The local boy who conquered Bayreuth while conquering Parkinson’s Disease.
John Wegner is one of opera’s success stories who went from being in the chorus for the Australian opera in Melbourne to leading Wagnerian Heldenbaritone at Bayreuth. At the height of his career he began to notice the early symptoms of what he would later find out to be Parkinson’s Disease. This diagnosis had a huge impact on not only his opera career but his life. Limelight magazine covered his story in their September 2015 issue, what he discusses will have relevance to most who face life with Parkinson’s Disease.
“It was gut wrenching, I didn’t know much about it. The first thing you ask is how long to you have it before you’re really bad?” “Luckily I spoke to a Parkinson’s voice therapist and she had a great attitude. ‘Oh, if you wanted to get a neurological disease you’d pick Parkinson’s because at least you can fight back a bit’ she told me.”
“I was very quiet about it for a month or so. I didn’t tell very many people except family and close friends and I really didn’t want it in the media. After a while I relaxed and now I am quite open to people knowing about it.”
HOW IT AFFECTED HIS CAREER
“After the diagnosis I was supposed to perform in Dusseldorf and I had to cancel everything. It took about a month or so to get my head around the fact it’s all stopped, but then I found myself able to look back and say: ‘Wow, the body of work I have left is ok. I’ve worked in 22 countries singing in most of the good houses, I’ve done amazing roles and I have four Helpmann Awards.’”
HIS LIFE NOW
“Parkinson’s takes different paths with different people. I still don’t have much shaking – lots of people have trouble with that. I’ve got the lousy posture and also balance issues. You go through waves. The Levodopar you take – which is converted to dopamine in the brain – works for a while but then it has a fading effect. Some days you really fell quite good. Today I would say is a middling day for me. I just can’t be as alive as I want to be. It’s a fascinating thing. Routine is crucial. I go to a physio on Mondays and we work on getting movement efficiencies back and waking up some of the automatic responses. Then I go to the gym and I do classes like Dance for Parkinson’s. There is PD Warrior – That’s a Parkinson’s Disease Warrior – a specialist movement class created in Sydney that’s spreading Australia and Worldwide.
“Every day is sort of a challenge.” “There’s still so much that you can do, and life is still terrific!”