Tomorrow’s Tenor Superstar Fernando Varela

By Josephina Lee Mascioli-Mansell


It was a frenetic afternoon. Three deadlines to be met, the ceiling sprinkler system exploding into a maze of water now covering a section of the green marble floor – seemingly blending into the symphonic sounds of the on-going ringing of phones – perhaps more like the heaviness of Beethoven’s 5th.

As it happened, one of the calls was from my brother Paul in Orlando. “I’ve just sent you a link to a new voice that’s wanting me to manage him.”  “But,” I said, “have you not  handed management over to others because of overloads in producing?”  “Click on the link and….”  I hadn’t even heard the rest of his sentence.  “Sign him,” I said.  “What did you say?”  “SIGN HIM!  My God, this voice is one of the most phenomenal voices I’ve heard in a life time!!”

Tomorrow’s Tenor Superstar, Fernando Varela, was signed and reborn. And I? Why I brag about this wonderful guy and carry the brilliance of his latest CD wherever I go.

Many years ago when Fernando and his parents, Julio and Margarita, relocated to Central Florida, Fernando’s vision was one dream only.  But with no training and limited funds, he realized that this dream could become a roulette table with very few chances to succeed:  he wanted to become one of the greats.  He wanted to be a classical singer.

Many years ensued under the direction of his very talented father, who critiqued his every move.  Each performance became better than the previous, until one day in 2005. While Fernando was feature performing in The Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City {produced by Walt Disney World Entertainment and televised internationally on Telemundo} he was invited to study with the Metropolitan Opera’s assistant director, Joan Dornemann and her prestigious staff of coaches in San Juan, Puerto Rico: his dream accomplishing a major win on the roulette table.

In 2006, Paul had learned of Fernando and had booked him for part of an event he was producing in Orlando.  Fernando was so impressed with Paul that: he challenged himself. He vowed to work even harder and become “among the best” tenors in two years!  Then, he would convince Paul to manage him.  And he did!

In August of 2008, Fernando signed for personal management with Paul Mascioli, president of the highly sought after Mascioli Entertainment Corporation in Orlando.  In the past seven months Fernando has recorded a new CD and has performed statewide and internationally including a private performance for some 50,000 guests of Spiritual Master Shri Satpal Ji Maharaj in Haridwar, India.

Today, Fernando Varela’s future is in the stars!  He’s a phenomenal talent with a heart that surrounds each song he performs; his charisma enfolding his audiences; his music uplifting the soul; with an evening of his music becoming a memorable experience.

JO LEE:  You do realize, Fernando, that you are: one of the greats!  I just can’t believe how the Universe guided you right into Paul’s offices!

FERNANDO VARELA:  I don’t know about being one of the greats – I’ll leave that up to you and the critics.  I just try to be the best performer that I possibly can be and inject as much emotion into each phrase, each song, and each performance. I believe that in life you create your own luck – the Universe rewards those who actively seek out what they need.

JL:  Listening to the operatic phenomenon of your voice – it’s hard to imagine your earliest influence was the hugely popular Michael Jackson.  Is this true? Would you please tell us about this?

FA: I guess it is hard to believe that my strong tenor voice was weaned on the music of Michael Jackson; but, ever since I was a little boy of three growing up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I entertained my family and friends with endless versions of Jackson’s songs.  Little did I know, huh ~

Guru Maharaji has just presented Fernando with Indian silk, which is traditionally bestowed upon honored guests who have traveled great distances. He felt very honored to be his guest on this incredible occasion.

JL: Fernando, when you moved to Florida with your family, you were only eight with a dream.  Can you paint that incredible scene for me?

FA:  It was a difficult transition moving from Puerto Rico to Florida for a number of reasons, Jo Lee.  So in order to fit in, I did very little singing and started playing competitive sports; mainly basketball, baseball and golf.  I would still sing and listen to all sorts of music at home.  My first introduction to opera was hearing a CD of Placido Domingo that my parents purchased.  It was a collection of popular love songs being sung by one of the romantic voices of all time.  As a young boy it was clear to me that I wanted to be like Plácido Domingo, however, it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I began singing in public once again.

