Usher's syndrome
Living with Usher syndrome and hearing loss
November 3, 2021
How I discovered my deaf identity
November 8, 2021

Meet deaf opera singer Joan Tenaglia

deaf opera singer

After opera singer Joan Tenaglia was diagnosed with hearing loss at age 44 she went through a series of failed solutions. At the brink of giving up, Tenaglia turned to Phonak, which she says provided her with hearing technology that changed her life personally and musically.


Deaf opera singer Joan Tenaglia has sensorineural hearing loss. The soprano was first diagnosed in 2006 at the age of 44. Her diagnosis came as a complete shock, she says. It was during a routine Ear, Nose and Throat exam for her son that she discovered her own condition. Assuming that she had a wax issue or some other minor problem, Tenaglia asked the doctor to check her ears. Finding nothing obviously amiss with her ears, the specialist asked her to step into the booth and take a hearing test. The result was the news that Tenaglia was in fact deaf.

Instead of offering advice, the doctor just tried to sell her hearing aids. She tried to explain that she was a professional opera singer, to no avail.

“After that, it became a series of doctors, treatments such as chemotherapy, and even surgery,” Tenaglia says. “Unfortunately, one of the surgeries was botched badly. I ended up having my eardrum ruptured and a hole burned through my mastoid bone. No one told me. By the time I found out, it was over a year later and the bone was necrotic. That had been my good ear. Thankfully the eardrum was repaired by a different surgeon, but I was left with severe to profound hearing loss and the tinnitus worsened like never before.”

Her hearing loss has affected her entire life. Tenaglia describes herself as being a very outgoing person who enjoyed socializing. Now she finds it overwhelming, especially in crowds. Her severe pulsating tinnitus with up to 10 different sounds occurs 24 hours a day.

“It affects simple day to day activities and of course has had a major impact on my career as an opera singer,” she says.

Hearing Aids

Tenaglia’s first hearing aids were quite primitive with a little dial. They were uncomfortable and not complementary to her music. Feeling hopeless and afraid that she would be unable to continue with her career, she turned to Phonak.

Tenaglia was recently featured in Episode 1 of “Behind The Music,” which looks at Master Class panelists and their lives. She spoke of being both a singer and deaf. During the interview, she mentioned that the big eye opener was when she changed hearing aid manufacturers and got her first Phonak aids. Since that time she has remained with Phonak. Her first set of Phonak hearing aids were the Naida Q70, which she calls life changing for her personally and musically.

“I could understand people better and the instruments in the orchestra became clearer,” she says.

Her next set of Phonak hearing aids were the Audeo V70, aided by the ComPilot. She was able to have them tuned to concert pitch. They gave her her vocal placement back, which didn’t feel natural after she lost her hearing. Now she has the Phonak Marvel hearing aids.

“And oh what a Marvel they are!” she says. “I am able to adjust my own settings and save them depending on my personal hearing needs. They have enabled me to have more freedom so I am comfortable in most settings, except large noisy crowds. But most of all, I am able to identify individual instruments when listening to music.”

“Most of all, I am able to identify individual instruments when listening to music.”

Read more: Notable deaf musicians around the world

Coping With Hearing Loss

Like many people with hearing loss, Tenaglia learned some ASL and attended DeafNation with her daughter. This gave her insights into how patient and welcoming the Deaf community was, saying it meant to the world to her.

Joining a couple of Facebook groups has also helped Tenaglia come to terms with her hearing loss. She mentioned the Deaf and Hard of Hearing page, the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss. She also follows Lifeprint, which is part of ASL University.

Tenaglia’s friends and family have always been supportive. They, too, were shocked by her hearing loss but helped her adjust with patience and love. She says they learned through it all that laughter is ultimately the best medicine.

The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania resident is married to fellow opera singer John Tenaglia. They often perform together. She began her career by singing in church. This provided her grounding in music. It also gave her a love of music and the voice as an expressive instrument.

Singing Career

Tenaglia sees herself as an opera singer who happens to be deaf.

For 25 years, Tenaglia was the soprano soloist at a church in New Jersey. She has sung with numerous symphonies and opera companies across the United States. Most recently, she performed in a Concert of Verismo Opera highlights at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, PA with renowned Metropolitan Opera singers.

“I’m here to prove to you I can overcome any situation,” she says. “My deafness does not define me as a person or an opera singer. My mission is to touch your heart with my music through my voice. It’s been my pleasure to share my God-given gift with the world despite the ups and downs of life.”

Author Details
Phonak hEARo, Phil is an actor, writer and journalist who writes in the deaf WellBeing and Lifestyle areas. He lives on the beautiful North Yorkshire coast with his wife Raine and their three children. Phil was diagnosed in 2016 and has moderate to severe Sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and constant tinnitus. He uses Phonak silver Nathos Auto M hearing aids. Member DANC (Disabled Artists Networking Community)