Opera Mariposa Sings for the ME|FM Society
by Susan Katz
“The common denominator is that every song is one that I love.”
That is the theme of a benefit concert by Opera Mariposa’s award-winning singer Jacqueline Ko. Ko and friends will perform a journey across the musical spectrum this May in “Here I Stand”, an event scheduled in honour of the International Awareness Day for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Fibromyalgia (ME/CFS & FM). A portion of every ticket sale will benefit the ME/FM Society of BC. The concert evening on May 13th will include a reception, as well as a charity raffle contest with over $1,000 in prizes.Opera Mariposa was founded by Jacqueline Ko and this will be its fifth annual fundraiser for ME/CFS. Jacqueline performs alongside pianist Angus Kellett and guests to explore music ranging from pop to Puccini, from Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann to the hit musical Hamilton. The choice of music--songs that Jacqueline loves--is no coincidence: while following her passion for music, she and her sister/collaborator Stephanie have been living with ME since childhood.
In interviews with Jacqueline and Stephanie, the BC ME/FM Society learned about the founding of Opera Mariposa and their personal connections with ME/FM. The two girls were diagnosed with ME after not recovering from illnesses at ages 6 and 8 years old, and despite attempts to finish school they were not able to go beyond Grade 8. Without that formal conventional education, Jacqueline and Stephanie still went on to win awards and found and operate Opera Mariposa.
At ages 8 and 6 Jacqueline and Stephanie had a childhood illness which lasted for many months, but then went into remission. Four years later, both the girls had severe relapses precipitated by illness and injury. Thanks to their mother, who knew they were highly motivated children who did want to go to school, she did find a pediatrician who researched their mysterious set of symptoms and diagnosed their illness. With this assistance, Jacqueline and Stephanie were validated and supported as they grew and learned to find their abilities. According to Stephanie, although much time early on for them was slow, they were still two girls who were highly motivated and loved to learn and grow.
Jacqueline had just begun her voice training at age 10, and the passion it ignited in her kept her going on with it at her own pace.
Jacqueline told us: “Like any other career, pursuing music when you have ME/CFS can be incredibly hard. Still, singing kept me going during the worst of times. I used to save up energy for months to have a single voice lesson, during which I'd need to rest every few minutes. I'm extremely lucky that even though some cognitive tasks are particularly exhausting for me, music isn't one of them. Part of the impetus for founding Mariposa was actually to create shows with rehearsal schedules that would work for me, and for other people who who have health challenges but still want to do what they love.”
Stephanie has complimentary interests and abilities, with music background through piano lessons and a love of historical costume led to her designing costumes for films and Opera Mariposa, as well as developing strong abilities with graphic and Web design.
In today’s competitive music business, especially with voice and opera, it is almost a given to have credentials from major conservatories such as Julliard. Yet, the two women have succeeded.
According to Stephanie, this is due to their professional understanding that one does not need a formal degree: "Jacqui has been fortunate enough to work with work with great mentors and coaches, and oftentimes the name of the person you've studied with bears as much weight as a formal education. Plus, awards help of course, but most important are the role credits and performance experience on your resume.”
Jacqui has indeed had superb mentors and won awards, according to their website, as “the recipient of the Maggie Chambers Scholarship, as well as the Most Outstanding Talent Award from Richmond Music Festival. She has performed in original casts and Canadian premiere productions, worked with internationally famous teachers and coaches, and sung at the Orpheum Theatre under the baton of Bramwell Tovey.”
This is Opera Mariposa’s first solo show for Jacqueline, of which she says, “Here I Stand will be a very personal show for me because it's the first Mariposa Awareness show that will be entirely written by me, where I'll be telling the story of living with this illness entirely in my own words.”
Following the show there will be a reception and raffle with over $1,000 of donations ranging from custom photo shoots and makeovers to show tickets, luxury beauty products, gift cards and more, highlighted with the beautiful artwork of Jasmine Sanchez-Ziller, an incredibly talented artist living with ME/CFS, who is donating prints of her inspiring work. Many of Opera Mariposa’s sponsors have supported them for several years straight.
Jacqueline tells us that, “I think that ME/CFS needs more funding on so many fronts, from research to patient support to public awareness. It's astonishing to me how many medical schools still don't even teach this disease, especially given how devastating it is and how many people it affects. This pressing need is part of why Mariposa presents these Awareness shows. I'm just glad that there are organizations like the ME/FM Society of BC that do so much to advocate for our community!”