JL: You’ve talked adamantly about your “musical journey” and how you encountered more than a few bends in the road.

FA:  Jo Lee, my arrival to this point had been anything but direct.  My musical journey started 11 years ago with not only my being denied entrance into the music program at the University of Central Florida but also being laughed at, humiliated and told at my audition that I simply “don’t have what it takes” to be a singer.  True story.

JL: How discouraging! Don’t you love these predictions from those who should never predict!  What a story you must tell.  How did you deal with this?

Behind the scenes view of Susan and Fernando singing in India to an endless sea of 50,000 people as guests of Guru Maharaji.

FA: After getting over the initial feelings of humiliation, anger and embarrassment, I decided that I would turn the moment into an endless source of motivation toward my goal of becoming the absolute best performer I could possibly become.  Each hurdle along the way turned into one more experience to draw from – my father called them character building moments; being the son of a motivational speaker had its benefits and he seized every opportunity to remind me of those moments.

JL: But, in your senior year at Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, you were accepted into the Central Florida Lyric Opera. Unbelievably – it’s taken you only five short years to dramatically flip from an aspiring young singer into an exciting, dynamic performer. Can you mirror the scene and tell us the story?

FA: During my stint with the CFLO, Jo Lee, I performed in over 16 fully staged operas and in hundreds of concerts from coast to coast.  Of all the roles I played, my favorite is still Lt. Pinkerton in a production of Madame Butterfly, directed by Metropolitan Opera legend Licia Albanese.  I studied privately with Madame Albanese in Orlando, as well as at her home in New York.  I guess I must have impressed her for she invited me to compete in the prestigious Licia Albanese/Puccini Foundation International Vocal Competition. Even though I was one of the youngest competitors, I received Study Grants from the Foundation both in 2001 and 2002.

You know, Jo Lee, my Abuelo {Grandfather} Juan and I always shared a special bond.  He was a singer/songwriter who never got the chance to pursue music as a career because he had a family to take care of.  Juan Varela was an incredible man, building a business empire with only a sixth grade education.  He had a million stories about how people always underestimated him and how through hard work and persistence, he would always come out on top.  I, too, had some people underestimating me during the early stages of my singing career and as I mentioned a few moments ago, can you believe I was actually laughed at and told by the voice faculty at this University that I “did not have what it takes to be a singer.”  This moment lit the fire in me and I drew from the stories that my Abuelo Juan had told me about himself to make sure that I would prove them wrong.

Months before Abuelo Juan passed away, I was able to visit him in Puerto Rico. When we arrived at the house, he was in a very sad state of depression.  He never got over his wife of 69 years passing away just a few years before.  My father and I went to him and we started singing songs.  Immediately, the smile that my Abuelo Juan was so famous for had returned.  For a couple of hours we laughed, we cried and we sang.  We sang my Abuela’s {Grandmother’s} favorite love songs and we exchanged our favorite memories.  That was the last time that I saw my Abuelo Juan alive and it is a shared memory that I will never forget.  We had always bonded through music.  He was so proud that I was pursuing a career in music; something that he was never able to do.

There are times when I sing that I know it is not just my voice – my Abuelo Juan is singing with me, watching over me, and enjoying a successful career in music.

 

JL:  Wow!  Isn’t it amazing how the love of a loved-one can forge us into disciplines that create dreams that could easily have been placed into a closed book of desires!

Madame Albanese has said of you: “At 20 years old, he is better than Pavarotti {at that age}.” In fact, El Nuevo Dia, a leading Puerto Rican newspaper dubbed you “a Puerto Rican Pavarotti”.  Did you ever meet Pavarotti?

FA:  I was fortunate enough to see Pavarotti live in concert during his farewell tour but I never had the honor of meeting him in person. However, I was invited to coach with Maestro Giancarlo Chiaramello, who was Pavarotti’s conductor and musical arranger. I was completely shocked when coaching with the Maestro in Monte Carlo, he said to me: “I have heard very few voices like yours.”

JL:  And the Maestro new what he was talking about!  You know, Fernando, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Pavarotti at a head table, during one of his San Francisco appearances.  This man was electrifying and we talked into the early hours with only a few left in that entire dining room.

