Magazine article Opera Canada

Thoroughly Modern Mezzo: The Story of Krisztina Szabo's Career Is a Study of What It Takes to Become a Consummate Professional

Magazine article Opera Canada

Thoroughly Modern Mezzo: The Story of Krisztina Szabo's Career Is a Study of What It Takes to Become a Consummate Professional

Article excerpt

It takes many skills to thrive in the world of singing and opera, and fans inside and outside the business all seem to agree that Krisztina Szabo has mastered them all. "She's a riveting actress," says Darryl Edwards, who has been the mezzo's teacher and mentor for 25 years, "and she makes any music she sings her own, whether it's Mozart or Schoenberg. She also has the ability to move one in a way few can. Plus she is a superb colleague who arrives solidly prepared, and while knowing her abilities, she is actually shy and humble in her work, and she is deferential to and respectful of the work of others. She exemplifies today's modern singer."

The gifted Canadian mezzo is as highly respected by colleagues for her good humour as she is for her musicianship, stage prowess and work ethic. Baritone Brett Polegato, who has known Szabo since they first sang together in a production of Show Boat in Strasbourg, France, in 2002, says: "I don't think I've ever laughed so much on a show. And we've been fast friends ever since. As an artist, she really gets to the heart of a piece, both musically and emotionally. Plus she is one of the hardest-working artists I know."

Acknowledged as one of Canada's most accomplished Mozart interpreters, Szabo is equally well known for her performances of music of the 20th and 21st centuries. "I totally love learning new music," she says, "it's fun, like a Sudoku puzzle, for me. I love figuring it out, as it keeps my brain firing. But there's a lot of competition in this area and there are a lot of new people coming up. So you have to set yourself apart. I think that what I pride myself on is my work ethic and my willingness to be flexible. In rehearsal, I'm open to anything. I will do or try anything."

It is this rehearsal process that she finds the most exhilarating. "Rehearsals have a totally different energy. In rehearsal, you're creating something together with your colleagues. There's a lot of give and take and figuring things out, while in performance things have largely been worked through. Things do change with each performance, to be sure, and there's fun in that, too, but I love the journey of getting to the performance."

Szabo's own journey as a singer began in Mississaugua, Ont., where she was born in 1972 to Hungarian immigrant parents. Her father was a foreman in a welding company and her mother an accountant, but while not professional musicians, both had a strong background of amateur operetta in Hungary "I've been told that my father had a beautiful voice, but by the time I was old enough to remember, he refused to sing because, as he said, 'I smoked away my voice.' As for operetta, I love it."

She began her musical studies at age 9, first as a pianist and then as a member of the Toronto Children's Chorus, where, under the watchful eye of conductor Jean Ashworth Bartle, she blossomed. "The TCC was the first place where I felt like myself," she says. "I was a very shy kid from a very strict Hungarian family, so going to the TCC was the first place where I felt valued. I thrived on the music making, on the challenges. We sang in all sorts of different languages, we travelled all over the place, we worked with Maureen Forrester and other guest artists of high calibre. It was really exciting for me and I loved every second of it. And it really helped me come out as a person."

According to Ashworth Bartle, the young student even at that time showed huge promise: "A great sound. A great ear. And a great brain. A winning combination."

In 1990, Szabo enrolled in the Music Education programme at the University of Western Ontario, where she majored in piano. But by her second year, she had become disenchanted with the instrument. "It was so stressful. My piano professor, who was phenomenal but very old school, wanted to strip away all the technique I had come with in order to rebuild it." But the process turned out to be more destructive. …

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