Acting in Plays, Singing/Passagio of Mezzos


QUESTION: My daughter can belt up to a D# 5 . Her rich tones are what I consider in the Alto range. She also has an E below middle C I was told by a voice teacher from a serious choral university, that mezzos cannot have that high of a passagio and that she is most likely an undeveloped soprano. What are your thoughts on that?

ANSWER: Hello, Lanie --

Thank you for the question.

I understand what you mean by a “serious choral university”.

Serious choral universities are not in the business of graduating competitive Leading-Role Soloists who at some point will employ a belted D#5 – aka, Eb5 at forte volume.

Tell her to pull it up one half-step to E5 and then she can do the role of “Elphaba” in WICKED. Being able to access Low E means that her Low G will be a day on the beach during a solo recital with piano accompaniment (and without a microphone) at Carnegie Hall – if she turns out to be a Contralto – for an aria such as "Nel profondo" from Vivaldi’s ORLANDO FURIOSO.

All my Broadway-bound Alto/Belters can belt D#5, all of them go down to Low E. All of them exercise to at least A5, most go higher.

If your daughter wants to be a choral singer, then her ability to belt a D#5 is a gift that will be wasted. And we all know what happens to Those who waste their Special Gifts, right?

At some point, young singers and their parents must talk about what kind of music study is going to pay the bills somewhere down the line. A teacher who works with choral groups must achieve – as Cole Porter would say – a “perfect blendship”. That means, everybody in each section has to compromise something about their full vocal production in order to not stand out / to not draw attention to themselves.

Not having heard your daughter sing – as in, what she may want to pursue after graduation – it’s very possible that if she just gave up on this need to belt, she might very well be worked up into a light soprano who could blend in with millions of other choral sopranos who are totally happy not being in the Sunday Solo Spotlight and not being paid. However, that “voice” will never work in a Broadway musical or alongside the phenomenal union professionals we have singing here at San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony.

Having said all that and, again, without having heard your daughter sing – something tells me that, in this case, Mom knows best.

I am a vocal coach to working singers and actors in the San Francisco Bay Area. When you want to make an appointment, contact me at:

I am also published on: -- -- --

Below are links to my recent articles, interviews, and YouTubes:

On Jeanette MacDonald: Why should we care?

A Conversation with Pianist Hélène Grimaud – At Davies Symphony Hall, 2/15–16

Composer Michael Kaulkin – Introducing New Works with 'Lieder Alive!’

A Conversation with Soprano Lydia Teuscher – Now at Davies Hall, 1/30–1/31

Organist Paul Jacobs – On Messiaen’s ‘Livre du Saint-Sacrement’

A Profile of Choreographer Val Caniparoli – 20th Anniversaries for ‘Lambarena’ and ‘Lady of the Camellias’

Pianist Orli Shaham on ‘Grand Pianola Music’ by John Adams

Eddie Muller on Noir City 13 and the Rescue of ‘Woman on the Run’

Composer Michael Kaulkin – Introducing New Works with 'Lieder Alive!’

In Conversation with Debby Boone

“Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone”

Tenor Michael Fabiano – On ‘La Bohème’, Now at San Francisco Opera

Joanne Polk – On ‘The Flatterer, Piano Music of Cécile Chaminade’

Filmmaker Judy Irving – On ‘Pelican Dreams’

Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo – A Stunning Debut in ‘Partenope’ at San Francisco Opera

A Conversation with Bass-Baritone Philippe Sly

Steve Wilson on 'The Making of Gone with the Wind'

Tenor Stuart Skelton on Peter Grimes

Most sincerely,
Sean Martinfield

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks so much for your answer. I especially like the comment regarding how singers often must compromise in order to blend

Do you consider a mixed voice placed right behind the nose a belt? Some do. If not, I know from personal experience that extending the chest voice too far up can cause some serious vocal damage. In short< is there a healthy way to " belt"?

Thanks again

Hi, Lanie

Thank you for the follow-through question.

A note that is belted does not sit right behind the nose – mixed or not.

Not everyone means the same thing by the terms “belt” and “mixed”.

Every singer comes with assets and liabilities. As a professional singer and vocal coach, I know that proper training and well-structured daily practicing is everything.

Serious vocal damage is the end result of bad training.

Yes, there is a healthy way to belt – and a healthy way to maintain that belt.

My job is to teach you how.

Best regards,
Sean Martinfield

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Sean Martinfield


I am a professional vocal coach in San Francisco. I have published over 3300 responses related to vocal training - particularly as it relates to Musical Theatre, Pop/Standard, and Opera. I have 30 years of experience as a personal trainer to working singers and actors in the San Francisco Bay Area. I sang professionally for 20 years and know what it means to live the life of a musician. I can determine your voice category, i.e., Tenor, Baritone, Bass, Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto, Alto Belter, etc., and how to broaden and strengthen your range. Need an audition song for a Broadway Musical? I can assist you with your song selections and help you build an audition portfolio that demonstrates your vocal category and meets the requirements specified in the audition notice. I have created a vocal methodology, "The Belter`s Method". It will enable those in Cabaret and Musical Theatre to practice more efficiently because it focuses on the vocal demands of professional performers and will keep you performance-ready. If what you want is a better voice and more control over your career moves and choices, contact me at: I am also a music and cultural critic for and I interview internationally recognized musicians, singers, dancers, and recording artists -- particularly those who are now appearing or scheduled to perform in San Francisco.


As a vocal coach, I work primarily with singers and actors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. My students range from absolute beginners to working professionals, from kids to senior citizens. The vast majority of my clients come to me through recommendation. I know how to identify any singer's vocal category, i.e., soprano, tenor, alto, baritone, etc. I know how to muscle-up every singer's vocal range and to expand it beyond conventional definitions. I have developed a vocal methodology for those who want to know how to belt, THE BELTER'S METHOD. There are a number of major components to my work as a vocal coach. The first is to identify the client's vocal category and to strengthen and maximize the vocal range accordingly. Then it's about teaching a reliable vocal workout that will enable the client to gain better control of their musicianship. That includes scale work to expand the vocal range and to improve placement, breath control, and diction. Then we work on material for the audition portfolio, the immediate job or assignment, a recording session, etc. My task to is to better equip singers and actors who are hoping to or relying upon their performance skills and vocal endurance to maintain a career in the Performing Arts. My clients regularly appear in cabarets and musical productions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Some have worked in New York and gone on National Tours. For more information, Contact me at:


San Francisco State University – BA in Theatre Arts; graduate work in Theatre, Philosophy, and Comparative Reiligion. Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley – Graduate work in Ethics

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