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diva or prima donna, which have come to mean a (usually) outrageous operatic soprano, but there was a time when the star of the show was more often a contralto, or a soprano singing in today's mezzo-soprano range. This performer was referred to as an alto. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the male and female leading roles were likely to be sung by emasculated males, the alto castrati, although there were many great female altos during this period as well. The music for these fantastic artists, written by such composers as Porpora, Vinci, Hasse, and even Handel, has been largely forgotten. At the beginning of the 19th century, as the castrati died out, their roles were often assumed by female altos referred to as musici. New repertoire continued to be written for them by Rossini and others, but gradually, this musical tradition and technique was lost.



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