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Bracing for Unexpected Success

by Elena Epstein
Bracing for Unexpected Success
USC alum Edna Ceballos

Listening to Edna Ceballos’ passionate voice as she commands the stage in the Spanish Zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, it’s hard to imagine this accomplished soprano once had a collapsed lung.

With charm and grace, the USC Thornton School of Music graduate said that the adversities in her life have been a blessing in a way, giving her insight into the human condition that allows her to fully express the deep emotion of each opera she performs. She speaks of her passion for music with great intensity and the path that led to her calling, a path that included difficult childhood years.

Ceballos, 28, was born with nemaline myopathy, a rare congenital neuromuscular disorder that causes severe muscle weakness. People with this disorder usually experience delayed motor development and weakness in the arm, leg, trunk, throat and face muscles.

When she was three months old, Ceballos aspirated on her milk because of the weak muscles in her throat, causing both lungs to collapse. She was taken to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles in critical condition. “She was really close to death when she arrived at the hospital,” recalled Edna’s mother, Maria Ceballos. “The doctors had to take drastic measures to save her.”

Ceballos was at Childrens Hospital for nine months. She required a tube inserted in her neck for the first year of her life to create an artificial airway opening to allow her to breathe. When she finally left the hospital, she went home on a ventilator and around-the-clock nursing care.

Because of the weakness of her muscles, Ceballos did not walk independently until she was 3, and she wore braces on her hands and feet as well as a body brace from her waist up to support her spine. Her family, her religion and her music helped her endure these difficulties. A love of music has always been her salvation.

“As soon as she started talking, she started singing,” her mother said. “My husband would play the guitar and she would sing along.”

At school, Ceballos had to endure the cruel remarks of other children who called her “the robot.” But during each school talent show, her exquisite voice would captivate the audience. By the time she was 7, she started performing professionally with a family Mariachi ensemble created by her grandfather. And at age 16, she recorded her first CD, La Flor, under the Latin label Sigala Records.

Despite wearing a body brace for most of her life, her spine was still continuing to hunch over. At 18, after serious consultations with her opera teacher and her personal determination to be a professional opera singer, Ceballos decided to have 14-hour spinal fusion surgery. This major procedure would realign her back and require the insertion of two stainless steel rods along her entire spine. It took a full year for her to recuperate from the surgery.

Ceballos recently performed with the Pacific Lyric Association in Luisa Fernanda, a work created by Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba and performed at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Hollywood. The opera was conducted by the composer’s son, F. M. Torroba Larregla.

Ceballos, who can sing in Spanish, French, German and Italian, has performed in a rendition of the Cuban Zarzuela Maria la O and several other productions. She runs a vocal studio in Montebello and works as a vocal coach. She especially enjoys helping young talent discover the beauty and feelings within the music.

She is crafting a new album scheduled for release in September and this summer is the musical director for Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary’s musical theatre program in Montebello for children ages 6-14. She is also involved with the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts and the Pacific Lyric Association.

“Life works in the most amazing way,” she said. “You have to appreciate every single day and that’s what I teach my students. I use my life experiences every day in my teaching and in my singing.”

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