A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (English pronunciation: //, //; Italian: [ˈmɛdzo] 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). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the F below middle C (F3) and as high as "high C" (C6).
Mezzo-sopranos generally have a heavier, darker tone than sopranos. The mezzo-soprano voice resonates in a higher range than that of a contralto. The terms Dugazon and Galli-Marié are sometimes used to refer to light mezzo-sopranos, after the names of famous singers. A castrato with a vocal range equivalent to a mezzo-soprano's range is referred to as a mezzo-soprano castrato or mezzista. Today, however, only women should be referred to as mezzo-sopranos; men singing within the female range are called countertenors. In current operatic practice, female singers with very low tessituras are often included among mezzo-sopranos, because singers in both ranges are able to cover the other, and true operatic contraltos are very rare.
While mezzo-sopranos typically sing secondary roles in operas, notable exceptions include the title role in Bizet's Carmen, Angelina (Cinderella) in Rossini's La Cenerentola, and Rosina in Rossini's Barber of Seville (all of which are also sung by sopranos). Many 19th-century French-language operas give the leading female role to mezzos, including Béatrice et Bénédict, La damnation de Faust, Don Quichotte, La favorite, Mignon, Samson et Dalila, Les Troyens, and Werther, as well as Carmen.
Typical roles for mezzo-sopranos include the stereotypical triad associated with contraltos of "witches, bitches, and britches": witches, nurses, and wise women, such as Azucena in Verdi's Il trovatore; villains and seductresses such as Amneris in Verdi's Aida; and "breeches roles" (male characters played by female singers) such as Cherubino in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. Mezzo-sopranos are well represented in baroque music, early music, and baroque opera. Some roles designated for lighter soubrette sopranos are sung by mezzo sopranos, who often provide a fuller, more dramatic quality. Such roles include Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte and Zerlina in his Don Giovanni. Mezzos sometimes play dramatic soprano roles such as Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, Lady Macbeth in Verdi's Macbeth, and Kundry in Wagner's Parsifal.
A coloratura mezzo-soprano has a warm lower register and an agile high register. The roles they sing often demand not only the use of the lower register but also leaps into the upper tessitura with highly ornamented, rapid passages. They have a range from approximately the G below middle C (G3) to the B two octaves above middle C (B5). Some coloratura mezzo-sopranos can sing up to high C (C6) or high D (D6), but this is very rare. What distinguishes these voices from being called sopranos is their extension into the lower register and warmer vocal quality. Although coloratura mezzo-sopranos have impressive and at times thrilling high notes, they are most comfortable singing in the middle of their range, rather than the top.
Many of the hero roles in the operas of Handel and Monteverdi, originally sung by male castrati, can be successfully sung today by coloratura mezzo-sopranos. Rossini demanded similar qualities for his comic heroines, and Vivaldi wrote roles frequently for this voice as well. Coloratura mezzo-sopranos also often sing lyric-mezzo soprano roles or soubrette roles.
Coloratura mezzo-soprano roles in opera and operettas
- Angelina (Cenerentola), La Cenerentola (Rossini)@
- Ariodante, Ariodante (Handel) – trouser role@
- Baba the Turk, The Rake's Progress (Stravinsky)
- Griselda, Griselda (Vivaldi)@
- Isabella, L'italiana in Algeri (Rossini)@
- Isolier, Le comte Ory (Rossini) – trouser role@
- Julius Caesar, Giulio Cesare (Handel) – trouser role@
- Orsini, Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti)
- Ruggiero, Alcina (Handel) – trouser role@
- Rosina, The Barber of Seville (Rossini)@
- Serse, Serse (Handel) – trouser role@
- Tancredi, Tancredi (Rossini) – trouser role@
@ denotes a lead role
Coloratura mezzo-soprano singers
Notable coloratura mezzo-sopranos include:
- Cecilia Bartoli
- Teresa Berganza
- Sarah Connolly
- Joyce DiDonato
- Vivica Genaux
- Marilyn Horne
- Vesselina Kasarova
- Jennifer Larmore
- Raquel Pierotti
The lyric mezzo-soprano has a range from approximately the G below middle C (G3) to the B two octaves above middle C (B5). This voice has a very smooth, sensitive and at times lachrymose quality. Lyric mezzo-sopranos do not have the vocal agility of the coloratura mezzo-soprano or the size of the dramatic mezzo-soprano. The lyric mezzo-soprano is ideal for most trouser roles.
