Causes of Despair and Knowing You’re Not Alone

How Music Can Help Heal Wounds of Addiction:

Understanding the Causes of Despair and Knowing You’re Not Alone


Estimated watch time: 22 mins

Available credits: none


People throughout history have used music to celebrate the great joys of life, as well as overcome great hardships like slavery, economic unrest and war. Opera del Sol and its founders believe that music’s healing power can help people cope with and recover from addiction and other difficult life situations.

In this presentation, Opera del Sol Founder and Creative Director Nicole Dupré discusses her personal experiences, the nationwide impact of COVID-19, the role music plays in life and what her organization’s latest creative endeavors aim to do.

Presentation Materials:


Welcome to the Community Education Series, hosted by The Recovery Village and Advanced Recovery Systems.

This has been an incredible experience — putting together this five-part series for National Recovery Month on how music can help heal wounds of addiction. As I said, as founder of Opera del Sol, it’s been really great to figure out how we can take what we have done music-wise and develop a much bigger and deeper conversation and connection. Not just with here in Central Florida where I’m from, but from all over the country. Thank you to everybody over the last several weeks, from all over the country, for reaching out to me, giving me your feedback and just letting me know that you’re really feeling connected to what we’re presenting. I’m excited for today to continue that conversation and really talk about the causes of this fair and to let you know how you’re not alone.

To give you a little bit of background on what Opera del Sol is: I founded it in 2017 after actually suffering a great tragedy in my life, and I will tell you about that a little bit more in a moment. I created it with a vision of creating immersive and curated experiences that cater to the imagination and multigenerational and multiethnic audience that’s as magical as my community here in Orlando. We desired to kind of take classical music and the performing arts out of the stuffy and extensive concert halls and think of new and innovative ways to take this music and really tell the stories and present it all throughout the community.

Over the last several years, I’ve had the ability to connect with our public transportation. In the bottom right, that was our Lynx bus system. That is actually the mayor of Orlando right there, Buddy Dyer, who joined us on that fun pop-up experience honoring the 30th anniversary of the bus system. After we did that, then our local train system known as SunRail — we participated with them and developed an original story to do during Christmas, starting it at one stop, went all the way to the end of the track and came all the way back down. We were always popping up and doing things in festivals. Do you remember when we used to have festivals and public gatherings? We were always trying to think about how we can take music and really tell these stories that I believe are really important.

So today, I’m going to talk to you about how I have used music and how we use music, having dealt with despair and having dealt with the feeling of feeling alone. As I was putting together this presentation, we had a great celebrity pass away. I came across this particular quote that I had never heard before: “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside of yourself, something to repair tears in your community, something to make life a little bit better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is: living not for oneself, but for one’s community.” I had just been very passionate about using whatever gifts that I may have to be able to kind of make my community and this world a little bit better of a place.

This next slide I wanted to throw in there because, having an opera company myself, I have always known that she’s been a very big advocate for the performing arts and she absolutely loved opera. One of my quotes in interviews that I had seen about her recently is: Here she is, one of the most powerful women, having all of these laws and things that are going on inside of her head. She says she’s constantly thinking and thinking and thinking. However, when she experiences opera, whether it’s listening to it at home or actually going to it, it gives her a moment to be able to turn off her role as a justice and as a mother and as a grandmother. But then to be able to really connect with the performers, be able to connect with the storytelling — I had just really, really loved hearing that previous quote about giving yourself to the community.

Then, just knowing all that she has done for this country, knowing that opera was her choice of music and that she loved it so much. For someone who has developed an appreciation for opera in the last ten years, I can say that it’s really the storytelling. It’s all about love and passion and betrayal and using a full orchestra, and what’s really great about operatic voices is they don’t even use microphones. An operatic voice can actually carry an entire city block, and I just have always found that very fascinating. How can I take these different stories and be able to connect within the community?

