Organization gives ‘operatunities’ to listen to music

By Sara Bruestle | Feb 05, 2014
Courtesy of: Carla Swedish Carla Swedish of Operatunities sings a program titled "Viva Italia" at Harbour Pointe Retirement on Oct. 5.  Catherine Anderson is on the piano.

A Mukilteo-based organization is working to give the elderly, disabled and ill the “operatunities” to enjoy performances by professional singers.

Carla Swedish, of Mukilteo, is the founder and director of Operatunties, which brings classical and musical theater programs to retirement centers and nursing homes, with plans to expand to other long-term care facilities.

She said it is a “win-win” arts and community service organization because it provides singers with venues and underserved audiences with high-level musical programming.

Operatunties, founded in 2010, is sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Harbour Pointe Retirement in Mukilteo was its flagship venue.

Swedish was inspired – as a singer and the daughter of a woman who lived her later years in a retirement center – to form an organization that would provide performances to audiences who would appreciate and benefit from it the most, but whose access has become limited.

“My mom was a pianist in her youth and, as an adult, she was an avid music and theater lover,” she said.

“I noticed that as she moved into assisted living and then skilled nursing care, when I thought she would have benefited the most from uplifting, quality musical programming, the level of such programming drastically diminished in both availability and in quality.”

Not yet a non-profit, Operatunities subsidizes the cost of programming by professional and advanced-level musicians. A retirement center or other venue need only pay whatever it can – which is sometimes nothing.

Swedish asks for donations through Fractured Atlas, and the rest is paid for from her own purse.

Operatunities focuses on the elderly, disabled and ill not just because of their limited access and budgets, but because Swedish fully believes in the research that shows music is healing to mind, body and spirit.

“I had this vision of something more like what someone used to go out to do that was just brought to them,” she said. “I think people would fall asleep less in their wheelchairs if they had something interesting and engaging.”

In addition to the Harbour Pointe Retirement and Assisted Living Center, Operatunities singers have also performed 15 times at four other venues in Everett and Tacoma.

Several performances are scheduled for February. The singers have been back to Harbour Pointe five times.

“The members and guest artists of Operatunities always brings great joy to the residents at Harbour Pointe,” wrote Judith Strand of Harbour Pointe Retirement in a guest book.

“Many thanks to all involved in providing such inspiring music to a grateful audience of seniors.”

The organization has three singers and their accompanists, including Swedish, who has been singing professionally for 30 years. It also has an advisory board with four members.

“Growth has been steady,” Swedish said. “I think that 2014 is the year to grow this effort exponentially in all areas – more singers, more programs and more venues, including hospitals and hospices.

“I am excited about where Operatunities is headed.”

She still remembers Operatunities’ debut performance held on Jan. 22, 2011, at Harbour Pointe Retirement. Swedish performed “Stages of Love,” featuring songs from Broadway about love.

Swedish was warned to not get her hopes up, that maybe she’d only get an audience of 4-5 residents, and that they may lose interest.

She didn’t think that would happen, and she was right: A total of 35 residents attended her program, and nobody left.

“There was one woman who, every time Carla started a song, she’d close her eyes and conduct the piece for herself with her hands,” recalled Bill Swedish, Carla’s husband and an advisory board member. “It was so beautiful to watch.’

“Another woman near her, every time Carla finished a song, in the pause between the song and the applause, this woman would say, ‘Beautiful!’

“That was the day that made me realize just how much this means to the residents.”

Want to hear Operatunities for yourself? Soprano Susan Strick and pianist Sandra Heinke will perform “A Musical Box of Chocolates,” featuring the works of Brahms, Debussy, Liszt and others at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 215 Mukilteo Blvd., Everett.

The program is open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken.

“The demand from the facilities has been demonstrated,” Bill Swedish said. “There is no question they want more and that there are singers who deserve the ‘operatunity’ to perform.

“This thing could really explode, if we had fundraising.”

For more information, email, go to or find Operatunities on Facebook.

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