In opera singing, male and female voices are divided into different categories on the basis of the vocal range. If you are an aspiring singer, make sure that you have a thorough knowledge of the vocal range. It will give you the ability to understand in which pitch you can reproduce musical notes or sing songs easily and effectively. The idea is to sing without straining your voices in order to produce a vocal tone of high quality.
The male voice in opera is classified as bass, tenor, and countertenor while contralto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano form the female voice types. It's important to remember that vocal range has no direct equation with one’s singing ability. You can have a narrow vocal range and still produce a warm and melodious sound. A mezzo-soprano is a female singer whose vocal range is higher than that of a contralto but lower than a soprano.
In opera singing, there's no dearth of roles for mezzos. For instance, Schubert’s Ave Maria, when sung by a talented singer to the accompaniment of piano, is mesmerizing, to say the least. The role of Chérubin is an important part of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s timeless piece 'The Marriage of Figaro'. In the same vein, we could also mention roles like Dorabella in 'Così fan tutte', another favorite amongst connoisseurs of the genre.
Discovering Your Vocal Range
Vocal physiology plays an important role in the development of the vocal range. The shape and structure of individual vocal folds determine to a large extent the highest and the lowest note that our voice can hit. Generally, keying in notes outside the vocal range is extremely difficult. It’s always recommended that you should embrace and work on your tessitura, which is the range you are naturally most comfortable singing in.
However, you need to strengthen the notes at the edge of your range. Much of vocal training focuses on improving the quality of the notes at the top and bottom of our register, giving us a wider range to sing with a clear and natural sound.
The fach is a German voice classification system used for mostly opera singers where the singers are classified into groups according to the weight, range, and color of their voice. The vocal fach of mezzo-sopranos usually encompasses the A below middle C and the second F or G above middle C. It lies between the soprano and contralto voice types.
Difference between Soprano & Mezzo-Soprano
The timbre or the vocal tone of the mezzo-sopranos is usually darker and heavier than a soprano's. Technically speaking, a mezzo-soprano voice sits at the lower register of the soprano range but is distinct from the alto which is the female voice type with the lowest vocal register. The voice type has a soprano timbre overall but is richer.
The word mezzo should not lead you into believing that this is a weaker version of the regular soprano. If your vocal range belongs to this voice type, be rest assured that there is nothing wrong with it. It is your natural voice which just happens to have a lower range than the Soprano voice type. If you wish to be a professional artist, you should take further training to improve your natural abilities without trying to push your voice towards something it is not.
It should also be noted that the quality of vocal tone is as much a determining factor as the range when it comes to distinguishing a mezzo from a regular soprano. Many mezzo-sopranos can actually sing up to high C and beyond comfortably, but their timbre and training as a mezzo favor the lower ranges.
Types of Mezzo-Sopranos
In classical music, the quality of the tone matters as much as the vocal range as in determining the voice type. Mezzo singers are most comfortable using the middle register. This makes their tonal quality a bit darker and perhaps fuller-bodied. Furthermore, their training as mezzo focuses on the literature and sound qualities that favor and amplify their darker, fuller sound.
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Vocal physiology which plays an important role in determining the voice type of a singer also plays an important role in deciding the kind of roles singers can take up at different ages. The role that can be assigned to a singer at 20 may not work for someone who is 40. With age, the physical changes that occur to the vocal cords, generally make the voice deeper and singing in the lower or middle easier. That being said, prior to the onset of natural physiological changes, the mezzo-soprano voice type category can be classified into 3 sub-categories. These are:
A coloratura mezzo-soprano has a lot of vocal agility that allows the artist to produce a warm lower register and a melodious high register. In operatic singing, the roles often assigned to them demand not only the use of the lower register but also slides into the upper tessitura with highly ornamented, rapid passages.
Lyric mezzo-soprano artists do not have to exhibit the vocal agility of coloratura mezzo-sopranos or the range of dramatic mezzo-soprano singers. They are ideal for most trouser roles, wherein a female actor dresses as a male. This voice has a very poignant and melodious quality.
A dramatic mezzo-soprano has a strong medium register, a warm high register, and a voice that is broader and more powerful than the lyric and coloratura mezzo-sopranos. This voice has less vocal facility than the coloratura mezzo-soprano.
Selecting Your Mezzo-Soprano Singing Teacher
If you are an aspiring mezzo-soprano singer, the daunting task of choosing a singing teacher lies ahead of you. Not only do you need someone who is competent, but someone who is right for you. There are primarily two types of trainers that you can take singing lessons from. They are the voice coach and the vocal technique instructor. Knowing how they differ will help you to decide the kind of training you need based on the kind of skill level and goals you wish to achieve.
Vocal coaches guide students with singing songs. They provide instruction on how to sing a song perfectly. With their advice and feedback, you can work on improving not only your style of singing but also factors like articulation, pitch, volume, and enunciation. They will assist you in developing your sense of rhythm, overall approach to singing your repertoire of songs.
If you decide to train under a vocal coach you can also expect to learn how to emote. This would mean being able to convey the right emotions through singing by correctly interpreting the lyrics. In opera, it's crucial to emote correctly. The coach’s feedback will help you to work on these skills which in turn will improve your overall profile as an artist.
Vocal Technique Instructor
A vocal technique instructor will help you to work on the fundamental skills of singing. A whole range of technical functions must be mastered in order to become a flawless singer. Since breath control is important for mezzo-soprano singing, a technique instructor will guide you to do it in the best way possible. You need to have excellent control over your breathing as it is the principal vocal technique. You will also receive training on how to improve your posture, increase your endurance, use vocal effects like vibrato and seamlessly move from one register to another by eliminating vocal breaks.
To become an accomplished opera singer, you need to perfect these techniques. No matter how good your vocal timbre is, your performance will never be up to the mark unless you exercise these technical skills. Modulation of the chest register, proper use of the head voice, and all such factors that play an important role in singing will be taught to you by the technique instructor.
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Apart from seeking professional help to improve your vocal skills, there are other things you can also work on to become an expert performer. Learning to read sheet music is of great help as it will help you to hit the right notes while singing, minimizing the chances of going off tune. You can also join a local music group or a choir to keep your practice going. The group will act as your support system, feeding you with timely feedback that will help you to work on your abilities. You can also think of taking acting lessons for opera which will definitely enrich your overall learning experience. So without further ado, set sail to fulfill your dreams.