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Opera/Rare voice types/Breath Support


Hello Ms. Thomas,
I have written and asked you questions  a few times in the past and you answered them so well, I thought I would draw on your knowledge once again.

I am an opera fan and I wanted to know the difference between a lyric coloratura soprano and a light lyric coloratura soprano? Is there any truth to the thought that the light lyric coloratura is a rare voice type?

I have also heard that 10-15 % of people usually with high and light voices and voice types wake up with things already tight and so it is necessary for them to warm up in the middle and go down and warm up low before warming up high.  Is there any basis for this thought?

Is it true that a small percentage of singers have incredible flexibility in their vocal chords which allows them to sing extremely high notes?  I sure can find a lot of opera singer performances from past to present on YouTube who can sing rather high.  So is it difficult to tell from general sources the percentage of such voice types?

My last question is, I have heard that if a singer has a  very fast vibrato it is a sign of lack of support, of lack of body engagement in the sound.  If this is true, how can a singer improve on this aspect of singing?

Thank you for your time and expertise.

Hi Denise,

You ask a lot of good questions.  I'll try my best to answer.

I don't believe there is a big difference between a lyric coloratura and light lyric coloratura.  And I don't believe the light lyric coloratura is a rare voice.  Many people call the lightest soprano voice a Soubrette.  But the coloratura voice can range from light to lyric to dramatic.

I'm not sure about how people wake up but I have always found that they key to open and free high notes is making sure the middle voice is produced properly and warming up the middle before going to the top.  Joan Sutherland always talked about hearing her colleagues singing high notes as they warmed up - while she would warm up her middle.  Of course, she had an amazing voice with great high notes!  Certainly you should warm up the chest and middle before working on the top.  And you have to produce the middle correctly in order to sing the top freely.

I don't believe I've seen a percentage of voice types published - but there are certainly many more sopranos than other voices.  As to sopranos with really high notes - i.e. high F, etc. - those are more rare.  But the key to healthy high notes is to sing without too much air pressure in the throat and avoiding a bunched up tongue root.  You must always have the correct flow of air at all times and supported by the body (think singing with a lip trill or tongue trill).  

It is often true that an overly fast vibrato is caused by a lack of support.  It can also be caused by pressure at the root of the tongue that happens at the onset of sound.  It can also be caused by the lack of vocal cord approximation.  If the cords don't approximate enough the vibrate can become faster.  Also if the vibrato is uneven that can be caused by changes in the sub-glottic breath pressure - which is caused by a lack of body resistance.

I hope this helps you a bit.  If you really want to understand the voice in detail - check out the articles by my teacher/mentor, David Jones at   He has amazing knowledge and is very generous in sharing it!

Best of luck!



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Pamela Thomas


Questions on Opera performance, repertoire, vocal technique, acting for opera. I have some 20 years experience in opera in both leading roles and chorus. I have sung with New York City Opera since 1981. I have studied voice in NYC for over 20 years and have also taught technique and coached singers in acting.

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