Celena Shafer is a Utah-born soprano who has wowed audiences with her countless roles with Utah Opera—and most recently with us—on our recording of Mahler No. 8. She will be performing in our upcoming concert Mozart’s Great Mass
You have a long history with the Utah Symphony—what was it like singing with the Utah Symphony for the first time?
I was 17 when I sang with the Utah Symphony for the first time. And, coincidentally, it was Mozart that I sang! I had auditioned through Salute to Youth and was chosen as one of the soloists. Joseph Silverstein was musical director at the time, and he was so gracious to me. I was so nervous and excited! It was a humongous, momentous event for me.
What is it like to sing in Abravanel Hall?
Singing in Abravanel Hall is deceptive. When you step out onto stage, you are overwhelmed by the size of the hall. But, once you start to sing, you can tell that the acoustics are such that you will be heard even on the very back rows.
My favorite thing about singing at Abravanel Hall is that it means I am singing for my home crowd, for people I know and love.
What are your fondest memories of singing in Abravanel Hall?
A concert hall is a place where we experience feelings from the music presented. Those feelings can vary from the deeply religious to the extremely profane, depending on the music and where we are in our life’s journey. I have had some deeply spiritual moments in Abravanel Hall. Most memorable to me was the last minutes of Mahler No. 2 (Resurrection), “Aufersteh’n, ja, aufersteh’n: Wirst du!” (Yes! You will rise again!) I had tears streaming down my face. The easiest thing to do as a singer is to not fight the tears, otherwise the throat seizes up… so I just let the tears stream.
When I sang a New Year’s concert a few years back, Thierry Fischer, just as a gag, had me conduct the orchestra for a bar or two… whew! That’s a biggie—giving a downbeat for the Utah Symphony!
I have so many fond memories of the orchestra players in Abravanel Hall, both onstage and backstage. They have always been so tremendously supportive and kind. That kind of environment helps musicians achieve their best.
What do you find particularly beautiful or moving about Mozart’s Mass in C Minor?
I love the way the credo is set. Mozart moves the text and music of the credo along nicely, but comes to an absolute halt for the text: “God became incarnate through Mary, and was made flesh.”
He gives this line of text a whole aria, emphasizing the absolute wonder that God would I am amazed and awed to think that God would be one of us, to have our human experiences, to feel the pain and beauty of being human. WOW.