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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
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 E below middle C (E3) to the second G above middle C (G5).
Dramatic contralto
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 are rare.

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."[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.

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. ^ 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]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contralto — Please support Wikipedia.
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644 news items


Thu, 14 Aug 2014 00:41:15 -0700

“I started singing a few years ago and people did not know how to train my voice, and there was a lady in Halifax who was a Contralto singer who was looking for a rare voice. She had looked at hundreds of people and found me, so she trained me to ...

New York Times

New York Times
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 14:56:15 -0700

Ms. Hannigan cites the parallel example of the French contralto Nathalie Stutzmann, who conducts and often sings at the same time. The great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who died in 2012, took to the podium for a time but achieved little ...


Tue, 19 Aug 2014 06:52:30 -0700

Di lei, il sovrintendente Gianfranco Mariotti, presentando il programma del Rof 2012, che vide Ewa Podleś protagonista, disse semplicemente: “E' il più grande contralto vivente”. Il suo concerto vale assai più del prezzo del biglietto. Nata a Varsavia ...
Sacramento Bee
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 09:18:45 -0700

Queasy carnival music, hoodoo blues stomps, country waltz ballads, primitive rock and jazzy inflections coalesce and flow around the anchor of Hernandez's rich voice, a contralto rife with character and heartrending soul. The amalgam of styles in this ...
Noisey (blog)
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 10:50:07 -0700

My mom is a huge music lover, and when I was growing up, she would always play Sade and Toni Braxton, Aretha Franklin and Etta James. Just super soulful women. I think I've always had that background, so I've always liked deeper, contralto middle-tones ...
Delaware County Daily Times
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 02:11:15 -0700

They are Edith Bailey, contralto, and Robert Frankenberger, baritone. Their program will include sacred and oratorio arias and duets. The accompanist and organist will be Robert Erb, regularly with the chapel. 1989. Round-the-clock security by a ...
The Daily Voice
Wed, 20 Aug 2014 00:52:30 -0700

While living there, he hosted theatrical performances by numerous celebrities, including famed contralto singer and civil rights activist Marian Anderson. Inspired by his penchant for medieval theater, Hayes modeled the residence after a Tudor-style ...

New York Times

New York Times
Sun, 17 Aug 2014 14:33:45 -0700

Sara Mingardo gave an excellent account of Goethe's text in the rhapsody, with a real contralto quality to her voice where mezzo-sopranos usually tread. If all that Brahms (with another program to come on Friday) suggested a certain stodginess in the ...

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