Article Written By: Elaina Robbins
“At the Met Opera, a Note So High, It’s Never Been Sung Before” - The New York Times
This headline threw many of my singer friends into a tizzy on Facebook, and for good reason: it isn’t true. Although the actual text of the article confirms that the A6 (the A in the sixth octave of a grand piano) in Thomas Adès’ The Exterminating Angel is simply the highest note to ever be sung at the Met, the misleading title was enough to remind me how much voice types, and their respective abilities, remain mysterious to the general population.
What the Fach?
There are lots of different voice types, or vocal “fachs,” out there. Many people are familiar with the term “soprano,” which denotes a high female voice. But there are many subcategories under that title as well. Technically both Audrey Luna, the singer who inspired the aforementioned controversial headline, and Christine Goerke, a stellar Wagnerian, are both sopranos, but they sound nothing alike:
Audrey Luna (singing the A6 in question)
Christine Goerke (singing Wagner)
Goerke is a dramatic soprano, which is the heaviest, richest voice type among sopranos. Luna is a coloratura soprano, the lightest, highest voice type among sopranos. And as such, Luna has access to notes that many people do not. However, this does not make her unique among coloraturas.
The truth is, coloraturas in a range of genres have been singing A6s, and notes much higher, for a long time. The highest note on record is a G10 sung by Georgia Brown, a Brazilian dance/electric singer. You can hear it here (it’s really something!).
While a G10 is extreme, many of the coloraturas I know sing up to the 7th octave. On a good day, I can sing up to a D#7; on this little recording of me messing around, I go up to a C7. I know my coworker Stephanie Carlson can sing even higher. Among coloraturas, such abilities are far from unusual.
And while for many singers these higher notes are relegated to whistle register (the highest vocal registration, named for its whistle-like sound), I have certainly heard--and have occasionally achieved--some of these super-high notes in mixed or head registration. This makes it sound more like the “high notes” in head voice that audiences are used to.
Not the Highest Note Ever, But Still High!
None of this is meant to belittle Luna’s triumph. She does, indeed, hold the record for the highest note sung performed at the Metropolitan Opera. And, which composers like Adès continuing to push the boundaries and a generation of coloraturas willing to take more risks, we may well see that record pushed higher and higher in coming years.
more about the author, Elaina Robbins