The Birth of a Diva: Zanda Švēde and
the San Francisco Opera


The latest role for mezzo soprano Zanda Švēde is Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin, which has been staged to great acclaim at the Idaho State Opera. Since 2014, Zanda has been a recipient of one of the most prestigious fellowships in the music world, the Kurt Adler scholarship. She works for the San Francisco Opera and is currently preparing for roles in Mozart’s Magic Flute and Requiem, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Berlioz’s The Trojans, among others. Zanda learned the foundations of music at Latvia’s Valmiera School of Music and under the tutelage of Gaida Ungure at a vocal studio.


“I never thought that I would become a professional singer,” says Zanda. “I thought that I would become a tourism manager and work at a hotel. Singing was just a hobby.” After studying tourism organisation and management, Zanda spent five years at the Dikļi Castle Hotel before taking the decision to return to music. She entered the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, while looking actively for opportunities to study abroad and to enhance her skills with the help of private instructors.


In the summer of 2013, Zanda took part in the prestigious Merola Opera Programme in San Francisco, which intensively trains young artists in musical style and interpretation, acting, role preparation, blocking, foreign languages and phonetics. From among some 800 applicants, Zanda was named one of the 25 best. She is on her way, it can easily be said, to writing the story of an outstanding opera star born and raised in Latvia. In this endeavour, she will join Maija Kovaļevska, Aleksandrs Antoņenko, Elīna Garanča, Kristīne Opolais, Egils Siliņš and Marina Rebeka – just a handful of the great talents from Latvia who have received standing ovations at prestigious venues such as the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala.


Clearly, Zanda has overcome any doubts and is flourishing, while pursuing her love for – and career in – music. She says that the quality of musical education in Latvia operates at a very high level and is often focused on many practical issues, particularly in the vocal arts. “In comparison to the United States, students in Latvia have much more contact with teachers, and so they have the opportunity to learn more,” Zanda says. “A big bonus in Latvia is music secondary schools.”