According to Some, Sopranos can only be tall, thin and blonde...


September Bell

I prefer to live my life as a performer thinking that the people I work with aren’t ignorant but of course that perfect image gets shattered every so often. I also prefer to live my life being confident in my skills and having trust in myself that I can say ‘when I’m a professional’ and not ‘if I ever make it’. And of course some people love to shatter those lovely thoughts as well.

I have been trained as a soprano for years, when I started getting serious about singing. Once when I was at a rehearsal when I was sixteen, my fellow cast mate felt the need to tell me that I shouldn’t be a soprano because I don’t ‘look like one’. I asked him what he meant and he replied that sopranos have to be blonde and built tall and thin. He continued to say that I look more like a mezzo belter because I am a brunette and short. Apparently some people seem to think that height, body type and hair color determines how a person should ideally sing, and I didn’t quite fit this particular cast-mates expectations of a soprano. As dumb as I thought the statement was, I still believed it and for a few years I struggled with the notion that my voice did not match the way I look. I was paranoid that if I didn’t dye my hair, wear heels and watch my diet closer than I already was, no director would give me a second glance once they heard my singing voice. As if sixteen year olds and young performers aren’t insecure enough. 

This got me questioning what my type as an actress in the industry and if certain vocal ranges require an aesthetic from the performer in order to be pulled off. If sopranos can only be tall thin and blonde and mezzos can only be shorter brunettes, where does that leave altos? And tenors and baritones and basses? Where does that leave performers of color? Surely there have been many amazing successful women of color who did not have blonde hair and had the most beautiful soprano ranges - did this not make them ‘real sopranos?’. What if someone was tall and blonde but not thin, would they be turned away too? What about those who are natural blondes and built tall and thin but had deep voices - Would they really be turned away by a casting director because they didn’t sing a specific range?

In my opinion and thankfully many others. no. The notion that a vocal range has to match an aesthetic is not only extremely outdated but also simply not true. I can name a handful and very famous sopranos who are not blonde and have a variety in size. Everyday I work with other sopranos who do not fit this type either and it makes me very happy to see the industry proving this cast-mates comment to be completely false. 

Fast forward some years and I am now in college studying for a BFA in musical theatre and I can say that not one professor or coach of mine has ever told me that my voice does not match my look and that I do not need to change in order to be successful. I am currently enjoying myself singing in my range and finding roles that I can play, along with my peers.

I can confidently say that I feel no pressure that I would ever be turned away because my aesthetic does not match the way I sing. If any of you out there are struggling with the notion that your vocal range does not match your aesthetic, you do not need to hold onto this fear. Your voice and look are fine the way they are and you do not need to change things out of your ability in order to be cast.