Sopran, typography and music

Our communication is not only verbal and written but it can be also perceived in every other senses. How can we communicate without having the right words to describe our feelings, or our thoughts? If the probability of assembling letters into words is finite? How to have a voice, when you can’t communicate through words directly? I believe the answer lies in art. In painting, dancing, singing, sculpturing … in any form of work or art that a person enjoys doing, that excites his creativity and feels complete by doing it. Of course, a font is not considered as art, not directly. Similarly, particular styles of typefaces can affect the viewer perception of the written word. Furthermore, one can describe the typeface design as an expression of a designer. In a similar way, my views, my vision and my feelings are embedded in this typeface.

This idea of communication lead me into thinking about  the fields of visual and music art and how they connect and intertwine. Specifically, which connections do typography and opera have in common and how to translate the idea of the opera into a visual form in a typeface.


Rhythm is a repeated pattern of movement or sound. It dictates the correct interpretation, either of text or music. Letter shapes form words and texts, that by a correctly placed rhythm perform like an in-tune orchestra. Making the texts easy to read and the letter shapes enjoyable to look at. If the rhythm is off, we lose interest in reading and can not focus on the content. 


Another feature is tonality. The keys in music define the tonality. They allow us to build a musical composition and in fine arts a hierarchical connection of light, light and dark tones that define our space. I find the same to be true also in typography. For example, by setting type in paragraphs, we create a certain tonality – based on their shapes, weights, size, the type of media the paragraph is set in, etc.

Different typographic tonal density


White space or negative space in typography is the absence of form. It is the space that holds and defines the letter shapes. In music, we call it pause. It is the absence of sound – silence.
White space and pause serve as quiet pillars, supporting and defining the representation of the visual/audible idea. White space determines the relation between the shapes, and confirms the fact that one can not exist without the other, much like space can not be defined without light. Furthermore, it holds everything together.

“White space is to be regarded as an active element,
not a passive background.” – Jan Tschichold

Negative space


To find an appropriate visual language between my reflections on letter shapes and the art of music I explored the archives of SNG Opera and Ballet in Ljubljana. The archive dates back to 1946. My research focused on printed theater sheets and programs. This is how the  voice of opera and ballet, as an expressive field of art, became an inspiration for the design of this typeface.

The first publications were printed in 1946-1956 as a small black and white booklets. The type that was used was a high contrast serif typeface for headlines, and a serif typeface for long texts. There were also some ornaments in some of the issues. Last pages of the publication there were often printed ads from different companies, trying to attract customers. The ads had a lot of variety and creativity in terms of type and lettering, which influenced the design of stylistic sets of Sopran.

Typical layout and type setting from the first booklets (Source: archive of SNG Opera and ballet Ljubljana)
Ads and ornaments (Source: archive of SNG Opera and ballet Ljubljana)

The Italian word opera means “work”, both in the sense of the labour done and the result produced.

Later, after the year 1957, they started adding colours to their booklet covers. In means of type, they started using a monolinear slab typeface for headlines, sometimes combined with a contrast serif typeface for texts.

Headings from following booklets (Source: archive of SNG Opera and ballet Ljubljana)


Considering these designs, I implemented some parallels for my typeface – combination of monolinear slab serif and a high contrast serif. Therefore the contrast is distributed from monolinear in thin and all the way to high contrast in the black style. Increasing in contrast symbolizes the high singing of the opera singers. Soprano is the women’s highest singing voice, mezzo soprano as a middle-range voice, following contralto as the lowest voice.

Five weights


Sopran’s character is expressed by long serifs that replace traditional drops. Soft, elegant strokes and straight serifs reflect the elegance in the controlled movement of the ballet dancers. The choice and structure of serifs allows for some interesting discretionary ligatures, for example “fa” or “Ta”. Contextual ligatures are also included. Symbols and punctuation are drawn with monolinear strokes to give the typeface more playful typesetting. Its characteristics could be expressed in headlines, larger texts, show posters, displays, signage, etc.

Both stylistic sets are inspired by the ads from the back of the booklets. The first one differentiates in terms of diagonal connections (letters A K M N V W Y Z k v w y z). The second one exaggerates in the lenght of serifs and emphasizes the character of the typeface (letters C E F G L S T Z a c f s z).

Stylistic Set 01
Stylistic Set 02

To conclude, the voice of opera singers is reflected by the increasing weight and contrast of the typeface. And the letter shapes illustrate the movement of ballet dancers. Both, like in the opera work in harmony and narrate the story perfectly.

Comments are closed