Okay, I will let you in on a little secret. I was crying like a baby during Fernando Varela’s concert on Saturday, October 4th in Timmins, Ontario Canada.
And for a good reason.
The depth and passion Fernando transported his audience via his singing voice and spoken word really touched me.
Yes, I said spoken for, not only did Fernando overwhelm us with the beauty and innate passion of his singing voice, but also he relayed brief stories that, on one hand, allowed us to establish a close connection with him as a genuine human being and, on the other hand, inspired us to view the world in a more positive and loving way.
Each song on the programme was adapted in a creatively new way. It made me recall Comedian Howie Mandel’s abrupt critique of Fernando’s group Forte when they appeared on America’s Got Talent in 2013. He said that singers were not creative – they just sing.
You have to laugh at such a ridiculous comment because, once you hear Fernando’s show live, Howie’s theory is thrown out the window.
For many of the numbers, Fernando and his musical team stayed up all night to create a uniquely different sound and style, enhancing phrase lines, elongating lyrics and refining nuances.
Timmins was one of many stops on this extremely ambitious and acclaimed North American tour. Every step of the way, Fernando has adopted legions of fans who unilaterally have become mesmerized by his artistic and charismatic presence. He gives 200% to each song and, because of this, one cannot help but be inspired.
Fernando has programmed a whole new show in preparation for his North American tour. It is a show that fully showcases all that Fernando personifies and the artistic direction he wishes to take his music.
And, as previously stated, every song has been meticulously hand-picked, creatively arranged and presented by Fernando and his team of musicians, Kyle Mattingly and Megan Gertken, in new and exciting ways.
Fernando gave me the green light to unveil a sneak peak at his program, although some of the numbers and/or the order may be altered or substituted at each stop of the tour at his discretion.
However, generally, the programme will remain the same throughout the tour and will pretty much overwhelm you with the depth and breadth of Fernando’s vocal gift.
The Timmins Ontario Show
At the Timmins Performance, Fernando opened with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu, using the identical arrangement Forte fans heard when the group auditioned for America’s Got Talent in 2013.
In a word – it was exquisite – and the missing vocal harmonies were ably covered via Megan on violin and Kyle at the piano/keyboard. I had goosebumps – his voice exuded power and passion that one could not ignore. It touched my soul.
Then he surprised us. He smoothly changed genres and sang Neil Diamond’s “September Morn“. Yes, he went from classical to pop in the blink of an eye.
And this is when the tears started.
The song is naturally beautiful and inherently poignant but, with Fernando’s voice as its messenger, it inherited a new sound and style. Fernando is a master at phrasing – holding notes to enhance the expressive qualities of the words. He is the consummate storyteller.
Little did we know that this gift would become more evident and more personal as the show progressed.
It started when he told us a wonderful anecdote about his next number, a medley of two songs by the great Roy Orbison.
The suggestion to include Roy Orbison’s music in his program line-up came at the savvy request of his manager, Paul Mascioli . The idea was brilliant and knowing the context in which this number was selected gave the audience a sense of how ideas are born and developed.
Also, via Fernando’s voice, we came to appreciate Roy Orbison’s outstanding vocal gift. One always thinks that anyone can be a pop singer, that it does not require practiced skill. However, if you are fortunate to hear Fernando sing the Roy Orbison medley, you will view the latter artist in a new light.
The audience went crazy when he held an upper note for an extended period of time during “Only The Lonely”. He fully channeled the spirit of Mr Orbison.
Also, it was during this number that he lost his ear piece and, yet, he flawlessly maintained his stage persona and vocal style while he snapped it back into place. Live music at its best.
This number was followed by a wonderful Spanish number called “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas”. It has been recorded by a vast array of artists, including Desi Arnaz, Nat King Cole and Andrea Bocelli.
The lovely, contagious melody was beautifully programmed during this concert as it allowed Fernando to rest his voice after his Roy Orbison number. I honestly never tire listening to Fernando interpret this song. The melodic phrasing just oozes with nuance and cohesiveness.
We were then treated to a wonderful surprise. Violinist, Megan Gertken, captivated the audience with her sparkling rendition of “Orange Blossom Special”, beautifully accompanied by pianist, Kyle Mattingly. She is such a musically intelligent performer and her fiddling was not only technically brilliant, but also artistically so.
Little did we know that this performance, in addition to fully engaging and entertaining the audience, was also allowing Fernando to rest his voice before his final two numbers in the first half of the show – numbers which would surprise and move the audience to a rousing ovation.
The Vocal Blockbusters
When Fernando came back on stage, he told us another story pertaining to the selection of his next number, “Music Of The Night” from “Phantom Of The Opera”. It was one of many stories that Fernando shared with his audience pertaining to his personal struggles to achieve success in show business.
If you wish to hear the story behind the programming of this number, then you must purchase a ticket to a show near you. His stories alone are worth the price of admission.
Personally, for me, I was very excited to hear that he was going to perform this iconic number from Phantom . Fernando has a vocal gift that can pretty much sing anything in the musical theatre songbook. I have been waiting a very long time to hear him programme this number and he did not disappoint. In fact, it was the best version I have ever, EVER heard. He poured his heart and soul into this number and his nuanced approach left me breathless.
