On December 16, Toronto Children’s Chorus (TCC) returns to Roy Thomson Hall for its annual holiday concert. This special 40th anniversary performance entitled, The Fire Within, will feature guests including TCC alumnae and international opera stars Krisztina Szabó and Lesia Mackowycz, dancers from Swan Studio in London, Ontario, friends from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Youth Choir and TCC Alumni Choir. The Chorus and its guests will sing festive favourites plus Vivaldi’s Gloria at one of Toronto’s favourite annual holiday concerts!
The TCC’s Head Choristers had the opportunity to ask guest artist Krisztina Szabó some questions in anticipation of the upcoming holiday performance.
Why did you decide to pursue singing?
When I first began my degree at Western University, I was a piano major. My grand plan was to be a high school music teacher. I had always loved singing (6 years in the TCC, I should hope so!), but I had never had any private singing lessons. Dr. Darryl Edwards changed all of that. After auditioning for ensembles in first year, he approached me and said, “Do you take singing lessons?” I said, “No” to which he replied, “Well, you should!” And with that, everything changed. I started taking lessons with him on the side. Two years into my degree, I changed my major to voice and by the end of my degree (still in Music Education!), I had caught the “performing bug”. So, I decided to pursue a post-graduate programme for voice performance to “see what would happen.” And as it turned out, a career as an opera singer happened! But to answer the question “why?” is pretty simple. I love singing, I’ve always loved singing, and doing it was as natural as breathing. What could be greater than having a career doing something you love? I can’t imagine a greater gift!
What is your favourite show or song that you have ever performed? What made it so memorable?
It is so hard to pick favourites, what a hard question! I have many favourites! So, I’ll go with what popped to mind first. In 2015, I sang the role of The Woman in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Schönberg’s opera, Erwartung. It’s a 40-minute opera of just me singing some seriously complicated music. Ewartung tells the story of a woman’s madness. Every show, I was tied into a straightjacket and left alone on stage. I thought to myself, “Am I actually crazy? I’m up here by myself in a straight jacket about to sing the hardest music I’ve ever done!” And then the first notes from the orchestra started and I thought “Too late! Here we go!” and then began 40 of the most incredible minutes – exhilarating, terrifying, satisfying, intense. I loved every minute of it!
What is your favourite TCC memory?
Again, it is so hard to pick a favourite! I loved the touring – Europe in 1984, Western Canada in 1986 and Hawaii, Australia & New Zealand in 1988. Doing recordings and concerts with the one and only Maureen Forrester. Performing and recording Holst’s The Planets with the TSO. Singing Carmina Burana at Roy Thomson Hall and being enveloped in a wall of sound. But mostly, I remember the people I met in the Chorus, it was the first place where I felt I truly belonged.
What did you learn during your time at the TCC that helped contribute to the person and musician you are now?
The question should be what DIDN’T I learn… there was so much! Musicianship, work ethic, exposure to vast amounts of repertoire, sight-reading, languages, working on contemporary music with living composers, striving to give your very best at all times, supporting and celebrating your fellow musician, and most importantly, the joy of making music and raising your voice in song with others. All of these things have made me the musician I am today and have really fed my soul in a way that allowed me to entertain the idea of having a career in music.
You mentored fellow The Fire Within guest artist, Lesia Mackowycz, as a senior chorister in the TCC. How did this partnership influence you as a singer?
It was a VERY long time ago (ahem…about 30 years!) when Lesia was my apprentice, so I honestly can’t remember too much about that specifically. But, I do remember that being her “mentor” was not only fun (she was a great kid, and very on top of things!), but I loved being able to help her and I felt responsible for her and her success in the Chorus.
What advice would you give young singers?
Work hard, never take anything for granted, and never lose that joy of singing.
How do you usually prepare for a role, such as your debut at Covent Garden in the opera, Lessons in Love and Violence? Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
First and foremost, I learn my music and learn it thoroughly. When working with a living composer like George Benjamin, who is extremely detailed in his writing, it is very important to not only learn your notes, but to also respect every detail he has taken the time to write into his score. And how he has written that music informs your character. Yes, the director will also give you his or her take on it, but always look first to the music.
As for pre-performance rituals, I don’t have anything particular that I do. As a mom to an 11-year-old daughter, I have become pretty low-maintenance as a performer – moms don’t get a lot of time for self-indulgence! I do try to get a good night’s sleep before a show day, and I do try to eat something healthy before the show, enough that I’ll have energy, but not too much so I will be digesting when I sing. And I like to get to the theatre in good time to just settle in, get ready slowly and settle my nerves.
What composers are on your wish list to perform, and why?
I can’t think of any composers on my wish list, but one role I haven’t done that I would love to do is to sing the role of Octavian in Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier. It’s some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard and that final trio is just exquisite!
Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
This Q&A is not to be reproduced without permission from Toronto Children’s Chorus.