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A contralto, or sometimes alto, is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type,[1] with the lowest tessitura.[2][3] The contralto's vocal range falls between tenor and mezzo-soprano; typically between the F below middle C (F3 in scientific pitch notation) to the second F above middle C (F5), although at the extremes some voices can reach the E below middle C (E3) or the second B 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 Italian 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.[4]

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 Onégin, were technically equipped to perform not only heavy, dramatic music by the likes of Wagner but also florid compositions by Donizetti.

Coloratura contralto[edit]

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[edit]

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 E below middle C (E3) to the second G above middle C (G5).

Dramatic contralto[edit]

The dramatic contralto 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 E below middle C (E3) to the second E above middle C (E5).[5][not in citation given]

Contralto roles in opera[edit]

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, Isabella in L'italiana in Algeri, 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."[6]

Examples of contralto roles in the standard operatic repertoire include the following:.[6]

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

Operatic contraltos[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McKinney, James (1994). The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Genovex Music Group. ISBN 978-1-56593-940-0. 
  2. ^ a b Appelman, D. Ralph (1986). The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-20378-6. 
  3. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Contralto". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  4. ^ Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-8614-3. 
  5. ^ The New York Times guide to essential knowledge[full citation needed]
  6. ^ a b Boldrey, Richard (1994). Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-877761-64-5. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Coffin, Berton (1960). Coloratura, Lyric and Dramatic Soprano, Vol. 1. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8108-0188-2. 
  • Peckham, Anne (2005). Vocal Workouts for the Contemporary Singer. Berklee Press Publications. ISBN 978-0-87639-047-4. 
  • Smith, Brenda (2005). Choral Pedagogy. Plural Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-59756-043-6. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Contralto vocalists at Wikimedia Commons
The dictionary definition of contralto at Wiktionary

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contralto — Please support Wikipedia.
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"Osbelia Hernández es una verdadera contralto con una voz opulenta y tonos sumamente suntuosos. Es una de esas cantantes que poseen una voz magnífica. Sus interpretaciones tienen una rara cualidad de tonos brillantes que destaca de entre las voces ...
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Leicester Mercury

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Thu, 31 Jul 2014 02:11:15 -0700

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