He fully interpreted the “Phantom”character – in voice and demeanour – and made the character come alive, without backdrops or scenery or costume. The audience was simply transformed to the scene in the play through Fernando’s expressive delivery. It was in a class of its own.
Then, he closed the first half with the crème de la crème of the evening – one of the most difficult operatic arias ever written for the tenor voice – “Nessun Dorma”.
Now, earlier in the day, I was told that Fernando would probably not be singing this aria because he was struggling with a lingering cold and congestion.
However, his manager twisted his arm, knowing that many people were dying to hear this number, myself included, so Fernando agreed to perform it.
Well. I am here to tell you that he sings the juice out of this number, adding a vocal flair at the end that no one has been able to do in the history of “Nessun Dorma” performances. It just blows your mind when you hear it and your jaw ends up on the floor, while you wonder what you just heard.
It brought the audience to its feet, all with a look of disbelief on their faces. Disbelief not only at what they just heard, but also that they were in the presence of true greatness.
The Second Half: Songs, Socks And Smiles
The second half of the show unveiled its own, unique surprises. With Pianist/Arranger, Kyle Mattingly’s brilliant arrangement, both Kyle and Megan opened the second half with a rousing rendition of the music from David Foster’s “Canada Olympic Games Opener”.
Then Fernando took to the stage to sing David Foster’s beautiful creation, “Because We Believe”. I should add that there were co-writers involved with this number – Amy Foster and Andrea Bocelli.
It was a meaningful and sensitive performance.
This was followed by Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. I have heard many versions of this song by numerous artists but Fernando found a way to make the song fresh and new. There was a different flavour to this song that is quite indescribable. It was truly a work of art.
After the concert, Fernando told me that he and his musicians worked for hours and hours, long into the night, to come up with something special for this iconic number. It was absolutely riveting to hear. And he added a dash of Spanish flavour to this number to make it his own.
Then, we were treated to another personal story.
About Fernando and his colorful socks.
Apparently, his grandmother gave him some handmade socks once upon a time and, like a loving grandson, he told her he would wear them every time he was on the stage. Then, the socks kept coming – for every special occasion – and, to keep his promise, Fernando has worn these precious socks each time he has performed on stage. It was a way, he said, of keeping his grandmother close to him on tour. What a great grandson!
Then, he points to Kyle’s musical socks – very funny stuff – which somehow leads to an incredible solo performance by Kyle of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue”. I cannot say enough about the extraordinary talent Kyle brings to this show – both as an arranger, pianist, and everything in between. He is incredibly gifted.
The “Rhapsody In Blue” performance earned him a standing ovation from the audience. It was absolutely magical. This is a legendary song, one that changed the course of musical history, and it requires a high degree of talent and artistry. Kyle has all this in spades.
It also proved that I am quasi-psychic as, two days prior to the concert, I was lamenting to my husband that I haven’t heard anyone play the Rhapsody in years. In fact, I don’t even recall why it even came up in a conversation with my husband.
Whatever the reason, it was pure serendipity that Kyle performed one of my favourite piano pieces. Who says dreams don’t come true?
Following this, all three performers were back on stage and, once again, Fernando brought us into the world of musical theatre with his sensitive rendition of “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables”. He completed inhabited the character of Jean Val Jean, again making us believe that we were watching the musical.
This song requires incredible vocal skill and, of course, Fernando possesses the goods to hit a home run with this song. He navigated from full voice to chest voice with artistic and technical ease.
Then Fernando decided to take a walk on the Vegas strip and treated us to a fantastic medley of songs performed by legendary Las Vegas Performers. Included in the medley were “It Had To Be You” (Harry Connick), “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” (Elvis Presley), “You Make Me Feel So Young” (Frank Sinatra), “Delilah” (Tom Jones) and “My Way” (Paul Anka wrote and performed this song but ‘ole blue eyes made it iconic).
He closed his show with another beautiful and inspiring message, encouraging all of us to make the world a better place. A positive place. How we can make a difference in people’s lives by adopting a caring and loving approach to those around us.
And after he spoke, he sang two perfect numbers to punctuate and enhance his message: “You Raise Me Up” and “Time To Say GoodBye”.
It was a strong and powerful ending to a concert that ended all too soon. He received another standing ovation, everyone wanting more – and so he gave them one more number. A special number inspired by his father, Papi Julio, who encouraged Fernando to always smile wherever he went. He said that even when you don’t feel like smiling, you will feel better if you make the effort and you will make the people around you feel better.
The song title? You must have guessed it by now. It’s the classic song, “Smile“, and it touched everyone in the house.
I hope you have the opportunity to see Fernando Live. You can check his itinerary on his Official Website.
And, if he is not coming to a venue near you, you can download Fernando’s Prelude CD from iTunesI or Amazon.Com or. purchase a hard copy from Amazon
And don’t forget to purchase the Forte CD, comprised of Fernando Varela, Josh Page and Sean Painikkar.