So I truly believe, “Do what you can with what you have.” I do want to just give a little bit of a disclaimer: I am not a therapist or a counselor. Everything that I am passionate about comes from personal experience. It was very unfortunate that in 2017, I suffered a really great loss. My ex-husband passed away from a drug overdose on July 10th of 2017, right while I was in the process of launching Opera del Sol. Our launch party was on August 10th, so exactly 30 days later. We were married for ten years and he had hurt himself at work and suffered a back injury and was prescribed opioids. Over the course of the few years, it led to heroin. Then, we ended up separating, and then that ultimately led to his death. I was fortunate, I say, because music came into my life at a time when I didn’t realize how much I was going to need it.

When COVID started to hit and I started to see these numbers of overdoses skyrocketing, and then now the numbers rising for those that are considering suicide and those that suicide has affected their families. I knew that this was a time where we really wanted to use our organization and the talents that our singers and musicians had on how we could create something that was going to help the community.

Last year, as part of my healing process, we started to come up with a story where we used different kinds of music to tell one woman’s path through addiction. As somebody who had dealt with that, I know what it’s like to turn to drugs to make you feel better. I know that there are drugs that make you feel better and drugs that have made you feel worse. I know that when it comes to the war on drugs, a lot of times, it’s the war on people who are hurting. And that’s what one of my main goals is: to end that stigma. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love get so far in addiction that you can’t pull them back. We tried rehab and we tried to get him clean, and I witnessed an overdose and know what it’s like to think, at that moment, that he was going to die. I just knew that we could use music and to try to create a platform, and again, just to create a bigger conversation and deeper conversation about how music can really heal.

Next slide. This was something ( again, when I was doing a little bit more research) it seems like every day, there are multiple headlines. This particular one really hit me because it says there are so many people that are not just suffering, they are now at risk of dying from overdose or suicide due to coronavirus despair. This is from the Vermont Health Clinic, and he goes on to say we responded to the opioid crisis in this country as if it was only opioids. In reality, it’s driven by deeper issues: mental health, addiction, pain and suffering. He goes on to say, by taking stock of the current crisis, predicting the potential loss of life — and this right here is where it stood out to me — creatively deploying local community solutions and maybe possible particular events to despair and death. To me, that word “creatively” really hit me. As somebody who is a creative and has a creative arts organization, it really hit me just how much that I believe that art can help us connect with those that may be suffering.

I wanted to share these two particular quotes about music because these are two that really help to tell how I feel and what I love too. This very first one is from Plato, who is from like 2 A.D., and he says, “Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” I couldn’t agree more. One of the other ones that I love so much is, “Where words fail, music speaks.” There’ve been so many times that I have used different forms of music to help comfort me in ways, and I think it’s not so much just about being comforted. Sometimes, it’s about celebrating and having a good time because music has that much of an impact on us as human beings.

So, what I want everybody to start to think about is: How can we connect? How can we connect with everyone, especially in a digital world? That’s why I was, again, very fortunate and so honored to be a part of this series on how we can now use these digital platforms. To use music and share music and have deeper conversations with people who are not even in my community. It’s been incredible to hear; some of you have emailed me over the last several weeks from Vancouver, Washington, New Jersey. We’ve heard from people from New Orleans. I just think that I’m very thankful that we have this digital platform, that we can now think of creative ways to connect with one another. And from Oregon.

This is where I want us to kind of think about not feeling alone. Really, despair has been something that we have felt so many times throughout history. So many genres of music were formed as ways of healing and storytelling. Blues and jazz was started from the music and the hums and the hymns that comforted slaves during their time of oppression. There’s been folk music during the Great Depression. Hip hop is an active way of storytelling in its own way. Opera, again, was founded as a way to talk about the government without being oppressed for doing so. Again, it’s about that love and betrayal and oppression and despair that’s really, I think, the main source of inspiration for a lot of people that are the music makers.

I just wanted to share this slide because, again, let’s really think about how music has been used throughout history during the toughest of times. I mean, we all know what it could have been during the Egyptian times. This particular photo, I guess, is one of the oldest hieroglyphics that actually depicts music. Again, I had mentioned that slaves used different kinds of music to ease their hearts at the end of the day. The top right-hand corner I love so much because those are old opera singers, and on the bottom right, those were drummers from the Revolutionary War. The British soldiers would have drummers come with them to war and on the battlegrounds to create morale and to help them get through the agonies of battle.

