Contralto: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Voice type
Female voices

Male voices


Contralto is the deepest female classical singing voice,[1] with the lowest tessitura,[2] falling between tenor and mezzo-soprano. In scientific pitch notation, it typically ranges between the F below middle C (F3) to two Gs above middle C (G5), although at the extremes some voices can reach the E below middle C (E3) or two Bs above middle C (B5).[1]



"Contralto" is meaningful only in reference to classical and operatic singing, as other genres lack a system of vocal categorization comparable to that generally accepted in the classical context. Even within current operatic practice, contraltos are often classed as mezzo-sopranos, because singers in each range can cover for those in the other. When appearing separately, the term "contralto" applies only to female singers; men whose voices fall in the same range or higher are known as "countertenors."[2] The terms "contralto" and "alto" are not synonymous, the latter technically denoting a specific vocal range in choral singing without regard to factors like tessitura, vocal timbre, vocal facility, and vocal weight.[3]

Within the category of contraltos are three generally recognized subcategories—coloratura contralto, lyric contralto, and dramatic contralto—that usefully describe the voice type in general terms. Note, however, that they do not always apply with precision to individual singers; some exceptional dramatic contraltos, such as Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Sigrid Onegin, were technically equipped to perform not only heavy, dramatic music by the likes of Wagner but also florid compositions by Donizetti.

Common vocal ranges
represented on a keyboard
Range of soprano voice marked on keyboard.svg
Range of mezzo-soprano voice marked on keyboard.svg
Countertenor or Mezzo-soprano
Range of alto voice marked on keyboard.svg
Range of tenor voice marked on keyboard.svg
Range of baritone voice marked on keyboard.svg
Range of bass voice marked on keyboard.svg

Coloratura contralto

Coloratura contraltos—who have light, agile voices ranging very high for the classification and atypically extensive coloratura and high sustaining notes—specialize in florid passages and leaps. Given its deviations from the classification's norms, this voice type is quite rare.

Lyric contralto

A lyric contralto voice is lighter than a dramatic contralto but not capable of the ornamentation and leaps of a coloratura contralto. This class of contralto, lighter in timbre than the others, is the most common today and usually ranges from the G below middle C (G3) to the G two octaves above middle C (G5).

Dramatic contralto

The dramatic is the deepest, darkest, and heaviest contralto voice, usually having a heavier tone and more power than the others. Singers in this class, like the coloratura contraltos, are rare. They typically sing in a range from the G below middle C (G3) to the A above middle C (A5).[4]

Contralto roles in opera

True operatic contraltos are rare, and the operatic literature contains few roles written specifically for them. Contraltos sometimes are assigned feminine roles like Angelina in La Cenerentola, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, and Olga in Eugene Onegin, but more frequently they play female villains or assume trouser roles originally written for castrati. A common saying among contraltos is that they may play only "witches, bitches, or britches."[5]

Examples of contralto roles in the standard operatic repertoire include the following:[5].

* indicates a role that may also be sung by a mezzo-soprano.

Contralto roles in musical theatre

Examples of contralto roles in musical theater include the following:

* indicates a role that may also be sung by a mezzo-soprano.

See also


  1. ^ a b McKinney, James (1994). The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Genovex Music Group. ISBN 978-1565939400. 
  2. ^ a b Appelman, D. Ralph (1986). The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253203786. 
  3. ^ Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0802086143. 
  4. ^ The New York Times guide to essential knowledge [Full citation needed]
  5. ^ a b Boldrey, Richard (1994). Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN 9781877761645. 

Further reading

  • Coffin, Berton (1960). Coloratura, Lyric and Dramatic Soprano, Vol. 1. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. ISBN 9780810801882. 
  • Peckham, Anne (2005). Vocal Workouts for the Contemporary Singer. Berklee Press Publications. ISBN 978-0876390474. 
  • Smith, Brenda (2005). Choral Pedagogy. Plural Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1597560436. 

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CONTRALTO (from Ital. contra-alto, i.e. next above the alto), the term for the lowest variety of the female voice, as distinguished from the soprano and mezzo-soprano. Originally it signified, in choral music, the part next higher than the alto, given to the falsetto counter-tenor.

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