Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano. Photo by Bo Huang
Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano. Photo: Bo Huang

Krisztina Szabó is no stranger to the Tafelmusik stage: she first appeared as part of our Handel Messiah program in 2016, and has been a regular guest artist ever since.

We’re delighted to welcome Krisztina back for our forthcoming program, The Voice of Vivaldi. Ahead of her return, we caught up with Krisztina to discuss some of the innovative programming initiatives she’s been involved with, as well as what she’s most excited for audiences to hear in our upcoming concert.

You were meant to appear in not one, but two Tafelmusik concerts in our planned 2020/21 Season: Bach St John Passion, and Vivaldi’s Choral Colours. But… sadly, the pandemic had other plans! How have you been handling the last year, as a performer and professional musician?

When the pandemic first started, I think—like everyone else on the planet—I was in a state of shock. I had been looking forward to a busy spring of performing, and it all started to melt away, contract by contract, as the reality of what we were facing began to really hit home.

I had the good fortune of pivoting very early to digital performing with a recital program for Tapestry Opera in March 2020. I had been slated to be a visiting teacher with young artists for their Opera 101 program and when that got cancelled, they asked me to do a livestream recital instead with pianist Christopher Foley. It might have been one of the strangest, most stressful, but most profound performances of my life: singing in a space I had spent a lot of time in over the years, with only a handful of people, all masked, all distanced. All of us, I think, were a little fearful of one another. But then to have the gift of performing, and to know how many people had tuned in online to watch us—it felt like the musical community was really coming together in the only way we could at that time, and it was profoundly moving.

Throughout the pandemic my experience has been a combination of isolation, performing under very different circumstances—but also, this feeling of community and coming together in new ways.

And, how have I handled it? Like everyone, as best I could… sometimes not well at all. But, I’m still here, still performing and feeling very, very grateful to be doing so.

Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó performs on stage of Jeanne Lamon Hall with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.
Photo: Dahlia Katz

It’s great to have you back as a part of our next program, The Voice of Vivaldi—where you’ll be performing Bach, Albinoni, and of course, Vivaldi. Have you performed this repertoire before? What pieces are you most excited for audiences to hear?

The entire program is wonderful, of course, but I think I am most excited for audiences to hear J.C. Bach’s Lamento “Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte.” The orchestra members play exquisitely—so sensitively and emotionally—and the piece is just incredible.

We noticed (and loved) Tapestry’s Sketch Comedy Opera series, which you took part in! How was this experience? And, what other innovative and interesting digital initiatives did you take part in throughout the pandemic?

Tapestry’s Sketch Opera Singers was both ridiculously fun to be a part of, and also stressful. I did some of the recording—both audio and video—on my own, in my own home. So, the learning curve was steep for me on the technical side!

When we could come together to film—all safely following COVID protocols—it was just pure joy to be in the same room with my colleagues again: being playful and making something innovative together.

Other than Tapestry’s Sketch Opera Singers, I was fortunate to be a part of quite a few digital performances over the last while: two recitals, one at the University of British Columbia (UBC) to an empty Chan Centre (quite a luxury!), and another for Vancouver Bach Choirs' Behind the Keys with pianist Leslie Dala.

I was also a soloist with Vancouver Opera singing Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and was also a performer for Festival of the Sound’s opera gala. And I was in the livestream world premiere of the Azrieli Music Prize winner Yotam Haber’s composition Estro Poetico Armonico III, which I also recorded last summer and released on Analekta this past fall.

Close up of mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó performing on stage of Jeanne Lamon Hall with a violinist next to her.
Photo: Dahlia Katz

As pandemic restrictions are changing and lifting, how do you feel about returning to the live concert hall? What are you most excited about with regards to performing for in-real-life crowds?

There is nothing quite like the energy exchange between performer and audience, so I am most excited about that returning as restrictions are lifted. I’ve now done three performances for in-person audiences in the last few weeks, and it has been quite emotional each time.

You recently joined the University of British Columbia, as assistant professor of voice and opera. How has that experience been?

It was an interesting time to start a new job, that is for sure! The UBC School of Music has been very welcoming, and I have wonderful, talented, enthusiastic students that gave me great focus through the challenging transition. The position is a real honour and I’m thrilled to be there, although I miss my friends, colleagues and students from the University of Toronto very much.

What music have you been listening to and enjoying lately? Baroque or otherwise!

I tend to be listening to music that I am working on, so currently it is Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. But now that Halloween is over, my daughter has decided it is all Christmas music all the time, so that is what we are listening to at home. The Charlie Brown Christmas album is one of her favourites, and who can fault her?Vince Guaraldi is fabulous!

Besides our forthcoming concert, where else can audiences catch you performing next?

I will be performing the role of Euridice with Vancouver Opera in Orfeo ed Euridice, December 4 to 5, 2021 in Vancouver. After that, I am appearing with the COC in Bluebeard’s Castle (digital performance, release date to be determined). I’ll be a soloist with the Vancouver Symphony as well as Vancouver Bach Choirs in the spring. And in May 2022, I will be premiering in Nicole Lizée’s new opera R.U.R. A Torrent of Light for Tapestry Opera.

Hungarian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó is highly sought after in both North America and Europe as an artist of supreme musicianship and stagecraft, and has become known for her promotion and performance of contemporary Canadian works. Among her many laudatory reviews, Opera Canada  declared her to be an “exceptional talent” after her performance of the title role of Dido in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and after a performance with Tapestry Opera, the music blog, Schmopera wrote that “her instrument is one-of-a-kind and she has cemented herself as a darling of Canadian experimental music and opera…her sensibility and sensitivity to the material is truly inspiring”. In her hometown of Toronto, Canada, she has been nominated twice for a Dora Award for Outstanding Female Performance.

The Voice of Vivaldi premieres December 2, 2021 at 8pm ET. Learn more and buy tickets here.

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