In a deep, sultry voice as hauntingly beautiful as when she sings, Canadian opera start Measha Brueggergosman describes her summer in Nova Scotia, where she has spent the last four months recovering from open-heart surgery, as an opportunity to be with her family when they most needed her.
And when she needed to be with them.
She is just 42, far too young to require a double bypass — never mind that it’s her second, 10 years after her first heart surgery.
From her home in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, which she describes as down a long driveway, “off the beaten track,” overlooking a private lake so small it’s not on a map, she is feeling good. Great, in fact.
“This is exactly how I hoped my life would turn out,” she says. “I’m really blessed to call this my home.”
It hasn’t been without its ups and downs, and recently, a lot of downs. She is now a single mom to two young boys, which is not an ideal situation when her career means spending a great deal of time away from home, and she and her mother are still mourning the loss of her father, by all accounts a very special and beloved man, and an important figure in her life. He died within days after her surgery, and shortly after that, her mother was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour.
But there is no hint of anything but joy and gratitude in Brueggergosman’s voice as she talks about the past few months. Although it took heart surgery to keep her at home, it was where she was meant to be at this time in her life, she says. And life wouldn’t be the same without hardships along the way — hardships which she describes as “redirections, the doors of opportunity swinging open.”
She was finishing up a tour that had included a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall in May, and ended in July in Calgary, when she began having chest pains and went to the emergency room, where the surgery was performed.
The last four months, she says, have been an opportunity to take some time off to be with her kids, and to look after her mother during her cancer treatments.
And more recently, as her strength returned, to think about what’s coming up this weekend — her return to touring when she opens the Bravo Niagara! season with a performance in St. Catharines this Saturday, Oct. 19.
She’s feeling strong, ready to perform, and looking forward to it, she says, happy that her first performance after her recuperation will be in a place she loves, doing the work she loves.
And Christine Mori, founder of Bravo Niagara!, couldn’t be happier that the renowned international opera star has chosen Niagara for her return.
“The last time she was here for a couple of days. A lot of times musicians are on tours and are in and out of here the same day, but we ended up spending a lot of time with her. She had to get to Hamilton while she was here, so she took my car. That’s the kind of relationships we’ve developed with a lot of people, by giving them our personal attention.”
Mori says she has arranged a “very special concert,” with 30 children from the Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir singing a few songs on stage with her.
“She’s gone from Carnegie Hall, with thousands of people in the spring, to this 300-seat, intimate venue. It’s going to be an amazing recital.”
She is much more accustomed to filling large opera houses, and for her to perform before a small audience at this stage of her career is rare, says Mori.
She recalls an extremely moving performance of Brueggergosman’s for the Royal Family at Westminster Abbey in 2017, to celebrate Commonwealth Day, singing songs such as We Shall Overcome, and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
“We’re so fortunate to be able to have her here in Niagara again.”
In addition to cancelling some concert dates this summer, Brueggergosman also had to give up her Carmen debut in Helsinki, which she admits to having been a very lucrative opportunity she missed out on.
Cancellations are not good for business, when so many people are depending on you to perform, she says. Relationships and reputations are built slowly, and are important for longevity in her career.
“You’d think open-heart surgery would give you a get out of jail free card.”
But people tend to remember the cancellation, and not the reason for it, she says.
“They’re not sympathetic to the reason for being derailed, they tend to focus on the fact that it was derailed. They have a short memory for the reason. I’ll do anything I can to mend the relationships. You are your reputation.”
To her, that means being reachable, being dependable, and being kind.
“There is always time for kindness. That’s something I value in people around me, and something I try to be consistent about.”
Her faith also keeps her strong. “My faith is my armour to protect me. It shores me up.”
When asked if it has helped her through the difficult times, she says it helps always.
“There is no time in your life when you don’t need your faith, but especially when your heart breaks, physically and emotionally,” she says, speaking of the loss of her father.
“People truly loved my dad. He was the pillar of the community in two provinces. The most beautiful thing about my father’s life is he was exactly who people thought he was. He was consistent, and tender-hearted, and very generous.”
Sometimes she finds she is caught by her grief — it hits her, and makes her sad, but she knows she is healing. She also has to constantly remind herself it has not been very long since his death, but in the meantime she has been there for her mother and her boys, “and there is a life to be lived, a purpose to be filled, things to be done, and a need to think beyond ourselves. There is so much more to this existence than ourselves.”
The next step for her, in this life to be lived, is to come to Niagara, which she loves, and to perform for Mori and Bravo Niagara!, which she also loves.
It will be her second performance at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, although her first in the small, intimate Recital Hall.
“I’ve only ever had great times in the Niagara region, and I don’t say that lightly. I am so grateful to have this gig where it is. I can dust off my skills in a collaborative community, regenerate my commitment to ensemble performances, where I started. This is the favourite part of my job. For me it’s classical music at its most honest.”
Tickets are $53, $28 for university and college students and $5 for high school students. To purchase tickets online visit https://www.firstontariopac.ca/Online/mapSelect.asp.