The low female singing voice in opera, choir, and non, classical music (the alto part in choir is sung by contraltos and mezzo-sopranos with strong low notes). The contralto has a range from F3 (below middle C) to G5 (the second G over middle C). This deep, dark female voice is the rarest female voice and they are known to sound almost like men on their lowest notes.
Sitting between mezzo sopranos and tenors, contraltos have relatively few roles in opera as little has been written specifically for them and what roles they have are usually that of maidservants, mothers, grandmothers, and friends of the heroine, but they occasionally get hardy roles, notably witches and goddesses. They also play roles originally meant for castratos (when mezzo-sopranos, countertenors, tenors, and baritones don't take them).
A number of pop singers and Broadway performers are contraltos, although they are not farther distinguished as they would be in opera. Examples include Fiona Apple, Cher, Toni Braxton, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Alicia Keyes, Diana Krall, Lisa Gerrard, Amy MacDonald, Yulia MacLean, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Reba MacIntire, Stevie Nicks, Katy Perry, Carly Simon, Ana Carolina, Emily Haines, Judy Garland, Chaka Khan, and Annie Lennox.
Based on vocal weight/voice type, contraltos are divided into three subcategories:
Coloratura contralto: light, agile, flexible, capable of vocal acrobatics (a rare voice).
Lyric contralto: stronger than coloratura contralto, but lighter and tamer than the dramatic contralto. Most common contralto voice.
Dramatic contralto: A powerful, rich, dark female voice and very rare.
Operatic contraltos include Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Maureen Forrester, Kathleen Ferrier, Marian Anderson, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Nathalie Stutzmann, Ewa Podles, Anna Larsson, and Sonia Prina.
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