Brandon Biggs Won’t Let Sightlessness Interfere With Opera

A passion for opera leads Brandon Biggs to Milan.


Published:

Courtesy of Brandon Biggs

 

Brandon Keith Biggs sat at a table at Cal State University, East Bay, surrounded by laptops and wearing a tablet computer around his neck. He jabbered with friends about the weekend-long programming contest for which he was just then cranking out line after line of computer code.

Just another everyday collegiate geek? The Cal State junior is also an athlete, actor, cook, musician, voracious reader, and accomplished bass/baritone opera singer. Most remarkably, perhaps, he was born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis, an extremely rare condition in which a missing protein in the eye prevents adequate blood and oxygen flow to the retinas, preventing full sight.

It all adds up to one impressive 23-year-old, one who has been interviewed on radio, Italian TV, and even in The New York Times. Biggs started by performing with the Missoula Children’s Theater and then moved into community theater at the age of 14. He performed his first professional opera as Colline in La boheme with West Edge Opera in Berkeley just last year. He has since appeared solo throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and has been in several student films.

He has followed his passion for music and opera to Italy through a CSU study abroad program and is using his technology smarts to connect the two.

“I do have a little bit of sight,” said Biggs, who laughed when asked how he saw the world. “I see shapes and basically vague outlines. I do have some sight, but it’s just enough to get me in trouble. Hair doesn’t have individual strands; it’s like one mass, so I can’t tell if people have messy hair or not. It’s basically what I see.”

Although the world may be a vague blur, the confident Hayward resident displays laser-like vision when it comes to getting things done. A veteran of more than 20 musical theater and opera productions, he is now studying in Milan, but will return to the East Bay. His enthusiasm for programming, which he taught himself, led him to create a business model to connect international students with Italians using a website, www.LiveItalica.com, that he developed.

“Most international students have not met Italians, and this is very weird for me,” Biggs said. “There’s a ton of Chinese students in the Silicon Valley, and none of them have tasted an American lasagna or know how to make it, so maybe there’s a market there.”

Biggs illustrated his technological connection by pointing out devices he uses throughout the day: an iPhone, a Hims Braille Sense U2 tablet for reading books, a laptop, a flash drive, an abundance of cords and connectors, and various CDs.

“This is me traveling,” Biggs said. “Imagine what it’s like in my house. … As a blind person, technology has been the single force that’s lent us equality in the world.”

So what does the future hold? Probably more school and music. Biggs expects to apply for a master’s program in opera at an undetermined music conservatory. “There’s a whole bunch on the East Coast, and that’s where I’d be—either there or in Britain,” he said.

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