A mezzo-soprano (/?m?tso?/ in English, but [?m?ddzo] in Italian) (meaning “medium” or “middle” “soprano” in Italian) is a type of classical female singing voice whose range lies between the soprano and the contralto singing voices, usually extending 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 G below middle C (G3) and as high as “high C” (C6).
While 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, and men singing within the female range should be 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. For information regarding non-classical mezzo-sopranos see Voice classification in non-classical music.
Mezzo-sopranos typically sing secondary roles in operas, with the protagonist in Bizet’s Carmen (also sung by sopranos) and Rosina in Rossini’s Barber of Seville (also sung by sopranos) as the most notable exceptions. Typical roles for mezzo-sopranos include the stereotypical triad 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 “trouser” characters (male characters played by female singers) such as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Mezzo-sopranos are also well represented in baroque music, early music and baroque opera. However, there is a significant tradition in French-language_operas of the 19th Century to give the leading female role to mezzosopranos, as for example in Beatrice and Benedict, Carmen, The Damnation of Faust, Don Quichotte, La Favorite, Mignon, Samson and Dalilah, Les Troyens, and Werther.
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 Mozart’s Don Giovanni.Mezzos also 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.
In general mezzos are broken down into three categories: Coloratura mezzo-sopranos, Lyric mezzo-soprano, and Dramatic mezzo-sopranos.