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“As a kid, singing onstage with Shania Twain inspired me to be a musician. I never imagined I’d get to do it a second time”

Daniela Agostino was pulled onstage by Shania Twain at eight years old, and it propelled her into a career as an opera singer. Last weekend, at the Toronto stop of Twain’s Queen of Me Tour, Agostino was chosen again—and got to show off her new vocal chops in front of her idol

By Daniela Agostino, as told to Emma Johnston-Wheeler
“As a kid, singing onstage with Shania Twain inspired me to be a musician. I never imagined I’d get to do it a second time”
Courtesy of Daniela Agostino

When I was eight years old, my parents surprised me with tickets to Shania Twain’s 2003 Up! Tour at Scotiabank Arena, then called the Air Canada Centre. They had great taste in music and had introduced me to Shania at a young age. I was constantly singing her songs around the house, and Up! was in heavy rotation.

We drove into Toronto from our home in Vaughan, and it wasn’t until we arrived at the concert that I found out we were seated just four rows back. Somehow, even at that age, I knew Shania had a reputation for pulling fans out of the audience to sing with her. So I quickly rigged up a sign that literally said: Pick me to sing Shania.

Miraculously, it worked. During the concert, Shania gestured over and asked me to hop on the stage. I was so excited that I didn’t even feel nervous. I just remember thinking, Is this really happening? Once I was up there, Shania asked me what I wanted to sing. I said “In My Car,” but funnily enough, she couldn’t fully remember the lyrics. So we sang “I’m Gonna Getcha Good” instead. She was sincerely impressed—she said she could tell that I loved to sing. She asked if I wanted to be a singer when I grew up, and I told her I was dying to be one.

By the time I got back to my parents, I was shaking. I never wanted to stop feeling the way I felt in that moment. Even though it was only a few minutes, the experience was genuinely life changing. I knew then that I needed music to be a part of my life. It had all happened so quickly, though, that neither of my parents were able to get any photos or videos. The only memento I had was a photo taken by someone sitting with them. It’s a little janky—you can see me and Shania on the screen, but most of the image is the back of my dad’s head.

Daniela Agostino singing onstage with Shania Twain at the Up! tour in 2003, plus the back of her dad's head
Courtesy of Daniela Agostino

Not long after that, I started taking singing lessons, and then I was lucky enough to attend St. Elizabeth Catholic High School for the Arts, in Thornhill. I was accepted into the vocal program, where I was first exposed to classical music. After that, I decided to pursue opera singing at a university level.

But while I was auditioning for post-secondary programs, my father received a diagnosis of colon cancer. One of the only school auditions my dad was able to make it to during his treatments was for Western University’s voice performance program. Based on that alone, I knew there was something special about it.

I was visiting my dad in Arizona, where some of his treatments were taking place, when I found out I’d been awarded a small scholarship from Western for my high-ranking audition. I was lucky to share that moment with him, but we knew he was close to the end. He passed away the week before I started classes—I was only 17.

Even while I was in university, my moment with Shania provided unexpected inspiration. On my 21st birthday, my mom surprised me with a video I didn’t know existed. It turned out that someone had filmed the concert and posted it to YouTube. When my mom came across it, she was like, Wait, that’s my kid! It was shocking to see—I’d only ever had my own memories plus that one photo. Watching it reminded me of the ecstatic joy that had propelled me to pursue music in the first place.

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After I finished my undergraduate and my master’s at Western, I began working as an opera singer. Since then, I’ve performed with regional companies like the Southern Ontario Lyric Opera, the Toronto Operetta Theatre and Tapestry Opera. Recently, I competed in the National Capital Opera Competition in Ottawa and earned a spot in the top six. I’m also the founding director of operations for a collective of artists called Opera InReach, where we try to make opera more equitable and accessible.

Don’t get me wrong, working in the arts can be difficult. I’ve experienced my fair share of rejection. It can be massively discouraging, and that’s not to mention the lasting effects of the pandemic on live performance. But, whenever I feel beaten down, I think back to being onstage with Shania. I tell myself that that’s the feeling I’m fighting for.

Now I’m nearly thirty and as avid a Shania fan as ever. So I bought tickets to her Queen of Me Tour at Scotiabank Arena. A few weeks before the concert, I reacted to one of Shania’s Instagram stories—I thought there was no way she’d see it, but what the heck. I told her how excited I was and said that I would be there on October 22. I mentioned that I had sung with her onstage as a kid, even attaching the original photo. I didn’t get a response, though. By the time the concert came around, I’d totally forgotten about it.

My younger sister Nicole and I sat together and had such a blast. We were belting out all the songs. Then, as the concert neared its end, Shania came onstage carrying a piece of paper, and she started talking about how much she loves connecting with her fans. She explained that this night was a particularly special one because she’d received a message a couple of weeks prior from a girl named Daniela. Honestly, at that point, I was completely oblivious. I truly thought it was a weird coincidence that another Daniela had messaged her.

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But then she started reading my message, and the photo of my dad’s head was suddenly on the big screen. My sister and I just started screaming. What the hell? Hey, that’s me! And then Shania said, “I know Daniela’s here tonight. I think it’s time we reunited.”

I was shocked. Our whole row started yelling, “She’s right here!” Shania’s security came and escorted me to the stage, where I literally said to Shania, “This isn’t happening.” She looked at me and just said, “It’s happening.” Of course, I was still wearing the merch sweater I’d bought just moments before.

For the second time in my life, Shania asked me what I wanted to sing. I told her I’m now a trained opera singer. She lost her mind, asking me if I could sing one of her songs in operatic style. At first I felt kind of shy about singing opera in front of thousands of Shania fans, but I agreed to do a line from “From This Moment On.” I belted a tiny portion of it, and then the Shania Twain told me my voice was gorgeous. It was probably the most validating compliment I’ve ever received.

Afterward, I was able to tell her how she’d changed my life 22 years ago. I explained that I’d decided to become a singer after that first concert. I truly don’t know if I’d have gone into music without her. I also shared how special it was that my dad, who is no longer with us, got to witness the moment that had inspired my career. Shania was so warm and humble the whole time.

It was all so surreal, and when I went home that night, I was expecting that everyone would quickly forget about it. But I’d made a post on Instagram while I was still in shock, and I woke up the next day to a ton of messages. People were saying they were going to go to the opera because of my story. I was overwhelmed, but it just affirms how impactful music is. Sharing these stories really can change people’s lives.

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It’s such a blessing to have been able to share the stage with Shania twice in my life. I’m grateful to her for being so generous with her fans. I aspire to be as gracious in my own work.

I recently received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to go and study opera in Europe. It’s a competitive industry, but there’s also a lot of opportunity. One day, I’d like to sing at La Scala in Milan. That’s where the best opera singers in the world perform. I don’t know if that will happen, but I know it’s important to dream big. Regardless of where I end up, I know my dad would be extremely proud.

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