In September 2011 the Warford family of El Dorado Hills sat in freezing weather in New York City’s Central Park, anticipating a free concert given by Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli.
Kaliana Warford, a 9-year-old with the congenital form of myotonic muscular dystrophy, submitted a wish to the Make-A-Wish Foundation two-and-a-half years earlier in hopes of meeting her favorite singer. Not sure if her wish would be granted, the family flew to New York on their own for what they thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A sudden weather change — the temperature dropped 30 degrees in one hour — made that experience rather miserable, said mom Penni Warford.
Fortunately, Make-A-Wish hadn’t forgotten Kali and organization representatives surprised the whole family when they called and asked if the Warfords could travel to Italy to see Bocelli perform in “Romeo and Juliet” in Genoa. The answer was “yes.”
“We thought (they would send us) to San Jose or New York,” Penni said. “It was so above and beyond, so amazing.”
Kali first heard Bocelli’s music on her mother’s iPod and she became entranced by the singer’s ability to hold long, high notes. “His music makes me happy,” she said.
Penni then discovered a Youtube video featuring Andrea Bocelli singing with Elmo from Sesame Street.
“She watches his videos religiously for three years every night before she goes to bed. Going to school in the car in the morning, coming home from school in the car, she gets angry when I put it on talk-show radio,” Penni said.
Kali soon began listening to the popular opera singer’s original music and singing it around the house, in the bathtub and in the car. Her current favorite songs are Bocelli’s “Resta Qui” and “Semplicemente.”
“She memorizes the Italian. She’s got all these things memorized,” said Penni.
The family traveled to Italy in late February 2012. A limousine took them to the airport and on the plane the pilot treated Kali like a star, allowing her to sit in the copilot’s chair, Penni recalled. The pilot even made an announcement to all the passengers about Kali’s wish and her journey; passengers applauded.
“Make-A-Wish is absolutely amazing,” Penni said. “They treated us so beautifully the entire time.”
When Kali met Bocelli she was “starstruck,” her mom said. He held a mini-concert for her back stage before the final dress rehearsal for “Romeo and Juliet” at the Teatro Carlos Felice.
“I had sent him a letter about her,” Penni said. “He started playing her (then) favorite songs.” He played “Canto Della Terra” and “Sogno.” Kali gained enough courage to give him a hug, which surprised the blind singer but he responded with a smile.
After her wish was granted, Kali and her family spent an extra week touring Florence and Rome. They saw Michelangelo’s statue of David and the Vatican. Kali especially remembers riding a carousel in Florence and feasting on pasta, her favorite food, every day.
Penni said many people are surprised that Make-A-Wish granted Kali’s wish because her condition is not terminal. According to its website, Make-A-Wish grants wishes to children that have been “diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition — i.e., a progressive, degenerative or malignant condition that has placed the child’s life in jeopardy.” Penni said she believes Kali’s singing is good for her breath support, holding the high notes helps her strengthen her lungs.
Kali currently attends Green Valley Elementary School and will enter the fourth grade this fall. Her favorite color is pink and she hopes one day to become a doctor. When she’s not singing with Bocelli she loves to read “Alice in Wonderland” and “Calvin and Hobbes.”
And she has something new on her calendar. The Warfords plan to attend Bocelli’s scheduled Christmas tour concert in San Jose — a gift from Bocelli’s entourage after hearing about the family’s first frigid experience.