Opera awaits after battle with cancer

Helen Coleman has been selected to take part in the Ipswich chorus of Project Puccini. In 2012, Helen found out she had thyroid cancer. She had her thyroid removed and was unable to speak, let alone sing for most of the past two years.
Helen Coleman has been selected to take part in the Ipswich chorus of Project Puccini. In 2012, Helen found out she had thyroid cancer. She had her thyroid removed and was unable to speak, let alone sing for most of the past two years. Rob Williams

TWO years ago Booval singing teacher Helen Coleman faced the prospect of never being able to speak again as she faced a battle with thyroid cancer.

After doctors performed a thyroidectomy, Ms Coleman's once powerful and classically trained voice was reduced to just a whisper.

But month by month and note by note during a challenging rehabilitation period, her voice has returned.

She successfully auditioned for Queensland OPerah' Project Puccini and is set to perform at the Ipswich Civic Centre in August with a chorus comprising 36 adults and 12 children.

Ms Coleman said she will realise a long-held dream during the performance, after her cancer diagnosis ruined plans to audition for an opera in 2012.

"I can't express how much it means to me. A lot of people will look at it and think it's exciting to be a part of an opera, but it goes so much deeper for me and I get to realise something that has been a dream of mine," she said.

"This time two years ago I could only whisper."

Ms Coleman's cancer fight continues, with regular visits to the Royal Brisbane Hospital for the next 10 years to ensure the condition is under control.

But she remains defiant.

When she was confronted with an illness that threatened to take away her love of music, Ms Coleman refused to give in.

"There is a risk that you will never sing again, so being a singing teacher and a singer since age 11, it was not only an art form but my work."

Rehearsals for Project Puccini begin at the end of this month.

Ms Coleman found some irony on her selection.

After preparing vigorously to audition for an opera before her diagnosis, Ms Coleman scrambled together a performance for the Project Puccini audition.

And despite being out of practice, she was not rattled by pre-performance nerves.

"I would have liked to have prepared myself a little bit better, but I thought it's now or never. They're mainly interested in hearing our voices."

Project Puccini is a world-first initiative by Opera Queensland, which gives hundreds of Queenslanders the opportunity to perform in the chorus of a new concert production of Puccini's La boheme. The Ipswich performers will sing in Italian and act alongside OperaQ's principal artists and musicians from Queensland Symphony Orchestra in a professionally staged concert version of the opera.

Topics:  opera queensland project puccini

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