D.c.-Born Opera Star Makes Triumphant Comeback (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C.-Born Opera Star Makes Triumphant Comeback

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And with 2012 nearly behind us, we decided we'd do something we've never done before. You know, usually we go from week to week bringing you a fresh batch of stories each and every time, right? And if they're about some ongoing issue, then we'll circle back to them later and bring you an update. But never before have we devoted an entire hour to this kind of circling back. So as 2013 knocks on all of our doors, today we've taken a handful of "Metro Connection's" stories from the past year or two and checked back in with the people involved to bring you a sort of second act.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:43
That's why we're calling this week's show Follow-Ups.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:50
We'll follow up with local kids struggling with obesity.

MISS RACHEL FREEDMAN

00:00:53
Every day I do a checklist of every fruit and vegetable I have. And I have to get at least five servings, but I usually get a lot, lot more.

SHEIR

00:01:03
We'll continue the ongoing saga of stinkbugs.

MR. BOB BLACK

00:01:06
This thing is really going to put a big chapter in my book of life. I've never had anything affect me like this.

SHEIR

00:01:12
And we'll spend some more time with the McNeil family. You may remember how Matt McNeil wrote a book inspired by his two kids who were diagnosed with a terminal degenerative disease.

MR. MATT MCNEIL

00:01:22
At the end of the book, when I allowed myself to write a happy ending, I think that's when I started to realize that the book could be useful to us to try to get to it in real life.

SHEIR

00:01:37
First, though, in February 2011, we introduced you to Marquita Lister, a D.C.-born opera star who's graced stages around the world. She's sung the role of Bess, in Porgy and Bess, more than 500 times.

SHEIR

00:01:56
She's recorded numerous CDs.

SHEIR

00:02:06
But in 2006, not long after she turned 42 years old, the curtain nearly fell on all of it. Here's how she told the story last year on "Metro Connection."

MS. MARQUITA LISTER

00:02:15
I was up for Salome at La Scala. And I noticed that my hands started hurting. And shortly after that I noticed I was having a hard time walking and a hard time moving my arms and a hard time breathing.

SHEIR

00:02:30
Marquita was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder called polymyositis.

LISTER

00:02:34
I was in total organ failure and I was really on the brink of death.

SHEIR

00:02:39
After numerous treatments and therapies at D.C.'s National Rehabilitation Hospital, Marquita eventually began to do what was once thought impossible, she began to sing again.

SHEIR

00:03:04
I met up with Marquita again earlier this month at NRH. After delivering holiday gifts to her doctors and nurses, she treated patients in the cafeteria to a little concert. Her rheumatologist, Dr. Robert Bunning, accompanied her on piano.

SHEIR

00:03:28
Turns out that since last we spoke, Marquita's been one busy soprano. She's had some relapses, some weight gain, some discomfort and pain, but every time she'd get in to what she calls…

LISTER

00:03:39
A Marquita moment.

SHEIR

00:03:40
…where she'd look at herself and say…

LISTER

00:03:42
Yuck.

SHEIR

00:03:43
…almost immediately…

LISTER

00:03:45
Something wonderful would happen. I would get a phone call saying, oh, hi, Marquita. We're honoring you with the blah-blah-blah-blah award.

SHEIR

00:03:53
Like the Gala Victory Award, which NRH presents for overcoming physical adversity.

LISTER

00:03:57
Or, I'm putting together a concert and I'd like for you to come and sing blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.

SHEIR

00:04:02
Like the 2012 Philadelphia concert to benefit the National Association of Negro Musicians.

LISTER

00:04:06
Or, I was thinking about doing an interview. This is Rebecca Sheir. Would you like to come and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.

SHEIR

00:04:14
Well, that one's pretty self-explanatory.

LISTER

00:04:16
Every single time, which to me is a confirmation that through all of the fire that we walk through, there is the cooling water at the end.

SHEIR

00:04:29
And her rheumatologist, Dr. Robert Bunning, the piano player, says Marquita showed hints of this belief and determination from her first day at the hospital.

DR. ROBERT BUNNING

00:04:37
I read about a woman who was seriously ill. And I was concerned about if she would be healthy enough to be in our hospital. And when I went in the room she was studying German, while she could barely lift her head off the bed. And that immediately told me that we had a woman who was quite a bit of a fighter.

SHEIR

00:04:55
That, again, is why NRH presented Marquita with the Gala Victory Award last year. She joins the likes of Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Bob Dole. Opera singer Alvy Powell introduced her at the ceremony.

MR. ALVY POWELL

00:05:07
Marquita, tonight, we applaud not only your return to the stage as a great soprano, but also your enormous strength and inspiring spirit as we present to you with the 25th Anniversary Victory Award. Ladies and gentlemen, I have the great honor to introduce Marquita Lister.

LISTER

00:05:32
It was so magical, you know, of all the awards I have received this one really is the most special for me because I had to work so hard.

SHEIR

00:05:44
Do you remember what you said in your speech?

LISTER

00:05:47
My speech was one about gratitude. I am grateful for being able to wake up, stand up unassisted, walk around without an apparatus. I live with the gratitude of being able to sing again. I've sung on some of the biggest stages and I've sung in church. To me it's all the same because it's giving thanks for a gift that I was given.

LISTER

00:06:11
Now, when I step onto the stage, it is not about the character I am portraying or the accuracy of the music that I am singing. It is about the grateful heart that I have and the privilege that I have been given to share it. When I sing, my heart soars in exultation. I thank you so much for this marvelous honor. God bless you. Always believe in yourself and know that dreams do come true.

SHEIR

00:06:41
And speaking of dreams, Marquita Lister got to live out a big one in August and September of 2011, when she was cast in a new role in Porgy and Bess.

SHEIR

00:07:01
At Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts and then at Symphony Hall in Boston, Marquita portrayed Serena, a pious woman whose husband is brutally killed.

LISTER

00:07:11
Bess is a great acting role. She gets a couple of duets. She gets a reprisal of "Summertime." But, in terms of just standing flat-footed and just letting your chops show, you know, it's really more Serena that allows you to do that.

SHEIR

00:07:26
And Marquita says this more grounded role suits her just fine. Because after all, whereas once upon a time she could run across the stage, dash up some steps and sing a high C before flinging herself into the orchestra pit…

LISTER

00:07:38
Well, that girl, I don't think, exists anymore. So now I can maybe walk across the stage, take my time walking up the steps, sing the high C and throw myself into the pit.

SHEIR

00:07:49
She says her voice has changed, too. It's gotten richer, more mature. In a way, after all these years of illness and pain, she says it's gotten even stronger, just like Marquita Lister herself.
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