"The greatest achievement in singing is to become a well-loved contralto" - Peter Gammond, Bluffer's Guide to Music
Famous roles: Erda (Wagner - Der Ring des Nibelungen); Frau Reich (Nikolai - Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor); Orfeo (Gluck - Orfeo)
Famous singers: Janet Baker; Clara Butt; Kathleen Ferrier.
Kathleen Ferrier (pictured above) had a contralto voice of great individuality and distinction. She was the darling of the post-war public: her personal warmth carried over into her limpid singing style in both opera and oratorio.
Ferrier's tragic death at the age of only 41 contributed to the hallowing of a reputation, which is still felt today.
These are men's voices - essentially a modern development. Counter-tenors are male falsettists; this specialism enables singers to take roles, especially in the Baroque operas of Handel and Gluck, which were originally written for castrati and subsequently sung by mezzos.
Famous roles: Oberon (Britten - A Midsummer Night's Dream); Apollo (Britten - Death In Venice); Edgar (Reimann - Lear).
Famous counter-tenors: James Bowman; Michael Chance; David Daniels; Alfred Deller; Jochen Kowalski; Andreas Scholl.