In music, an alto is a singer with a vocal range somewhere between a tenor and a soprano. A typical alto will have a range from around the F below middle C to the D a ninth above middle C. In four part choral harmony, the alto is the second highest voice. Altos originally sang from music written in the alto clef, but now use the treble clef.
Although both men and women may have voices in the alto range, the word is usually used to mean a female singer. However, choirs singing early music frequently include male altos, also called countertenors. In English church usage, the term alto is sometimes exclusively used to mean a boy with this range, while contralto is used for a female singer. However, this is not done consistently, and for most practical purposes, alto and contralto can be thought of as synonyms (the phrase "boy alto" can be used if there is a chance of misunderstanding).
The majority however define contralto and alto as synonyms, and assign the adjectives light and dark, with a dark alto being a female of tenorrange, while a light alto, commonly referred to as simply alto, to include mezzo-sopranos as well.
Contraltos are fairly rare in opera (and in general), since there is very little work that was written specifically for them.
Most of the time, contralto roles are limited to maids, mothers and grandmothers, but they do occasionally get notable roles, with witches being the most common outside of the three former roles.
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