UBC’s Krisztina Szabo voices excitement about heading back to school

The School of Music at UBC has a new faculty member in mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo, who has signed on as assistant professor of voice and opera. PHOTO BY BO HUANG

The school of music at the University of British Columbia recently announced the appointment of a new faculty member: mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo, who has signed on as assistant professor of voice and opera.

For Szabo the move follows many seasons of participation in Vancouver’s music scene. Her first big performance here was in Vancouver Opera’s 2011 production of Mozart’s little-known La Clemenza di Tito. Subsequently she’s often sung for Early Music Vancouver and, last fall, for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Mozart’s Requiem.

She is from the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, the child of Hungarian parents who wisely kept their native language and culture alive at home.

“Stubbornness runs in my family,” said Szabo. “My paternal grandmother lived in Canada for 37 years and managed not to learn any English!”

She earned her first degree from the University of Western Ontario, then was off to London’s renowned Guildhall School of Music. Her vocal career advanced, in part, because of her versatility.

“Diversity of repertoire is one of my strengths,” she said.

Szabo can go from baroque to contemporary music — and most everything in between — in a flash. So far, Vancouver audiences tend to first think of her as a specialist in 18th-century works. Her affinity for contemporary work, domestic and imported, is just as strong.

“I have good relationships with a number of Canadian composers,” added Szabo.

Over the seasons she’s performed in two operas by Ana Sokolovic, Svadba/Wedding and The Midnight Court, as well as Claude Vivier’s magnum opus Kopernikus. In the 2017-18 season, Szabo made high-profile Royal Opera and Netherlands Opera debuts in George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence; the recording of this latest opera by the star British composer was subsequently nominated for a Grammy.

What many aren’t familiar with is Szabo’s background and experience as a voice pedagogue.

“I was a piano major in university when I switched to voice,” said Szabo. “I’ve been teaching at U of T for six years while pursuing a professional singing career. When you teach students about how the voice works, you gain new insight into how you yourself manage things.

“I had the advantage of wonderful pedagogical instructors myself, and their teachings did stay with me, and still inform my work today.”

Joining UBC came about through her many contacts in the industry.

“A colleague at UBC told me there was a position opening up, female candidate preferred, with performance experience and university-level teaching experience. He asked if he could put my name forward, and of course I said yes.”

With the future of staged opera more or less uncertain for the next while, Szabo is delighted to be joining the UBC faculty at what seems like a particularly opportune moment.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for me at a time when all performing is on hold.”

Szabo’s appointment is a good move for the school of music as she brings a broad insider knowledge of how the world of opera really works. She’s well-known in Canadian vocal circles, and her network is as international as it gets. She’s been featured in productions by London’s Royal Opera, Netherlands Opera, Wexford Festival Opera and L’Opéra National du Rhin to name some of the international companies she’s sung with. She brings strong connections and exceptional expertise with her to the West Coast.

On Sept. 1 it was time for Szabo to relocate to a new apartment, starting out with a good mattress and a top of the line coffee maker, a new job and a new group of students.

“The classical community in Vancouver has always been very welcoming to me, so I am looking forward to becoming part of it.”