Take one look across the indie landscape and you'll notice something that wasn't there when bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth ruled the alternative music universe -- classically trained singers.
These singers may know their cabalettas from their cadenzas, but artists like Katie Stelmanis, from Toronto electro-goth dance act Austra, are quick to clarify that a night out with her band isn't a night out at the opera.
"I don't think that what I'm doing really has much to do with opera in terms of the sound," Stelmanis, herself a classically trained singer, tells Spinner. "I think we take a lot from opera just in terms of the visual intensity of it and it's just very theatrical. That lends a big influence to our project, but musically I think that we're pretty far from opera."
Still, artists like Stelmanis are part of a growing legion of skilled women lending their voices to adventurous contemporary music. Shara Worden, best known as My Brightest Diamond, has worked with the likes of The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens and The National. Canadian Rachel Zeffira lends her skills to Faris Badwan from The Horrors' side-project, Cat's Eyes, and artists like Zola Jesus' Nika Roza Danilova are making the world safe again for powerful voices not consumed with trying to imitate Christina Aguilera's weird finger flicking thing.
Stelmanis figures it's the actual sound of proper opera that people don't like.
"I think that's what generally people have the hardest time with listening to opera," she says. "That's where the acquired taste lies, like trying to find the sound of the opera singer. A lot of people will probably never do it."
But if hard rock and heavy metal could successfully co-opt the likes of Judas Priest's Rob Halford, Iron Maiden's Rob Dickinson and Queen's Freddie Mercury back in the day, anything's possible.
Last year Austra, who play the Hard Toronto festival on Aug. 4, performed with Rufus Wainwright at an event called Operanation, the purpose of which was to expose younger people to opera. Stelmanis understands the unlikely marriage of these musical worlds. She figures if she can be part of a next generation U2-meets-Luciano Pavarotti, she's happy to do so.
"Because my opera background is a big part of Austra everybody knows about it and talks about it," says Stelmanis. "And I mean, maybe in that sense it kind humanizes it in a way, they see it in a different way because it's, like, I studied opera but I'm not a grey-haired old person. I love operas. I go to operas all the time and it's something that anybody could enjoy.
"So in that sense maybe it's like normalizes it in a way to have someone like us be big advocators of opera."