Vocalist - Mezzo-Soprano
Acclaim
Krisztina Szabo
I have two different lives because I'm both a mother and an opera singer. When I'm at home, in Toronto, I'm normally up very early with my daughter. My inner opera singer would prefer to get up closer to 10am but at 8am Phoibe usually calls out from her bed, "Mummy, I'm awake." She's not a quiet child. I guess, being the daughter of an opera singer, she's not going to be retiring.

Kristin, my husband, is great about getting up. He's the executive director of a union for visual artists in Toronto, nothing to do with opera. He's a behind-the-scenes kind of guy which suits me well because I've dated enough singers. Being with a fellow performer is always challenging. Some people make it work but it gets difficult. It can be very competitive and if they're both travelling a lot, they hardly connect.

I have a very understanding husband. He loves opera and totally supports what I do. He's much less of a diva than a fellow singer. We're a needy bunch. We have to sleep a lot and we have to have people who listen to us complain about the business and all the different stresses. I tended to date more baritones than tenors. Once, in an opera, I sang opposite a singer I was dating and we broke up in the middle of the show. That was very uncomfortable. My husband is probably the first non-singer I dated, and I married him.

After we get up, he goes around the corner to our local Italian cafe and brings me home a latte. Then I'll have oatmeal for breakfast. I watch what I eat. The opera stage has become more of a Hollywood thing. It used to be you could be any size of an opera singer, but now the expectation is for you to look like Angelina Jolie and sing like Maria Callas. No pressure! I'm very lucky that I've basically been the same weight since I was 16, but it's harder to keep the weight off after having a child.

Phoibe is in day care three days a week and on those days I cram in as much as I can -- with singing lessons and trying to learn music. If she's around, there's absolutely no way that I'm going to get anything done. She requires a great deal of attention, as three-year-olds do. I'm a lyric mezzo and in terms of singing these are my busy years because lyric mezzos play more youthful characters. But I wanted to be a mother, too. I'd seen other older singers who passed the age where they could have children. They let their careers dictate whether or not they had children and they had become embittered about it. My career could all end tomorrow. If there's not a real life on the other side of that, then it's going to be empty and I didn't want to be one of those past their sell-by date on the mothering front. I wanted a real life.

Every time I sing, Phoibe starts weeping uncontrollably. It's not a good reaction and I'm hoping that one day it will pass. Because I'm away a lot, she associates singing with Mummy going away. Also, when I'm singing on stage she can't access me. She can't run up on stage and say, "Mummy, let's do this."

I am away a lot for work. I was in Austria for four months for an opera and it was extremely lonely and isolating. I didn't speak the language, but even if you do, your life is not there. You have this weird sort of half-life and you attach yourself to your colleagues. Everyone is in the same boat. I spent a lot of my time by myself feeling very guilty but I tried to stay connected with Skype.

Having a family makes me feel more grounded and a more complete person. If something goes horribly wrong -- if I get a bad critique or if a coach is particularly hard -- then I can turn around and play with my daughter and forget about it.

I try to sleep as much as I can but in a performance situation I become an insomniac. The adrenalin is running very high, so you can't shut off easily. Sleep becomes more of a challenge. I tried doing yoga but in the end I found that hot toddies worked. On the day of a performance I try to keep quiet and focused. I'm not normally fussy about when to eat, but last year in the Wexford Festival Opera my corset costume was so tight that I was afraid to eat after 3pm. The opera started at 7.30pm. Usually you stay away from garlic and anything else that is going to come back in your colleagues' faces, unless you don't like them. Then you have a lot of garlic.

We usually have our slots for hair and make-up. I like to chat during that time because if I get too silent, I start to worry and stress myself out. I like to keep things normal until I'm out on stage. The moments before I go on I get most nervous. Am I going to forget something today? Is my voice going to be OK? But as soon as I go out, I leave all that behind me and do my job. It's thrilling to see the audience out there. You can feel their energy. When they're quiet, you can feel them being attentive. People don't realise that you can see their faces, especially in the first few rows. I can see if you're dozing off or if you look stern. But you can't really focus on that because it'll be distracting. At the end of a show, you know what sort of audience they were and how they enjoyed it.

After a performance I'm high as a kite and could eat a steak. If I don't have my family with me, I can stay out until 2am to digest whatever I've eaten.

If I'm away from home, I usually say good night to my family in my head before I go to sleep.

I love what I do. I feel very lucky to do what I do and have that family life. I have the best of both worlds.

Ciara Dwyer, The Independent (Ireland)
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