LA's Subway Soprano: But why?

Subway soprano Emily Zamourka snagged a brass ring for sure.

Emily Zamourka
Subway Soprano Emily Zamourka

In the overnight sensation of viral video, she saw her rendition of a favorite aria travel around the world from an LA subway station. In roughly a month since then, she has been embraced by the city's mayor, invited to open a city-wide festival with the same aria, and offered a handful of recording contracts. GoFundMe accounts have raised over $100,000 in donations earmarked for Ms Zamourka's housing and professional-level instruments. Voilà. A life changed forever.

Whether or not she'll be able to rake it in Susan Boyle-style remains to be seen. A classically trained instrumentalist, her love of music is plain. Her voice has a natural sweetness and her production is Italianate, though to a trained ear Ms Zamourka's voice is clearly trained by ear. "O mio babbino caro" is so far the only aria she offers.

Many's the young soprano, logging long hours at some junk job and longer hours practicing, learning languages, memorizing roles, having long-since earned audition chops with that same delicate Puccini warhorse. How they must legitimately covet the twist of fate that has so rewarded LA's subway soprano!

But wait. What was she doing down in the subway anyway?

What was she doing in the subway?

Isn't this America? Oh. Right. This is America. Half a million people sleep in the streets.

Granted asylum from Russia as a young adult, Ms Zamourka had been able to support herself acceptably by teaching violin and piano lessons, supplemented with occasional busking—like talented musicians everywhere. Only when she fell into a protracted health crisis without insurance coverage to sustain her through her illness did she find herself homeless in Los Angeles, reduced to literally singing for her supper. This disgrace is not Emily Zamourka's but America's. Our national failure to guarantee our citizens the inalienable right to health care—like every other industrial nation on earth.

When bone cancer settled in behind my cheekbone at mid-life, derailing my hard-won operatic singing career, my life was rearranged forever. At least my care was covered by my employment-linked health insurance, which saw me through my first year of cancer crisis.

In the early part of my facial reconstruction I sought far and wide for optimal solutions. I even took advantage of a free trip to London, to consult with the chief of surgery at Saint Bart's and The Royal. After a supremely generous chunk of an afternoon, I took my credit card apprehensively to a cashier's window. There I was thanked for coming and urged to enjoy my day. "What? Pay? Oh goodness no. We have the NHS (National Health Service)."

Right. The British NHS system even covers foreigners. It's a precious thing, writes Mary O'Hara in the Guardian, as the UK faces a looming Brexit and changes it threatens.

But Medicare Works

I was unable to keep my job with its all-important insurance coverage. But by a fortunate stroke of bad luck, I was classifiably "disabled" when my COBRA coverage expired. So I became eligible for Medicare at age 43, effectively bypassing issues of age threshold and/or pre-existing condition. Had I not been rescued in the safety net of Medicare, an initiative of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, I would not have been able to pay for my care, or anything else, nor would I have had to, as I would not have lived.

Emily Zamourka had no such bad luck. It was only her $10,000 violin that bit the dust. She herself was not disabled. She was merely ill. So she became homeless. Abandoned by her adopted country, in her time of need. And she's just one of millions who remain one catastrophic illness away from ruin.

In this election season, the American health care system is up for grabs and the world is watching. ACA with a public option? Expanded Obamacare? Medicare4All? Medicare-for-All-who-want-it?

There are lots of ways to get there.

The real question is simple.

Do we have the will to take care of our fellow Americans? Or not?