Definition of countertenor in US English:



  • 1The highest male adult singing voice (sometimes distinguished from the male alto voice by its strong, pure tone).

    • ‘Kenny sang in a clear and true counter-tenor which entirely befitted the ecclesiastical surroundings and added an appropriate 17th-century sound to the vocal range.’
    • ‘It was, however, a neat piece of vocal casting to use Zazzo's counter-tenor to provide an element of contrast in a piece heavy with male roles.’
    • ‘For me, this final partnership had already produced the most delicate acting and glorious blending of soprano and counter-tenor voice, as delivered by Sarah Tynan and Daniel Taylor.’
    • ‘I found myself haunted by the beauty of these songs and the crystalline balance of Scholl's counter-tenor with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's understated accompaniments.’
    • ‘Of the four singers, the most impressive are the three guest performers, one of whom appears as both counter-tenor and tenor, excelling more with his tenor voice than as a falsettist.’
    1. 1.1 A male singer with the highest adult singing voice.
      • ‘Robin Blaze, a male counter-tenor, sings the ‘alto’ solos, although Bis's notes are not entirely clear about this point.’
      • ‘As the main emphasis of the courses lies in the choir made up of all participants, space is limited to approximately twenty sopranos, twelve altos and counter-tenors, and sixteen basses.’
      • ‘Now a real counter-tenor sings the role of Ruggiero, for example.’
      • ‘Mephisto is played by both a florid counter-tenor, here the strident-toned Andrew Watts, as well as by a cabaret-style soprano, here Susan Bickley.’
      • ‘Another mezzo-soprano and a tall, male counter-tenor will fill slots in two touring productions.’


Late Middle English: from French contre-teneur, from obsolete Italian contratenore, based on Latin tenor (see tenor).