Even though Carrie Fisher is the one that told us to take a broken heart and to make it into art, I have really believed that that has been what people have done throughout history. Whether art is painting, sculpting or if it’s at-the-end-of-the-day music, it can really be something — that if you take your broken heart, you can really make it into something beautiful. I think that music can be a way to connect with people that are in recovery, people that are hurting, people that have encountered the greatest of despair. Because I think that there are so many genres and songs and people out there that have created music that know exactly what it’s like to feel those deepest of depressions, that deepest of sadness. But then again, like I had mentioned, the joyous times — we use music to also celebrate the best parts of our life.

What I hope that we’re doing with this series is creating a much deeper conversation about how you can incorporate art and music into your personal healing and may be incorporated into helping others as they get through the unimaginable. I know that so many of us are facing despair and loss of jobs. I know for our organization, in particular, we had to call off every show that we had planned for the entire year. I’m also a professional makeup and wig designer and I sometimes freelance throughout the country, and everything that I had known at the time; I would go on TV to talk about performing arts and I co-hosted a radio show. With this pandemic, I can tell you that you aren’t alone, that I am somebody who is right there with you. I have personal struggles from day to day. I can’t say that I don’t, but I know from personal experience that there are ways to cope, and I have been very fortunate that art and music have been something that has really helped to heal me through the years.

I had mentioned earlier that we wrote a show called Requiem, and it follows this woman’s path through addiction. What we have done over these last four and the next week (five weeks) is we’ve taken five songs from that particular show that are around each one of these topics. I really wanted to present that to you to show you how we took music and we took different genres of music and created what we like to call “pop-era,” where we’ve taken pop music and mixed it with classical music to tell this story of addiction. The next slide will be a video from this show, and the woman that is singing, she is the main character, and she is suffering at this particular time.

Now, this isn’t from the show we recorded — these individually — because we were supposed to premiere this in May, but unfortunately, every venue is closed until next year. This particular part in the story, I want you to really listen to what she’s saying and what she’s experiencing. Then, you’re going to see this man come behind her, and he represents addiction and drugs and despair. If you joined us last week, it’s going to be a piece of Radiohead’s “Creep” mixed in with a song from Lincoln Park. And then it also has “Lacrimosa,” which is a Mozart piece that isn’t Italian, but it’s really talking about how her soul is worth redeeming. We’ve kind of combined it to what I think is a really powerful way to take music and to tell a story of addiction and what it’s like to feel in that moment. So, Ashley, if we could play that video for everyone, I would love for you guys to kind of experience this.

(Video of Radiohead/Linkin Park/Lacrimosa)

That just gives you a little bit of a taste of what we have used — music — and how we have used that to create this storyline and to be able to take this music and present it in a different way that I believe really helps to form what it feels like during addiction for those that are experiencing a loved one during addiction. Really, it’s how we have used music to not only heal my heart, but how I hope that we can heal others. Next week, I’m really excited to have our executive director, Theresa Smith Levin, as well as our artistic director, Nishaa. Nishaa is also the composer and the accompanist who really kind of put all of this musical arrangement together. She is the mastermind. As creative director, I come up with these crazy ideas of these stories that I want to tell, and she helps me find the music, helps me cast the singers and she actually played the piano in that as well. So, I’m excited for them to join us for the last part of our series: “Are You Ready To Take on New Beginnings?” The song that we will show will be kind of this beautiful blend and the climax of our story of Requiem and how it all comes together. I’m excited for you all to join us again next week as we talk about that.

My email address is [email protected]. Please feel free to email me. I’ve had several of you throughout the country, and we have some meetings and Zoom calls to start kind of thinking of creative ways. I hope when you’re starting to think of something new or something that you can offer to those that you’re working with, I hope that you think of maybe something that we can help you with. It’s been an honor, and I thank every single one of you that have been tuning in and joining me today and sharing your feedback.

Thank you for watching this video. We hope you enjoyed the presentation.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.