What is a Contralto?
A contralto is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type, with the lowest tessitura. 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 G above middle C (G5), although at the extremes some voices can reach the D below middle C (D3) or the second B♭ above middle C (B♭5).
"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." 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.
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.
Other contraltos to listen to: Marian Anderson, Kathleen Ferrier, Louise Homer, Maureen Forrester, and Ernestine Schumann-Heink.
Nathalie Stutzmann is one of Mrs. Greer Espinosa's favorite contraltos. She is singing an aria called "Ombra mai Fu" from Handel's opera Serse.
Frondi tenere e belle Tender and beautiful fronds
del mio platano amato of my beloved plane tree,
per voi risplenda il fato. let Fate smile upon you.
Tuoni, lampi, e procelle May thunder, lightning, and storms
non v'oltraggino mai la cara pace, never bother your dear peace,
nè giunga a profanarvi austro rapace. nor by blowing winds be profaned.
Ombra mai fu Never was a shade
di vegetabile, of any plant
cara ed amabile, dearer and more lovely,
soave più. or more sweet.
A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (meaning "half soprano") is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range lies between the soprano and the contralto voice types. The mezzo-soprano's vocal range usually extends from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above (i.e. A3–A5 in scientific pitch notation, where middle C = C4). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the F below middle C (F3) and as high as "high C" (C6).
Mezzo-sopranos generally have a heavier, darker tone than sopranos. The mezzo-soprano voice resonates in a higher range than that of a contralto. The terms Dugazon and Galli-Marié are sometimes used to refer to light mezzo-sopranos, after the names of famous singers. A castrato with a vocal range equivalent to a mezzo-soprano's range is referred to as a mezzo-soprano castrato or mezzista. Today, however, only women should be referred to as mezzo-sopranos; men singing within the female range are called countertenors. In current operatic practice, female singers with very low tessituras are often included among mezzo-sopranos, because singers in both ranges are able to cover the other, and true operatic contraltos are very rare.
While mezzo-sopranos typically sing secondary roles in operas, notable exceptions include the title role in Bizet's Carmen, Angelina (Cinderella) in Rossini's La Cenerentola, and Rosina in Rossini's Barber of Seville (all of which are also sung by sopranos). Many 19th-century French-language operas give the leading female role to mezzos, including Béatrice et Bénédict, La damnation de Faust, Don Quichotte, La favorite, Mignon, Samson et Dalila, Les Troyens, and Werther, as well as Carmen.
Typical roles for mezzo-sopranos include the stereotypical triad associated with contraltos of "witches, mean-girls, and britches": witches, nurses, and wise women, such as Azucena in Verdi's Il trovatore; villains and seductresses such as Amneris in Verdi's Aida; and "breeches roles" (male characters played by female singers) such as Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Mezzo-sopranos are well represented in baroque music, early music, and baroque opera. Some roles designated for lighter soubrette sopranos are sung by mezzo sopranos, who often provide a fuller, more dramatic quality. Such roles include Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte and Zerlina in his Don Giovanni. Mezzos sometimes play dramatic soprano roles such as Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth, and Kundry in Wagner's Parsifal.
For more information about the Fachs within mezzo-soprano, see below and read the links to Wikipedia. These links also include other mezzo-sopranos that you may want to check out on the internet. Have fun!
Duets for Mezzo & Soprano
Susan Graham (lyric mezzo-soprano) and Renee Fleming (lyric soprano) are two of Mrs. Greer Espinosa's favorite singers. These two wonderful performing artists often perform together, not only because they sound beautiful together, but they are dear friends. I encourage you to listen to this famous Lakme duet (on the right) and the "Evening Prayer" duet from Hansel and Gretel. I also encourage you to find MORE recordings of these two artists.