“I didn’t think I would die the first time and I didn’t think I would die this time,” says Measha Brueggergosman, speaking bluntly about her recent open-heart surgery and the other one that happened 10 years earlier almost to the day. “It didn’t seem like the thing that would take me out.”
The late musician Warren Zevon, diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, famously offered the advice that one should “enjoy every sandwich.” Brueggergosman? The beloved 42-year-old Canadian soprano and international operatic star enjoys every invasive heart procedure. “It’s too much to say I’m victorious," she says, “but I do feel like I’m winning.”
In July, Brueggergosman had closed the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra season with a program of Bizet, Massenet, Gershwin and Joni Mitchell. Staying with friends before flying home to Nova Scotia, she awoke with chest pains. After packing her bags, she went downstairs and told her friends not to panic but that she would need to go to the emergency room, “like, an hour ago.”
Now, almost four months after a five-hour double-bypass surgery at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, Brueggergosman is set to return to the stage on Oct. 19 in St. Catharines, Ont., where her one-off recital appearance opens the Bravo Niagara! 2019-20 season. “You don’t go straight to a 10-show run of a Verdi opera,” says the singer, relaxing in a sun-splashed hotel VIP lounge overlooking the Toronto waterfront. "You work up to it.”
Back in 2009, after an emergency operation at Toronto General Hospital to repair a dissected aorta, Brueggergosman wanted to get to her ascending career as quickly as possible. “I was hell-bent on getting back to where I was,” the Fredericton-born singer says. “I felt so hard done by. It happened when I was so young, with so much left to do."
Since then, she’s had two children – boys, 4 and 6 – and her career is well-established. She’s also gone through a divorce and lost her father, Rev. Sterling W. Gosman. “I have a little bit different perspective,” she says. "I realize just how abundant life can be. You only get one of these things called life, so you might as well do everything and keep your blinders on and stay on task for God’s purpose and shut out the noise.”
According to Brueggergosman, she has a “hereditary bum heart.” For our interview, she wears an open-collared dress that reveals the spot where surgeons have now cut into her twice. “I’m proud of it,” she says. “It’s a badge of honour to me." Is she worried about her health? The pastor’s daughter tells me she’s “nestled in the palm of the divine” and that whatever happens was always meant to be. "But not today, devil!” Her big soprano laugh radiates through the room.
Less than two months after her second surgery, the recovering singer felt she need to “start moving things.” She began with yoga. “It was difficult, but the fatigue was honest. It was my body needing to recuperate and strengthen. I feel better now."
The operation caused the cancellation of Brueggergosman’s Carmen debut in Helsinki. Though she won’t disclose how much money it cost her – “I’m not delicate about it, but my finances are nobody’s business” – it is no secret that the self-employed have little in the way of safety nets. Still, the cancelling of the Helsinki contract did allow her to spend more time this summer with her mother, who was undergoing radiation treatment for cancer.
As for as the lost income? “I have my house, my kids are in school and there’s gas in my car,” she says. With that she raises a glass of Champagne and proposes a lunch-hour toast to day-drinking. “I’ve earned it," she whispers. “Besides, I wouldn’t be able to do this during an opera run."
Before I leave the lounge, Brueggergosman, insisting I take some food, brings me a croissant split with brie. “Go head," she says. "It’s free.” The big-hearted lady with a deep scar over her sternum then walks back to a table where a friend sits. Zevon would understand and I was a little hungry anyway.