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Coloratura: Definition, Arias & Technique

Instructor: Sharon Rhinesmith
Coloratura is a style of singing that involves fast moving passages, trills or runs. In this lesson you will learn what types of singers sing it, how they do it and where it is found in vocal music.

What Is Coloratura?

Coloratura comes from the Latin word colorare, which means to color, and is exemplified by runs, trills or other vocal acrobatics that add excitement and expression to vocal music. Instead of slower moving quarter or eighth notes, a passage might be 'filled in' with faster sixteenth notes. This could be written by the composer or added by the performer or conductor.

Sometimes an aria will start with a more plain A section followed by a contrasting B section and then a return to the A section, but this time it uses coloratura ornamentation to make it more interesting. Fast moving but short (staccato) notes and trills- notes that quiver back and forth between two notes- are also a big part of coloratura singing.

The Coloratura Singer and Vocal Music

A classical singer is called a coloratura if she specializes in coloratura singing. This means she usually possesses a light, agile voice capable of singing very fast and using a wide vocal range. Coloraturas are the 'show offs' of the opera world.

Although coloratura can be sung by all singers, male and female alike, the most common type of coloratura singer is the lyric coloratura soprano. In addition to having flexibility in her voice, she also can sing very high. Some famous coloratura soprano arias include : 'Ah, Non Credea, Ah, Non Giunge' from Bellini's La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) and 'Caro Nome' from Verdi's Rigoletto.

But probably the most famous and most dramatic aria is sung by the rarer dramatic coloratura soprano. A dramatic coloratura has a heavier and darker voice than a lyric coloratura but still possesses surprising agility. The aria is called 'Der Hölle Rache, kocht in meinem Herzen', known as the Queen of the Night aria from Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) by Mozart. In its most famous motif, the soprano thrills audiences by leaping up to sing several fast staccato high E's above high C, before reaching one of the highest notes ever written for a singer - a high F above high C.

Another well-known coloratura singer is the coloratura mezzo-soprano made famous by the composer Giacomo Rossini. A mezzo-soprano is a lower voice than a soprano, but a coloratura mezzo can sing with the same speed and at times the same vocal range as a coloratura soprano. Some famous coloratura mezzo-soprano arias are 'Una voce poco fa' from Il barbiero di Seviglia (The Barber of Seville) and 'Non piu mesta' from La Cenerentola (Cinderella), both by Rossini.

How Do They Do It?

Coloratura singing seems to come naturally to some singers. Nevertheless, most singers must work to attain this kind of agility and skill. This is usually accomplished first by learning the coloratura phrase at a slow tempo making sure to sing the right pitches.

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