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The lowest standard female voice, which shares the same two octaves as the male tenor voice (C3 - C5)
Really it is just female tenor, and the name itself describes it as being; contra (below) alto, where alto is the standard female voice below which is actually tenor. But it is not politically correct to say that.
edit Is That Singer Male or Female?
You Really Can't Tell by the Voice...
This vocal type is pretty hard to distinguish from a male voice, and normally the singer will be very proud of their androgynous voice which enables them to sing all manner of popular music such as Queen and Green Day, which is written for male tenors, quite convincingly. In fact, if they like opera, and feel up to it, they could even try singing along to Pavarotti.
It is actually a commonality to be listening to a piece of music that you have never heard before and be left entirely puzzled by what gender sang it. This is, of course because tenor and contralto are actually the same thing.
...Or the Way They Dress
K.D Lang is a Canadian contralto that not only sounds like a man, but also dresses like one, just to add to the confusion. But not every contralto dresses like a man. Some, like Cher and Lady Gaga dress like a man wearing drag which is actually even more confusing.
Contraltos tend to cut their hair short too, or wear very bad wigs that would only otherwise be seen on men who are playing pantomime dames.
edit How to tell a Contralto from other female vocalists
Alto Vs Contralto:
Apart from the glaringly obvious similarities with the male tenor, a contralto will differ from a regular alto because they sing lower notes, and the texture of their voice will be a lot heavier and more manly, sometimes a little like Elvis such as Cher's voice. It is difficult to confuse a contralto with the alto voice unless that contralto took a gulp of helium.
A contralto will generally act more masculine also, and so there really ought not to be much confusion.
However, some contraltos may learn to sing particularly high notes; but these will only sound heavier than the average female, and like a male tenor hitting them. As a matter of fact, contraltos have been used classically to sing ancient pieces of monks chanting as a matter of fact due to their voices being indistinguishable from that of the male tenor.
But They Aren't the most Masculine Women
However, an uber masculine sounding woman is not a contralto if they can sing a G2; these are classed as female baritones and have very manly voices. But they are a rarity. Normally male sounding females are contralto.
edit Contralto Lifestyle
Not So Feminine
Contraltos were never feminine to begin with. In fact, the very reason why their voices are so deep is because they got a big dose of testosterone inside the womb. The voice is just a symptom of their masculine nature, however. As children, they played with trucks rather than Barbie, climbed trees, fought with boys, shoplifted, used drugs, got drunk regularly... you get the picture.
A contralto will usually find that she likes looking at other girls at school, and boys will become her friends rather than lovers. She might get involved with football, playing warcraft, going to bars and riding motorbikes.
Living it up
Contraltos naturally like to drink, gamble and take drugs. This is directly linked to their inherent masculinity. Amy Winehouse is a wrecked example of what can happen when such a vocalist discovers that they earn too much money. But let's not even go there...
edit Do Contraltos Really Exist?Are They Actually Men?
One theory is that contraltos are actually a myth, and that all vocalists belonging to this type are really male transvestites, or even transexuals. However, there is biological evidence to support that these 'women' are not actually men, but have evolved, along with male tenors, into an entirely different gender.
Correct anatomy aside, blood tests on such subjects conducted under strict laboratory conditions by leading biologists, reveal that indeed they have two X chromosones in their genetic makeup like regular women, but they also have a Y chromosome (XXY) as opposed to the ordinary female (XX). The Y chromosome is only normally found in males, however, it was also discovered that 'male' tenors lack this, only having a single X chromosone.
The conclusion to these bizarre findings therefore prove that these subjects are actually somewhere between genders.
However, female tenor is a more accurate description since that is their vocal range and physical anatomy; but indeed, what is the point of having two types of singer that share the very same literal characteristics?
edit Contraltos in the Music Industry
Contraltos are actually used in opera as drag kings. They cross dress and wear fake beards. These operatic roles are known as 'trouser roles', and it is a well known fact in opera that contraltos are limited to playing 'witches, bitches or britches'