Performing opera professionally is always challenging, but especially so when you have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Mezzo-soprano Maariana Vikse, who sings the role of the Marquise of Berkenfeld in Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment told us about her experience.
Q: The physical demands of a professional opera career are considerable. How has your recent diagnosis of cancer affected your ability to rehearse and perform?
Maariana: Miraculously it has not gotten in the way. During my treatment, on days I was feeling well enough, I would sing. It kept my muscles supple, especially in my ribs, it brought circulation to the area and the deep breathing helps so much with the mental aspect of going through something scary and traumatic. I also forced myself to workout through the treatment so even though some days I was in pain or exhausted, I was able to keep the rest of me fit.
Once I was done treatment, I was able to build myself back pretty quickly. My body felt so happy to get back to “normal.” Having to build my endurance back up has given me more awareness of all of the muscles involved with singing, so in a way I feel like I have more understanding (and appreciation!) for what they do!
Q: People dealing with illness often report that music is an indispensable aid to recovery. Have you found that to be the case, and do you think being a musician has made a difference in your ability to fight the disease?
Maariana: I do not know how anyone goes through breast cancer without being an opera singer. Again the deep breathing and vibrations from my voice were incredibly healing. Listening to beautiful music is incredibly calming and centering. During radiation treatment I would “sing” my favorite aria in my head from Samson et Dalila, “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix” which translates to “My heart opens and the sound of your voice.” Each treatment was 25 seconds. I had timed it so when I finished “singing” the phrase my treatment was over for the day. Also doing this helped to distract me from the noise of the radiation machine.
Q: Is there anything about the role of the Marquise of Berkenfeld in Daughter of the Regiment that is especially challenging for you now?
Maariana: The Hat! And that has nothing to do with cancer. I wear a big, gorgeous, feathery hat for the entirety of the first act. I think it weighs 25 lbs. and it is on top of a wig. But it’s so fantastic I will make it work!
Also I would like to thank everyone at Opera Carolina. When I told them about my diagnosis initially, not only did they give me their full support but they stood by my decision to see if I could get through the treatment and recover in time to perform. Knowing I had a “gig” waiting for me at the end of treatment helped me to push through, and gave me hope and motivation. Now being [on stage], throughout this entire rehearsal process everyone has been amazing. Maestro Meena is always making sure I’m doing well and giving me encouragement, and the rest of the cast and the chorus members have been so kind and sweet, offering any help I need. I truly could not have asked for a more supportive and wonderful company to reinvigorate my career.
Q: What’s your favorite moment as a performer in the opera?
Maariana: Without a doubt listening to the overture. Waiting to go on stage. Hearing the crowd murmur, the anticipation and excitement of stepping out and sharing this amazing music with the audience. It [has] an incredible energy. It’s like the countdown to liftoff. It’s always my favorite part. It’s the time when all of the hard work comes together and you’re about to create something unique for that audience, that night.
Q: What are you especially looking forward to after this production, artistically or personally?
Maariana: Everything. I know that sounds silly, but everything is such a blessing right now. Even though my cancer was found early it was absolutely terrifying. No matter what stage of your life, or the stage of the cancer, when you hear the “C” word you feel like your life is over. To come to the other side and be given a chance again, it’s the most incredible feeling. Everyday that I get to sing is such a gift.
Learn more about Opera Carolina’s performances of The Daughter of the Regiment here.