Natalie Dessay High G

This post on the Lyric Coloratura 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 coloratura soprano is foremost a coloratura soprano which means that her range extends to the sixth octave where here voice resonates bright and clear. Another representative characteristic is her flexibility and agility singing cadenzas and rapid successions of notes with ease.

A lyric coloratura should be able to sing anywhere between a C4 to an F6, and some times even higher than that. It is very common to see singers of this Fach improvise intricate cadenzas to demonstrate their skill and natural talent.

A lyric coloratura is casted in roles of young and fragile heroines and is, thus, required to be slim and capable to portray such sweetness and freshness. Just like a soubrette, she needs to have developed acting skills and lots of energy, as her characters usually set up the action for the rest of the opera.

Some times, young soubrettes who have the necessary agility and range are casted in coloratura roles. When this happens the soubrette is called a Lyrischer Koloratursoubrette, i.e. a lyric coloratura soubrette. On the other hand, if a lyric coloratura’s timber is warm, rather than metallic, she might be referred to as a soprano leggero.

Due to their extensive use of the head resonance, coloraturas tend to be slightly off key from time to time, though this doesn’t generally subtract from their performances as their vocal acrobatics tend to steal the show.

There are many known lyric coloratura sopranos, but I think that Natalie Dessay is the paragon of this voice type. Here’s a clip of hers singing in the most uncomfortable positions and jumping up and down on a couch, and still being amazing.

Examples of Lyric Coloratura Arias

Lyric Coloratura Roles

CharacterOperaComposer
TytaniaA Midsummer Night’s DreamBenjamin Britten
AgrippinaAgrippinaGeorge Frideric Handel
AlcinaAlcinaGeorge Frideric Handel
AlziraAlziraGiuseppe Verdi
ZerbinettaAriadne auf NaxosRichard Strauss
DalindaAriodanteGeorge Frideric Handel
SilviaAscanio in AlbaWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
VenusAscanio in AlbaWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
CunegondeCandideLeonard Bernstein
Madame SilberklangDer SchauspieldirektorWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
RosalindaDie FledermausJohann Strauss
MargueriteFaustCharles-François Gounod
SestoGiulio CesareGeorge Frideric Handel
MathildeGuillaume TellGioacchino Rossini
OphélieHamletAmbroise Thomas
GiuliettaI Capuleti ed i MontecchiVincenzo Bellini
Elvira WaltonI PuritaniVincenzo Bellini
IliaIdomeneoWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
ElisaIl Rè PastoreWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
TamyrisIl Rè PastoreWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
La ConstanzaIl Sogno di Scipione (The Dream of Scipione)Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
La FortunaIl Sogno di Scipione (The Dream of Scipione)Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
SoloistIl Sogno di Scipione (The Dream of Scipione)Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
ElviraL’Italiana in AlgeriGioacchino Rossini
MarieLa Fille du RégimentGaetano Donizetti
LisaLa SonnambulaVincenzo Bellini
AminaLa SonnambulaVincenzo Bellini
LakméLakméLeo Delibes
The Queen of ChemakhaLe Coq d’Or (Zolotoy Pyetushok)Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov
The NightingaleLe Rossignol (Solovey)Igor Stravinsky
OlympiaLes Contes d’HoffmannJacques Offenbach
LéïlaLes Pêcheurs de PerlesGeorges Bizet
CeliaLucio SillaWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
PhilineMignonAmbroise Thomas
AspasiaMitridate, Rè di PontoWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
IsmeneMitridate, Rè di PontoWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
AdalgisaNormaVincenzo Bellini
DorindaOrlandoGeorge Frideric Handel
AngelicaOrlandoGeorge Frideric Handel
GildaRigolettoGiuseppe Verdi
AlmirenaRinaldoGeorge Frideric Handel
JulietRoméo et JulietteCharles-François Gounod
AmenaideTancrediGioacchino Rossini
Elizabeth Doe (Baby Doe)The Ballad of Baby DoeDouglas Moore
OscarUn Ballo in MascheraGiuseppe Verdi
fachrolessopranovoice type2012-09-19

+Olga Banis

Ms. Damrau would consider scaling those heights again. "But it would have to be soon," she said. "I don't want to stay in the stratosphere forever. My voice has lyric potential that I want to make the most of."

At 34, a decade into her career, Ms. Damrau looks younger than her years. After studies in Würzburg, 125 miles from home, she got work at the theater there, beginning with Barbarina in Mozart's "Nozze di Figaro," a cameo with a sweet little aria that impresarios tend to notice. The next season, she graduated to Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady."

But it was the high-wire acts that attracted the attention of major houses. In this respect, her career has closely tracked that of the French superstar Natalie Dessay, a brilliant singing actress six years her senior, though with an important difference.

"I do not like my type of voice," Ms. Dessay told The Daily Telegraph of London in 2003. "I am frustrated that I am not Angela Gheorghiu. Or Birgit Nilsson. I want a big voice, I want to sing Puccini. For coloratura sopranos, life is not very exciting." As Ms. Dessay's interviewer noted, she keeps trying to change that.

