Sopranos get a bad rap in Musical Theatre today. This makes me mad. I confess, I am myself a soprano, but that is not the only reason it irks me. I’m not quite sure how it came to be that we sopranos are so maligned these days, but here are 10 reasons I think sopranos have the right and need to exist!
Sopranos are some of the most famous musical theatre singers in the history of the profession.
Hello, JULIE ANDREWS!?!? (Also, may I remind everyone that it was not until Ms. Andrews used a full belt later in her career that she ran into vocal difficulties…) Not to mention AUDRA MACDONALD, KELLI O’HARA, LAURA BENANTI, MARIN MAZZIE, BARBARA COOK, REBECCA LUKER, KRISTIN CHENOWETH… well, you get my point.
These women are SOPRANOS; wonderful, fabulous sopranos. Yes, they also belt, but they are mostly known for their SOPRANO voices. They have won TONY AWARDS with and for their soprano voices.
There are glorious, complex roles for sopranos!
Those wonderful roles have been the outlet for these über-talented ladies to become so famous and successful! Allow me to name a few of them: Eliza Doolittle (My Fair Lady), Lilli/Kate (Kiss Me, Kate), Anna (King and I), Guinevere (Camelot), Francesca (Bridges of Madison County), Lilly (On the 20th Century), Amy/Rosabella (Most Happy Fella), Lizzie (110 in the Shade), Marian (Music Man), Amalia (She Loves Me)… the list goes on and on!
There are gorgeous, powerful, emotional, exciting, and yes, even FUN songs for sopranos!
Why people think soprano songs are just slow and boring is beyond me. I can’t possibly list them all here, but if you don’t believe me, I’ll personally send you a comprehensive list. (Any of the above musicals will give you just a small sampling.) As a side note, some of the hardest musical theatre songs ever written are for sopranos- I’m looking at you, “Glitter and Be Gay”!
Every ensemble needs sopranos.
Besides providing the higher notes, sopranos give needed musical, vocal, and textural contrast. My wonderful student and soprano extraordinaire, Amy Swift, told me that even when she is in a show where she is mixing/belting, she is always asked to sing the highest notes in the ensemble because she is the only one capable of singing them. It’s crazy that it has almost become a “special skill’ to sing high, soprano notes well!
Practical Reasons for singing soprano
- Animosity towards sopranos makes it very difficult to be a voice teacher of young female voices, many of whom are not ready to belt yet and could potentially harm their voices if they tried before they are ready. It is often way too hard to “sell” soprano repertoire because of everyone’s bias towards belting. I’ll mention again how many thousands of wonderful songs there are for the soprano voice.
- Sopranos use their head voice as their primary register and the head voice is essential for developing and keeping a healthy voice.
- Not everyone can or should belt. The chest voice is an essential component of a complete, healthy voice, but not every voice is meant to use it as its primary register (sound).
- In contemporary musical theatre scores, you actually need to be able to sing everything– soprano, belt, mix and everything in between. We should embrace ALL the exciting sounds the human voice can produce.
Sopranos sing with intensity, emotion and power
A common complaint I hear about sopranos is that they aren’t loud enough and therefore not interesting. Nonsense! Very young sopranos often have smaller voices, but that just means they haven’t fully developed their instruments yet. (Enter: voice teacher!)
Most, if not all, of those famous sopranos mentioned in #1 have big, loud voices and all of them sing with great intensity and emotion. They don’t need to belt to be powerful and interesting. Let me say that again: YOU DO NOT NEED TO BELT TO BE A POWERFUL (read: loud/effective/emotional) SINGER!
Every voice type is vital to vocal music.
We need diversity of sound, texture, color, quality, personality…It’s all wonderful and necessary. Let’s stop the anti-soprano rhetoric!
Sopranos, we must stand proud! Rise up and be counted!