The other day, I was asked what my biggest accomplishment has been. As an opera singer, one would assume that my sense of achievement and personal success would be attributed to being on the stage. In many ways, it has been. I am attending one of the best schools in Canada for operatic training; I have spent my summers in exotic locals working with some of the most esteemed professionals in the industry; I have been offered a contract with Opera Studio Nederland for their 2010/11 season. My biggest accomplishment, however, is none of the above. My biggest accomplishment occurred January 17, 2009. On that beautiful snowy night, at The Conservatory Theatre in The Royal Conservatory of Music’s brand new Telus Center, Opera for Oprea raised nearly $14 000 for cancer drug research through The Robert & Maggie Bras and Family New Drug Development Program at Princess Margaret Hospital.
The vision behind Opera for Oprea came while backstage during a production with Opera Atelier, as three friends, Ambur Braid, Wallis Giunta, and myself were sharing stories about inspirational people. It was there that the story of Ambur’s colleague Adella Oprea was told: the story of a woman who had been enduring a long-standing battle against cancer for many years; a woman who had been in and out of remission, who had been through countless treatments, and who had continued to fight. The three girls came out during intermission to visit Adella and were struck by her positivity, strength, and her love of opera. Opera for Oprea was organized backstage at The Elgin Theatre that very evening, and our vision soon became a reality.
Organizing the charity gala was no small feat. With only a couple of months until the big evening, I had to move quickly. Luckily, I had a fantastic group of people volunteering their help and expertise from at all levels. Ambur Braid, whose personal connection to Adella Oprea fueled her commitment to the project, jumped in to organize the catering and reception, helped program the repertoire for the evening, and provided gorgeous jewels for the performers from Mindham Fine Jewelers. The Royal Conservatory of Music graciously offered the performance space, ensuring that we had all the help we needed come the night of the gala. The artists, Wallis Giunta, Michael Ciufo, Cassandra Warner and pianist Jennifer Tung, volunteered their time and talent to join Ambur and myself in a fantastic program of operatic ensembles and arias. And then, of course, there was Maggie, the President of The Robert & Maggie Bras and Family New Drug Development Program, who went above and beyond to ensure the evening was a success.
And a success it was! Over two hundred-fifty people attended Opera for Oprea. So many, in fact, that we were adding seating fifteen-minutes prior to the show! The evening began with a heart-felt speech by Ms. Bras, and then quickly moved into an exciting show of operatic arias and ensembles, ranging from Bizet’s Carmen, to Verdi’s La Traviata, to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. At the intermission, after a reception of hors d’oeuvres and champagne, the audience was ushered back to their seats for the evening’s big bang. As a novice auctioneer, I stood in front of our audience and gave them an offer: to the highest bidder, the performers from Opera for Oprea would perform at an event of their choice! Not one, but two offers of $2000 for the ensemble came from the Mr. & Mrs. Harvey Kalles and Mr. and Mrs. Andy Plata, raising an additional $4000 for cancer drug research. We sang the rest of the evening away, and though the snow billowed outside the glass walls of the theatre, both the singers and the audience felt a sense of warmth knowing they had made a difference.
Looking back on the evening, I would not have changed a thing. For me, Opera for Oprea was not only a chance to make a small dent in the development of cancer drug research, but was also a way, though be it indirectly, for me to tell someone how inspiring they have been to me. We all have our Adella Opreas; someone who has motivated us with their strength. For Maggie Bras, it is her late husband Robert Bras who inspired her to pursue a path of philanthropy. For Ambur Braid, her colleague Adella. For me, it is one of the most important people in the world, who just passed her five-year mark in remission from breast cancer. Through perseverance, a strong-will, a contagious joie-de-vivre, treatment, support, humour, tears, and determination, my mother is stronger than ever today. For me, that is the real accomplishment.