Contralto

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A contralto (Italian pronunciation:  [konˈtralto] ) is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type. [1]

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The contralto's vocal range is fairly rare; similar to the mezzo-soprano, and almost identical to that of a countertenor, 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 D below middle C (D3) [2] or the second B above middle C (B5). [1] The contralto voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic contralto.

History

"Contralto" is primarily meaningful only in reference to classical and operatic singing, as other traditions lack a comparable system of vocal categorization. The term "contralto" is only applied to female singers; men singing in a similar range are called "countertenors". [3] The Italian terms "contralto" and "alto" are not synonymous, "alto" technically denoting a specific vocal range in choral singing without regard to factors like tessitura, vocal timbre, vocal facility, and vocal weight. [4] However, there exists some French choral writing (including that of Ravel and Poulenc) with a part labeled "contralto", despite the tessitura and function being that of a classical alto part. The Saracen princess Clorinde in André Campra's 1702 opera Tancréde was written for Julie d'Aubigny and is considered the earliest major role for bas-dessus or contralto voice. [5]

Vocal range

Contralto vocal range (F3-F5) notated on the treble staff (left) and on piano keyboard in green with dot marking middle C (C4). Contralto voice range on keyboard.svg
Contralto vocal range (F3–F5) notated on the treble staff (left) and on piano keyboard in green with dot marking middle C (C4).
Contralto

The contralto has the lowest vocal range of the female voice types, with the lowest tessitura. [3] [6]

The contralto vocal range is between tenor and mezzo-soprano. Although tenors, baritones, and basses are male singers, some women can sing as low (albeit with a slightly different timbre and texture) as their male counterparts and are often erroneously referred to as "female tenors", "female baritones", or "female basses". Formal terminology [7] might logically be contralto profundo (tenor) and contralto basso or oktavistka (baritone), but these are not traditional.

Some of the rare singers who specialized in the tenor and baritone registers include film actress Zarah Leander, [8] [9] the Persian āvāz singer Hayedeh [10] [ failed verification ], the child prodigy Ruby Helder (1890 –1938), [11] [12] and Bavarian novelty singer Bally Prell. [13] [14]

Subtypes and roles in opera

Within the contralto voice type category are three generally recognized subcategories: coloratura contralto, an agile voice specializing in florid passages; lyric contralto, a voice lighter in timbre; and dramatic contralto, the deepest, darkest, and most powerful contralto voice. These subtypes do not always apply with precision to individual singers.

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 , Teodata in Flavio , Isabella in L'italiana in Algeri , and Olga in Eugene Onegin , but more frequently they play female villains or trouser roles. Contraltos may also be cast in roles originally written for castrati. A common saying among contraltos is that they may play only "witches, bitches, or britches." [15]

Examples of contralto roles in the standard operatic repertoire include the following: [15]

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

See also

Related Research Articles

A soprano[soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) = 880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) = 1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which often encompasses the melody. The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.

A countertenor (also contra tenor) is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of the female contralto or mezzo-soprano voice types, generally extending from around G3 to D5 or E5, although a sopranist (a specific kind of countertenor) may match the soprano's range of around C4 to C6. Countertenors often are baritones or tenors at core, but on rare occasions use their lower vocal range, instead preferencing their falsetto.

The musical term alto, meaning "high" in Italian, historically refers to the contrapuntal part higher than the tenor and its associated vocal range. In 4-part voice leading alto is the second highest part, sung in choruses by either low women's or high men's voices. In vocal classification these are usually called contralto and male alto or countertenor.

A tenor is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone voice types. It is one of the highest of the male voice types. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A2 (two As below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.

A baritone is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the bass and the tenor voice-types. The term originates from the Greek βαρύτονος (barýtonos), meaning "heavy sounding". Composers typically write music for this voice in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C (i.e. F2–F4) in choral music, and from the second G below middle C to the G above middle C (G2 to G4) in operatic music, but the range can extend at either end. Subtypes of baritone include the baryton-Martin baritone (light baritone), lyric baritone, Kavalierbariton, Verdi baritone, dramatic baritone, baryton-noble baritone, and the bass-baritone.

A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (, ; Italian pronunciation: [ˈmɛddzo soˈpraːno] 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; 220–880 Hz). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the F below middle C (F3, 175 Hz) and as high as "high C" (C6, 1047 Hz). The mezzo-soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic mezzo-soprano.

Vocal range is the range of pitches that a human voice can phonate. Its most common application is within the context of singing, where it is used as a defining characteristic for classifying singing voices into voice types. It is also a topic of study within linguistics, phonetics, and speech-language pathology, particularly in relation to the study of tonal languages and certain types of vocal disorders, although it has little practical application in terms of speech.

Coloratura

Coloratura is an elaborate melody with runs, trills, wide leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material, or a passage of such music. Operatic roles in which such music plays a prominent part, and singers of these roles, are also called coloratura. Its instrumental equivalent is ornamentation.

The German Fach system is a method of classifying singers, primarily opera singers, according to the range, weight, and color of their voices. It is used worldwide, but primarily in Europe, especially in German-speaking countries and by repertory opera houses.