Lyric mezzo-soprano roles in opera and operettas
- Annio, La clemenza di Tito (Mozart) – trouser role
- Carmen, Carmen (Bizet)@ (also dramatic mezzo-soprano)
- Charlotte, Werther (Massenet)@
- Cherubino, The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart) – trouser role
- The Composer, Ariadne auf Naxos (Richard Strauss) – trouser role
- Dido, Dido and Aeneas (Purcell)@
- Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni (Mozart)
- Dorabella, Così fan tutte (Mozart)@
- Hänsel, Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck) – trouser role@
- Idamante, Idomeneo, re di Creta (Mozart) – trouser role
- Marguerite, La damnation de Faust (Berlioz)@
- Mignon, Mignon (Ambroise Thomas)@
- Mother, Amahl and the Night Visitors (Menotti)@
- Nicklausse, Les contes d'Hoffmann (Offenbach) – trouser role, though he is a female Muse in disguise.
- Octavian, Der Rosenkavalier (Richard Strauss) – trouser role@
- Orlofsky, (Die Fledermaus) (Johann Strauss) – trouser role
- Sesto, La clemenza di Tito (Mozart) – trouser role@
- Sesto, Giulio Cesare (Handel)
- Siebel, Faust (Gounod) – trouser role
- Sorceress, Dido and Aeneas (Purcell)
- Stephano, Roméo et Juliette (Charles Gounod) – trouser role
- Suzuki, Madama Butterfly (Puccini)
@ denotes a lead role
Lyric mezzo-soprano singers
Notable Lyric mezzo-sopranos include:
A dramatic mezzo-soprano has a strong medium register, a warm high register and a voice that is broader and more powerful than the lyric and coloratura mezzo-sopranos. This voice has less vocal facility than the coloratura mezzo-soprano. The range of the dramatic mezzo-soprano is from approximately the F below middle C to the B two octaves above middle C. The dramatic mezzo-soprano can sing over an orchestra and chorus with ease and was often used in the 19th century opera, to portray older women, mothers, witches and evil characters. Verdi wrote many roles for this voice in the Italian repertoire and there are also a few good roles in the French Literature. The majority of these roles, however, are within the German Romantic repertoire of composers like Wagner and Richard Strauss. Like coloratura mezzos, dramatic mezzos are also often cast in lyric mezzo-soprano roles.
Dramatic mezzo-soprano roles in opera and operettas
- Azucena, Il trovatore (Verdi)@
- Amneris, Aida (Verdi)@
- Adelaide, Arabella (Richard Strauss)
- Brangäne, Tristan und Isolde (Wagner)
- Carmen, Carmen (Bizet)@
- The Countess, The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)
- Dalila, Samson and Delilah (Saint-Saëns)@
- Dido, Les Troyens (Berlioz)@
- Eboli, Don Carlos (Verdi)
- Herodias, Salome (Richard Strauss)
- Judith, Bluebeard's Castle (Bartók)@ (also dramatic soprano)
- Klytämnestra, Elektra (Richard Strauss)
- Laura, La Gioconda (Ponchielli)
- Marina, Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky)
- Mother, Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck)
- Ortrud, Lohengrin (Wagner)
- Princess de Bouillon, Adriana Lecouvreur (Cilea)
@ denotes a lead role
Dramatic mezzo-soprano singers
Notable dramatic mezzo-sopranos include:
- Appelman, D. Ralph (1986). The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-20378-6.
- Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-8614-3.
- [http://www.myoperas.com/habericerik.asp?id=31 Voice types
- Boldrey, Richard; Robert Caldwell, Werner Singer, Joan Wall and Roger Pines (1992). Singer's Edition (Soubrette): Operatic Arias – Soubrette. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-877761-03-4.
- Boldrey, Richard (1994). Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-877761-64-5.