National Cancer Survivors Day 2017: Celebrating 6 Famous Opera Singers Who Have Overcome Cancer

Photo by Pavel Vaan & Leonid Semenyuk

In recognition of National Cancer Survivors Day, OperaWire would like to focus on six opera singers who have won their battle with cancer and have paved the way for many artists to come, from their repertory to outstanding vocal performance.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Dima needs little introduction and his battle with cancer has been one of the most documented of recent times. Hvorostovsky was diagnosed with brain cancer in late June of 2015. He immediately went in for treatment, which resulted in him taking a step back from performing. In May 2017, Mr. Hvorostovsky made a surprise appearance at the Metropolitan Opera’s gala concert celebrating the company’s 50 years at Lincoln Center.

In an interview with the New York Times, Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb related how the big event had come about.  “He told me that his doctors encouraged him to keep singing and that every day he had been working out physically and singing every day, and he said he really wanted to come to New York and be a part of the gala.”

Through his challenges, the beloved baritone has remained committed to his art and has refused to let illness get in the way of what he enjoys most.

Giuseppe Filianoti

The Italian tenor thought his career was over when he discovered he had thyroid cancer. After taking in the news, Filianoti underwent surgery to remove his thyroid gland, which then left one of his vocal cords paralyzed.

Following the procedure doctors assured Filianoti he would never sing again, but the tenor persevered and continued to train in order to allow his voice to come back.

Filianoti’s drive allowed him to fully recover one year later, and to return to the role of Nemorino in “The Elixir Of Love” in 2014.

José Carreras

The third tenor’s plight was actually what brought Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo together to create one of music’s most famous ensembles.

In 1987, Carreras was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Carreras then opted to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Although he thought his time was limited, the treatment combined with chemotherapy was successful. He is making his farewell tour this year, 30 years after the diagnosis.

Marilyn Horne

The great American mezzo began her battle with pancreatic cancer in December 2005, shortly before her 72nd birthday. She immediately underwent chemotherapy at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center for nine months.

After the procedure, her tumor shrank enough to be removed by September 2006. Horne was cleared for surgery and was enrolled into a study to receive a new cancer vaccine at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. A now cancer-free Horne spends her time actively involved in the opera world as a teacher and mentor for upcoming artists.

Plácido Domingo

The great tenor-turned-baritone’s journey with cancer began in March of 2010 when he underwent surgery for colon cancer. He has since made a full recovery.

Ruth Ann Swenson

The great American soprano was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery in October of 2006 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. As a precaution, she followed up surgery with chemotherapy. Ms. Swenson then made it her duty to take the stage once again when she performed just six weeks after finishing chemotherapy.

Are there any other major opera singers that have won the battle with cancer? Let us know in the comments below so that those people can also be honored on this important day. 

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About the Author

Jasawn Pryce
Jasawn Pryce is currently completing his BA in Communications with a minor in Theatre Arts. Ever since he was 16 years-old he became intrigued in the culture of Opera. Since then he went on to study vocal music where he became classically trained in high school at the Professional Performing Arts School. He has performed at David Geffen Hall and the United Nations

3 Comments on "National Cancer Survivors Day 2017: Celebrating 6 Famous Opera Singers Who Have Overcome Cancer"

  1. Laurie Rogers | June 4, 2017 at 9:07 am | Reply

    I am an opera coach and conductor, and 17-year breast cancer survivor. I worked throughout my chemo treatments, and firmly believe this is part of what contributed to my resilience and healing. Thank you for this article!

  2. Larry H Petrovich | June 4, 2017 at 10:00 am | Reply

    Mr. Carreras’s diagnosis in 1987 would make it 30 years ago this year, not 20.

  3. I believe the fine soprano, Dawn Upshaw, is a cancer survivor. Perhaps someone else can confirm this.

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