Type of Singing Voice:
In a four-part music piece, the alto is the second highest vocal range. Originally it meant the highest male voice or a male using his falsetto voice. For females, the alto voice is called contralto. Alto is lower than the soprano but higher than the tenor.
Between the F below middle C to the second D above.
Alto is Italian for "high." It is derived from the word contratenor altus referring to the vocal range above that of a tenor.
Types of Alto Voices:
There are two main types:
- contra tenor - refers to the natural or falsetto male voice
- contralto - refers to the lower-register female voice also known as the alto female voice
One of the most famous female alto singers (contralto) of the past is the British singer Kathleen Ferrier. James Bowman, on the other hand, is one of the well-known alto male singers (counter tenor)
Roles of Altos in Famous Operas:
The contralto voice is used to play the part of Erda in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, while the counter tenor voice is used to play the role of Oberon in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
MP3 sample of Kathleen Ferrier (Brahms/Broadcast Edinburgh, 1949/Bruno Walter, live) from Andrea Suhm-Binder's site