Voice compartment

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In opera practice, the term vocal subject distinguishes between different types and characters of vocal ranges .


The vocal subjects differ on the one hand in the voices themselves, whose physiological characteristics such as size, color, volume characterize the singers, on the other hand in the assignment to the role subjects , which are created with regard to precisely these characteristics, and their typical uses on the opera stage .

At German opera houses, the designation of the vocal subject for permanent engagements was part of the contract for a long time; in disputes, a singer could refuse a so-called non-subject part, which was also actionable before the stage arbitration court. The handbook of the opera by Rudolf Kloiber was decisive here (see literature ).

Lyrical and dramatic

In addition to the volume of the voice, a fundamental distinction is made between the lyric subject or the play or character subject on the one hand and the serious or dramatic subject or hero subject on the other. If particular agility of the voice is required, one speaks of coloratura. Male voices also have considerable coloratura requirements in some cases, so that one could, for example, speak of a “coloratura tenor” in some of Rossini's roles. The historical vocal fans soprano and alto castrato have disappeared; the corresponding parts are now transposed or sung by women or countertenors .

However, it is hardly possible to clearly differentiate the vocal subjects, since the type of performer, his stage appearance and his role interpretation must also be taken into account; the boundaries between the subjects are therefore fluid and can only be applied to part of the repertoire , especially to roles in the classical and romantic opera tradition.


Peter Anton Ling has examined the traditional division into vocal subjects and in this context also Kloiber's manual of opera in detail and is critical of the so-called “German subject system”; Today's theater practice deals with roles completely differently than when Kloiber determined the subjects in the 1940s. In most employment contracts there are no longer any specific technical terms, but only the indication of the respective vocal genre such as soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and bass.

The most common vocal fans with an approximate vocal range and typical parts


Mezzo-soprano and alto


Baritone and bass

Classic Italian technical terms

The Italian technical terms do not exactly correspond to the German ones, but are used in German-speaking countries for Italian opera literature. Since the mezzo-soprano and the baritone did not emerge until the 19th century (the term soprano is also common for mezzo parts in Italy up to Rossini), the distinctions are limited to the classical voices. Today we also differentiate between mezzo-soprano grave , -centrale , -acuto (heavy, medium, and high mezzo) as well as baritono drammatico and baritono cantabile ( e.g. dramatic and lyrical baritone).

  • soprano
    • Soprano drammatico ( spinto ) - corresponds to the dramatic soprano
    • Soprano lirico - corresponds roughly to the youthful-dramatic and heavier lyric soprano
    • Soprano leggero - includes the easy lyric soprano, the lyric coloratura soprano and the soubrette. Sometimes there is also the term soprano di coloratura or soprano d'agilità (coloratura soprano).
  • Old
    • Contralto assoluto
    • Mezzocontralto
  • tenor
    • Tenor grave or baritenore
    • Tenore leggero or tenore buffo - Italian playing tenor
    • Tenore lirico leggero or tenore di grazia - (rather lighter) lyric tenor
    • Tenore lirico - Heavy lyric or light teenage hero tenor
    • Tenore lirico spinto - youthful heroic tenor
    • Tenore di forza ( spinto ) - hero tenor
  • bass
    • Basso profondo - serious bass
    • Basso cantante - high bass; The baritone originated in this subject and also sings some hero baritone roles (e.g. Scarpia or villains in Hoffmann's stories )
    • Basso buffo - playing bass


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