Posted by: Academy of Achievement | 02/13/2012

Barbara Quintiliani, Class of 2003
Operatic Soprano

2003 was a pivotal year in my career. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Domingo-Cafritz young artist program at the Washington National Opera. To add icing to that cake, I made my operatic debut alongside Plácido Domingo — one of my childhood heroes — as Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo. I was also asked to participate in the International Summit of the Academy of Achievement, an organization I had never heard of before. Well, I was not only impressed but overwhelmed by the experience. I was inspired by the extraordinary people I met and spoke with. It certainly made me want to be the best that I could be.

Since the Summit in 2003, so much has happened. There have been unbelievable highs and unimaginable lows. The highs include being the first American in 25 years to win first prize at the International Francisco Viñas Competition in Barcelona, Spain. I also received the Audience Choice award and a special prize for the performance of works by Giuseppe Verdi. Shortly thereafter, I made my European debut at Barcelona’s Gran Teatro del Liceu. I also had the great good fortune to appear, to great critical acclaim, at the Wexford Festival in Ireland.

Then came the lows. For a very long time I had experienced mysterious sensations and bouts of uncontrollable fatigue. I had been to several physicians over the years, and these symptoms were always attributed to a virus, or to my exhausting schedule. I was singing some Bach cantatas in Boston when the unthinkable happened. I lost all feeling in the right side of my body. I thought it was a stroke. After days of testing, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in early 2007. Unable to walk, or do much of anything for myself, I was sent to a rehab facility, where the neurologists told me I would probably need a wheelchair for the rest of my life. If they were right, it would mean the end of my singing career.

I fought back, from the chair, to a walker, to a cane, and now I stand proudly on my own two feet. I fight this disease every day and it would be easy to give up. I could give in to the pain, the fatigue, and the fear — or I can get up and sing. I choose to sing. Every time I step on stage I may not be winning the war, but I am winning the battle.

My sincerest thanks for allowing me to participate in this wonderful project.

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