 3 as well as registration events (passagi), physiology of the instrument, and tone.[21]Miller, p. 5 Singers have historically identified as only one Fach or category “out of fear that casting directors might assume that they are confused about their voices.” [22]Cotton, p. 64 but singers may take on roles in multiple fachs over time and concurrently. This system is in a constant state of flux as a result of shifts in music and its science and marketing. [23]Cotton, p. 3, 81

Falcon Soprano – A dramatic voice with a vocal range and timbre similar to a mezzo-soprano, but with the tessitura and weight of a soprano, named after French opera singer Cornélie Falcon (1814-1897).

Leggiero Soprano – A coloratura soprano with a slightly smaller range than other coloraturas, but with a warmer timbre.

Lyric – Denoting a light timbre, this is a term with flexible application. As this vocal weight lies between light and heavy, some lyric voices may be expected to handle light or powerful passages (ex. a Light Lyric Soprano or Lirico Spinto Soprano).

Lyric Baritone – Range from B2 to Bb4. “A smooth, beautiful, flexible voice with a bel canto line and effective top notes.” Examples include Figaro, in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.[24]McGinnis, p. 37-38

Lyric Coloratura Soprano – Range of C4 to F6. A high, bright, very agile, and soft voice with a great high range. Examples include Silberklang from Der Schauspieldirektor and Blonde from Die Entführung aus dem Serail by Mozart.[25]McGinnis, p. 20-21

Lyric Mezzo-Soprano – Range of G3 to B5. “The light lyric mezzo-soprano, like her soprano counterparts, usually has a slender, bright voice, one that is able to move quickly and flexibly through coloratura passages. It is a voice of youth and exuberance” (Boldrey, p. 25). Must have a pleasing timbre and be flexible enough to handle coloratura passages. Examples include Charlotte (Werther), and Dulicnée (Don Quichotte) (Id). May be split into Light Lyric and Full Lyric fachs depending on the source.[26]McGinnis, p. 27-28

Lyric Soprano – Range of C4 to C6. “An ideal feminine operatic voice;”[27]Miller, p.9 warm, soft voice with a beautiful melting quality and noble lines, capable of long seamless phrases and beautiful high notes. Split into two subtypes based on the size, weight, and output of the voice: full lyric and light lyric. Examples include Susanna from Le nozze di Figaro and Pamina from Die Zauberflöte by Mozart.[28]McGinnis, p. 22-23

Lyric Tenor – Range from C3 to D5. “A soft, warm, flexible voice with an extremely effective and easy top range.” Split into two subtypes based on the size, weight, and output of the voice: full lyric and light lyric. Examples include Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.[29]McGinnis, p. 32-33

Soprano – The most common and highest vocal type amongst women,[Miller, p. 1] with a vocal range – depending on the fach – spanning from G3-C4 to C6-F6.

Soubrette – Typically a range of C4 to C6 as a lyric soprano, but often is more limited. A delicate, supple, bright, youthful, agile, and small voice, capable of handling light coloratura work without a significant upper extension. However, this fach describes someone with a dainty, youthful appearance, and a skillful actress. Deals more with casting rather than vocal attributes, but is perhaps the most frequently encountered voice amongst women.[Miller, p. 7-8] Examples of a Soubrette role include Mozart’s Barbarina (Le nozze di Figaro) and Papagena (Die Zauberflöte).[30]McGinnis, p. 20

Spinto Soprano – Range of C4 to C6 or E6. Derived from the German term Jugendlich which has no equivalent English translation, used exclusively for sopranos and tenors, it adequately translates to “young,” but does not exclude a mature performer.[31]McGinnis folds this term into the Spinto Soprano fach, while Miller considers it to be the separate fach of Young Dramatic. Capable of long lyric phrases but with more power than a lyric soprano. Examples include Countess from Le nozze di Figaro and Donna Anna from Don Giovanni by Mozart.[32]McGinnis, p. 23-24

Spinto Tenor – Range from C3 to C5. Derived from the German term Jugendlich which has no equivalent English translation, used exclusively for sopranos and tenors, it adequately translates to “young.” “A large, powerful, brilliant voice with a beautiful timbre and staying power.” They must be able to sing dramatic phrases, have some baritone qualities while predominantly being tenor, and in operas appear intimidating on stage. Examples include the titular character of Lohengrin by Wagner.[33]McGinnis, p. 34-35

Zwischenfachsdngerin – “Between categories,” a large voice with good control of their lower register but is most comfortable in dramatic roles that require a higher tessitura yet avoids the very top of the range. They may potray both Dramatic Soprano and Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano roles, as their voice has the weight and color of the Dramatic Soprano but their performance range is closer to that of the Dramatic Mezzo. An example of a Zwischenfachsdngerin role includes Lady MacBeth from Verdi’s MacBeth.[34]Miller, p. 11

References

References
1 The Opera Singer’s Career Guide: Understanding the European Fach System, Pearl Yeadon McGinnis. P. 41-42
2 McGinnis, p. 42
3 McGinnis, p. 33-34
4 McGinnis, p. 38-39
5 COTTON, SANDRA, D.M.A. Voice Classification and Fach: Recent, Historical and Conflicting Systems of Voice Categorization. (2007) Directed by Dr. Nancy Walker. 88 pp. P. 12.
6 Cotton, p. 13
7 McGinnis, p. 28
8 Notably, Miller considers this role to be for the Dramatic Coloratura Soprano.
9 McGinnis, p. 30
10 McGinnis, p. 31-32
11 McGinnis, p. 39-40
12 McGinnis, p. 29-30
13 McGinnis, p. 28-29
14 Training Soprano Voices, R. Miller. P. 12
15, 34 Miller, p. 11
16 McGinnis, p. 24-25
17 McGinnis, p. 35
18 McGinnis, p. 21-22
19 Cotton, p. 55-58
20 McGinnis, p. 3
21 Miller, p. 5
22 Cotton, p. 64
23 Cotton, p. 3, 81
24 McGinnis, p. 37-38
25 McGinnis, p. 20-21
26 McGinnis, p. 27-28
27 Miller, p.9
28 McGinnis, p. 22-23
29 McGinnis, p. 32-33
30 McGinnis, p. 20
31 McGinnis folds this term into the Spinto Soprano fach, while Miller considers it to be the separate fach of Young Dramatic.
32 McGinnis, p. 23-24
33 McGinnis, p. 34-35