Ann Watt grew up in Vancouver and began studying music at age nine. She started with piano, and switched to vocal studies in her teens. She sang in her school’s glee club and competed as a soprano in the British Columbia Music Festival, once winning the highest marks in her event. After leaving school, Watt worked at the retail store Woolworth’s and then in a family business. She began singing as a soloist in public and took voice lessons with Avis Phillips.
Beginning in 1940, Watt undertook stage roles, mostly with Vancouver’s Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), even though such a career was in opposition to her family’s strict religious beliefs. She moved from early supporting roles (e.g., in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado), to consecutive starring roles in TUTS operetta productions such as Kathie in The Student Prince (1943), Marietta in Naughty Marietta (1944), Nadina in The Chocolate Soldier (1945) and Sonia Sodoya in The Merry Widow (1946). Watt also appeared for the Edmonton Civic Opera Society in 1946 at Edmonton’s Empire Theatre, singing the role of Sarah Millick in Noël Coward’s Bitter Sweet. Other roles that Watt sang included Angèle Didier in The Count of Luxembourg (1946) and Katherine de Vaucelles in The Vagabond King. She also sang in TUTS’ touring productions in Seattle and Portland (e.g., Naughty Marietta), and in Nanaimo, BC (The Chocolate Soldier).
CBC Radio Broadcasts
Watt’s voice teacher, Avis Phillips, introduced her to CBC Radio’s regional manager, Ira Dilworth, who booked Watt to sing short evening recitals on national CBC Radio. From 1943 to 1947, Watt was a frequent performer on national and international radio programs such as Canada Calling, which was broadcast to Canadian troops overseas. Other radio shows on which she sang, often accompanied by pianist Phylis Dilworth, were variously titled Ann Watt Sings , Ann Watt and Ann Watt, Soprano. In 1946, Watt appeared with American radio and stage star Eddie Cantor and others in the radio show Vancouver Jubilee.
Watt’s varied repertoire included such popular and jazz standards as Noël Coward’s “I’ll See You Again” and songs by Rogers and Hart, as well as German lieder (often sung in English due to wartime sentiments) and other classical songs and arias (e.g., Vaughan Williams’s “Silent Noon” and Debussy’s “Mandoline”). A typical Watt broadcast recital featured her singing just such a mix of classical and musical theatre selections, backed by an orchestra directed by Percy Harvey. On the 1944 program Music from the Pacific, she sang Rossini’s “La Danza,” Johann Strauss’s “Artist’s Life,” Victor Herbert’s “Love is Best of All,” and Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Fields’s “Up In Central Park.”
Concerts and Recordings
Watt appeared several times as a soloist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Ernest MacMillan, including for the Summer Symphony event. In 1946, she also recorded the jazz standard “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” for radio station CJOR. One of her final concerts in Canada was for the Vancouver Kiwanis Glee Club in 1947.
Reviews of the period describe Watt’s performances as vivacious and charming, and praise her acting, stage sense and interpretation, mentioning a rich and lovely lyric soprano voice with a versatile range.
After the end of the Second World War, Watt moved to London, England, in search of career opportunities. She performed in September 1949 with British composer Ivor Novello in his stage musical King’s Rhapsody, and gave recitals on BBC Radio, but did not find the starring roles she had hoped for. At this point she began to experience vocal difficulties with her high notes. She took further voice lessons, notably with the German soprano Elisabeth Schumann, before abandoning her singing career.
In 1949, Watt married the Australian violinist Patrick Halling, who played with the London Philharmonic and London Symphony orchestras.
Induction, Pioneer Category, BC Entertainment Hall of Fame (2013)