ANU School of Music Alumna Katrina Waters challenges stereotypes with powerful voice

Waters is researching dramatic female voices for her PhD at ANU School of Music. Photo: Creswick Collective
Waters is researching dramatic female voices for her PhD at ANU School of Music. Photo: Creswick Collective
Tuesday 7 May 2024

"Despite their dramatic range, large-voiced sopranos and mezzos face a long wait for their voices to mature. ANU opera singer Katrina Waters is moving this challenge to centre stage.

The performing arts has always been an industry that worships youth, especially in women, but for a certain kind of opera singer, career success can be decades in the making.

Dramatic female voices — female singers with a vocal range darker and heavier than sopranos — do not truly come into their power as vocalists until their late thirties or early forties.

Katrina Waters was in her late teens when she was first told that her voice would not truly mature for another 20 years.

After beginning a double degree in science and law, Waters’ lifelong love of musical theatre led her to apply for a place at the School of Music at The Australian National University (ANU). But after she auditioned successfully, it was not Broadway that beckoned.

Throughout her first year, the Head of Voice Anthea Moller encouraged her to consider a different medium for her talents.

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Women’s voices are affected by the hormonal changes they experience throughout their lives, including menstruation, perimenopause and menopause. So, what does this mean when your voice is your instrument and your livelihood?

For dramatic sopranos, securing the operatic roles that best suit their fully developed range can be an incredibly long waiting game.

It’s this that Waters is exploring in her PhD. After more than a decade of performing and training in the United Kingdom and Europe, the singer has returned to ANU to complete her doctorate.

'I wanted to know how other women deal with this maturation, how they deal with the uncertainty of not knowing whether they’ll be successful in their careers,' Waters says.

Her dissertation features interviews with dramatic sopranos and mezzo-sopranos from around the world and a specially composed song cycle.

'How do you build your body, your voice and your psyche so that you can go in and sing the largest loudest roles, when you’ve been told for so long that your voice is too wild and that you need to make yourself smaller?' Waters says. 'It’s got parallels for a lot of women everywhere.'

Waters’ research topic has also caught the interest of Australia’s national broadcaster. In 2023, she was selected to take part in the arts stream of the ABC Top 5 media residency program.  

'It’s been the best thing I’ve done in my PhD,' Waters says.

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Read original article from ANU Reporter by Amanda Diaz.

Updated:  7 May 2024/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications