2023, Volume 24
Brünnhilde Bleeds: The Impact of Hormonal Changes on the Professional Dramatic Soprano
AUTHOR: Katrina Waters
ABSTRACT: The dramatic soprano is not a beginner’s voice type. The late maturation of dramatic voices, both male and female, is a well-documented phenomenon and presents challenges for the dramatic singer that are not encountered by lighter voices or other musicians. The instrument of the dramatic soprano matures in her mid-thirties to mid-forties, and she can still be performing dramatic roles in her late 60s. It has also been well documented that during these ages, women’s bodies undergo vast hormonal changes related to fertility, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause. Recent scholarship on the effects of female hormonal changes, in particular perimenopause and menopause, have mainly focused on the speaking voice or the singing voice of amateur and choral singers. However, the effects of hormonal changes on the professional female operatic singing voice are under researched. This essay reports the results of life history interviews with 13 professional female singers who have sung dramatic Wagnerian roles, particularly that of Brünnhilde, between the ages of 43 and 68. The embodied experience of these singers is that although hormonal changes related to ageing can affect the voice, these effects can be mitigated and addressed through technical training of the voice and physical training of the body, and for some singers, by hormone and alternative therapies. These interviews also reveal a range of concerns among professional singers about the implications of speaking out about the effects of hormonal changes on their voices. Critically, this points to why such experiences may have remained understudied.
KEYWORDS: dramatic soprano, hormonal changes, fertility, pregnancy, perimenopause, menopause, life history interviews, Brünnhilde, misogyny, women's bodies
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