Is the high coloratura niche a trap? "Not for me," said Ms. Damrau, whose instrument intrinsically possesses a more sensual bloom and a fuller body than Ms. Dessay's. In music old and new, Ms. Damrau finds plenty of thrills in her repertory.

At the Vienna State Opera, she created the role of the Little Woman in Friedrich Cerha's new "Riese vom Steinfeld" ("The Giant of Steinfeld"), a part conceived in broad, spacious lines pitched at treacherous heights and requiring the soprano to hum on high F, a novel stunt. More recently, Lorin Maazel's "1984," at the Royal Opera House in London, showcased her as both the Gym Instructress (spearing high notes while executing a rigorous regimen of calisthenics) and the Drunken Woman (portraying mental disarray with the utmost in vocal discipline). Astonishing to say, Ms. Damrau's string of world premieres also includes "Cublai," a Salieri opera concerning the Great Khan of the Mongols, written for Vienna in 1788 but unperformed for fear of offending the czar's ambassador.

While chances to catch Ms. Damrau in these exotica may not come soon, the Met has signed her up for a series of stellar engagements yet to be officially announced. Next season, she has two new productions: Rossini's evergreen "Barbiere di Siviglia" and Richard Strauss's rare "Ägyptische Helena" (She portrays the sorceress Aithra, opposite Deborah Voigt's Helen of Troy). The season after that, watch for her in two Mozart roles: Konstanze, in "Die Entführung aus dem Serail," part mournful romantic, part singing chandelier; and Pamina, the vengeful queen's cruelly tested daughter, in the popular Julie Taymor production of "Die Zauberflöte." Pamina is a less flashy and spiritually deeper proposition than the Queen of the Night, and it lies much lower.

Ms. Damrau's Queen of the Night remains a tour de force worth tracking down. An Opus Arte DVD of "Die Zauberflöte" at the Royal Opera House in London documents the first production that gave her the scope to reveal the full complexity she finds in the character: first as a sly master of emotional manipulation, then as a raging demon, awesome in the face of imminent defeat. Lips glossed scarlet, eyes ringed in kohl, whirling from pose to flamboyant pose with the reckless grandeur of the born tragedienne, Ms. Damrau is a sight to see. No less artful -- and totally of a piece with the visuals -- is the chiseled phrasing: thrilling, seductive and fiercely dangerous. For the foreseeable future, however, there will not be a live reprise in New York. "Not unless someone cancels," she said, "and they ask me to fill in."

Without retiring the Queen of the Night and Zerbinetta, Ms. Damrau continues her campaign to develop her lyric potential. In a new production of "Rigoletto" at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich recently, she sang Gilda, the court jester's seduced and abandoned daughter. Few defended the high-Eurotrash production, which superimposed the Verdi score on a mishmash of "King Kong," "Planet of the Apes" and "Star Wars," but the heroine's triumph was uncontested.

"As long as experimental productions don't interfere with the story or the music, I'm all for them," Ms. Damrau said. "They enrich our understanding, and we need them. But productions that are just psychotherapy for the director, that's ganz schlimm" -- loosely, "bad news." Does the Munich "Rigoletto," by the German filmmaker Doris Dörrie, qualify? No need to ask.

Like many another opera singer of imagination and discernment, Ms. Damrau is drawn to the uncluttered world of the concert platform, and Carnegie Hall has her lined up for a New York recital debut in 2007. "Recitals are just as important to me as opera," she said. Last month, her first recital at the Salzburg Festival exhibited her mastery in that intimate line. Nowhere was her infectious love of poetry and storytelling more apparent than in "Das Himmlische Leben" ("Life in Heaven"), by Mahler, which conjures up the Peaceable Kingdom as seen through the eyes of a child -- a child, as Ms. Damrau's blithe, warmly shaded excitement somehow suggested, still finding her bearings.

Heading for the Met after lunch, Ms. Damrau exuded much the same glow. "Fine things are coming my way," she said at the subterranean stage door, showing no trace of nerves. "I'm looking forward to this."

ARIADNE AUF NAXOS Metropolitan Opera 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and later performances

High Society

The human ear hears frequencies from 20 hertz to 20,000 Hz; here are some notable flights into the stratosphere, all of them above the soprano's high C (1046 Hz).

G (1568 Hz): Diana Damrau in "Europa Riconosciuta"; Renée Fleming and Cecilia Bartoli on rare occasions.

A flat (1661): Natalie Dessay and Ms. Damrau in Strauss's "Frühlingsstimmen".

B (1976): Mado Robin (1918-1960) in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."

C (2093): Yma Sumac; Ms. Fleming in her younger days as a jazz singer.

F sharp (2960) or G sharp (3322), disputed: Mariah Carey

A (3729): Top note in Elgar's Violin Concerto. "Anything above that," says Gil Shaham, "I charge extra. Hazard pay."

MUSIC Correction: October 2, 2005, Sunday A table on Sept. 18 listing high notes sung by various women, with an article about the coloratura Diana Damrau, referred incorrectly to Cecilia Bartoli. She has sung high E in concert and can reach high F; she has not sung high G.

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