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Women's Voices

A Minute with Miles

In operatic singing, there are three principal voice types for women. From high to low, they are soprano, mezzo-soprano—mezzo meaning “middle” in Italian—and contralto.

The ranges of these voices overlap—voice type isn’t simply a matter of which notes a singer can reach; it has to do with the quality of the voice, the range in which the voice is the strongest and the singer most comfortable. Within the principal types there are various specific categories, the most important of which are coloratura, lyric, and dramatic. Coloratura singing is usually the highest singing in a range, and generally demands brilliance and agility—the ability to sing passages that are not just high, but fast and flashy. The lyric voice is the basic, most common type, suitable for a wide range of styles, and the dramatic voice is the most powerful type, the type that can be heard even over large orchestras.

A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.