Breeches role stage role representing a male character played by a female actor

A breeches role is one in which an actress appears in male clothing. Breeches, tight-fitting knee-length pants, were the standard male garment at the time these roles were introduced. The theatrical term travesti covers both this sort of cross-dressing and also that of male actors dressing as female characters. Both are part of the long history of cross-dressing in music and opera and later in film and television.

A soubrette is a type of operatic soprano voice fach, often cast as a female stock character in opera and theatre. The term arrived in English from Provençal via French, and means "conceited" or "coy". A soubrette is also defined as a young woman regarded as flirtatious or frivolous.

A coloratura soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that specializes in music that is distinguished by agile runs, leaps and trills.

The tenore contraltino is a specialized form of the tenor voice found in Italian opera around the beginning of the 19th century, mainly in the Rossini repertoire, which rapidly evolved into the modern 'Romantic' tenor. It is sometimes referred to as tenor altino in English books.

Ewa Podleś Polish contralto

Ewa Podleś is a Polish coloratura contralto singer who has had an active international career both on the opera stage and in recital. She is known for the agility of her voice and a vocal range which spans more than three octaves.

In music, an extension is a set of musical notes that lie outside the standard range or tessitura.

A Voice type is a group of voices with similar vocal ranges, capable of singing in a similar tessitura, and with similar vocal transition points (passaggi). Voice classification is most strongly associated with European classical music, though it, and the terms it utilizes, are used in other styles of music as well.

There is no authoritative system of voice classification in non-classical music as classical terms are used to describe not merely various vocal ranges, but specific vocal timbres unique to each range. These timbres are produced by classical training techniques with which most popular singers are not intimately familiar, and which even those that are do not universally employ.

A lyric soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that has a warm quality with a bright, full timbre that can be heard over an orchestra. The lyric soprano voice generally has a higher tessitura than a soubrette and usually plays ingenues and other sympathetic characters in opera. Lyric sopranos have a range from approximately middle C (C4) to "high D" (D6). This is the most common female singing voice. There is a tendency to divide lyric sopranos into two groups: light and full.

Soprano sfogato is a contralto or mezzo-soprano who is capable—by sheer industry or natural talent—of extending their upper range and being able to encompass the coloratura soprano tessitura. An upwardly extended "natural" soprano is sometimes called soprano assoluta.

A bass ( BAYSS) is a type of classical male singing voice and has the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a vocal range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C (i.e., E2–E4). Its tessitura, or comfortable range, is normally defined by the outermost lines of the bass clef. Categories of bass voices vary according to national style and classification system. Italians favour subdividing basses into the basso cantante (singing bass), basso buffo ("funny" bass), or the dramatic basso profondo (low bass). The American system identifies the bass-baritone, comic bass, lyric bass, and dramatic bass. The German fach system offers further distinctions: Spielbass (Bassbuffo), Schwerer Spielbass (Schwerer Bassbuffo), Charakterbass (Bassbariton), and Seriöser Bass. These classification systems can overlap. Rare is the performer who embodies a single fach without also touching repertoire from another category.

References

  1. 1 2 McKinney, James (1994). The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Genovex Music Group. ISBN   978-1-56593-940-0.
  2. Jones, David L. (2007). "Training the Contralto Voice". The Voice Teacher. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  3. 1 2 Appelman, D. Ralph (1986). The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application. Indiana University Press. ISBN   978-0-253-20378-6.
  4. Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN   978-0-8020-8614-3.
  5. The part of Clorinde is notated in the soprano clef (original score, p. 71), but, although it never descends below d′, tradition has it that it was the first major bas-dessus (contralto) role in the French opera history (Sadie, Julie Anne, Maupin, in Sadie, Stanley (ed), op. cit., III, p. 274).
  6. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Contralto"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  7. "Female Tenor and Female Bass, or Contralto Profondo and Oktavistka?". Contralto Corner. 4 August 2013. Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  8. Peucker, Brigitte. "The Material Image: Art and The Real in Film". 2007. p. 120 Archived 2017-09-05 at the Wayback Machine
  9. Rosa Sala Rose. "Zarah Leander and the Leibstandarte SS". Archived 2016-06-02 at the Wayback Machine 15 December 2012.
  10. "HĀYEDA – Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  11. "Contralto Update: English Contralto Profondo Ruby Helder". Archived 2016-06-03 at the Wayback Machine Contralto Corner. 20 September 2013.
  12. Elliot, David J. (2005). Praxial Music Education: Reflections and Dialogues. Oxford University Press. p. 302. ISBN   9780199725113. Archived from the original on 26 March 2017.
  13. "Contralto Profondo Bally Prell Added To The Contralto Corner" Archived 2016-06-03 at the Wayback Machine , Contralto Corner. 14 July 2015.
  14. "Contralto Female Voice (Fach)". YouTube: DHO Gwen. 8 January 2017. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 September 2017. Retrieved 26 March 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. 1 2 Boldrey, Richard (1994). Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN   978-1-877761-64-5.

Further reading