But getting back to your former challenge of becoming one of the greats: in 2004 you joined the Resident Artist Program with the Palm Beach Opera and covered the role of Rodolfo in La Bohème.  Did something quite significant happen there?

FA: Oh yes! It was in Palm Beach that I met two people who drastically changed my career.  The first was world-renowned voice instructor César Ulloa, with whom I was able to fine-tune my technique.  The second was one of the greatest tenors of all time and my operatic idol, Maestro Plácido Domingo.  I had the honor of spending lots of time with Domingo during Palm Beach Opera’s 2005 Gala and I was able to witness how much of a class act he was, not only to the singers but also to each and every human he encountered.

 

Being the lead singer has its perks…

JL: Fernando – you’ve recently returned from India, a country I, myself, have so loved being a Humanitarian Ambassador too. But you, Fernando, performed as a guest of Spiritual Master Shri Satpal Ji Maharaj in Haridwar, India. What an honor, what an impact this must have had on you!

FA: Yes, a humbling honor, Jo Lee. Our trip to India was an incredible experience.  We were guests of guru Maharaj and performed live in front of 50,000 people.  The performance was also broadcast internationally to over one billion people.  Beyond the performance we were witness to such amazing expressions of love.  The two days of festivities were a phenomenal  sight being that the 50,000 people were from all walks of life; Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Jews celebrating together and focusing on their similarities rather than their differences. During the five days we stayed in the ashram, there were no wars, no hate, only love.

I have never experienced anything like it in my life.  All 50,000 who came to this function were fed three complementary meals a day and there was not once a request for the donating of monies.  It was faith in its highest form: truly believing that God will provide.  We are constantly reminded in the West about how we must do things in a certain way or, not be accepted.  In India, in our ashram, it was about inclusiveness.  It was about embracing everyone from all religions and backgrounds.  It was truly beautiful and although there was a major language barrier, we were all celebrating together as brothers and sisters of the same global family.

JL:  And only 50,000 were so blessed. Now, getting back to life outside the walls of the ashram – tell me about the new recording Paul has worked with you on! DARE TO LIVE with 11 cuts and with that number 11 meaning a lot more to you than just the number that comes after 10. What is the significance of 11 to you?

1        Caruso

2        Il mare calmo della sera

3        Dare To Live, Feat. Melissa Va’squez

4        Por ti volare’

5        The Prayer, Feat. Susan Williams {Married Fernando 08/11/2008}

6        Dicitencello vuje, Featuring Nino Cuomo

7        Por ti sere {You Raise Me Up}

8        To Where You Are

9        Bésame mucho

10      Vivo por ella, Feat. Marilyn Sanchez {Current Miss Cuba}

11       Nessun dorma

Music taking the musician to another gorgeous place. What a view from the Ponte di Rialto in Venice, Italy.

FA: Jo Lee, DARE TO LIVE is a collection of 11 poignant, passionate and inspirational songs.  Each song conveys an emotion, describes a situation or expresses the essence of transcendent love.  All of these themes are very close to me. You will notice a reoccurring theme with the number 11.  Eleven signifies a master builder, the start of something significant.  My father is one and so was my grandfather.  As a tribute to them and in the hopes of becoming one myself, I launched this recording – my first international release.   A lot of people have put their hearts and souls into this production and the end result is evident.  Without Paul and all the members of my team and the help of numerous supporters, DARE TO LIVE would never have come to fruition.

JL: And then, there was yet another memorable joy that came to fruition last November.  Your wedding to the beautiful, talented Susan Williams, a marvelous singer in her own right who, too, has accompanied you on your album. Paul tells me at your wedding you sang, she sang, others sang – all incredible voices joining in to celebrate your day.

FA:  It was truly a magical day!  Susan and I are so blessed to have so many wonderful friends and family members in our lives.  Being that we are both singers, we had a lot of live music in the ceremony and reception.  We were blessed by the incredible talents of our friends who are all phenomenally talented performers and so willingly contributed to our storybook wedding.  My older brother and best man, Julio, joked during his toast that this wasn’t a wedding, that in fact, it was Mamma Mia 2 because every few moments a performer would burst into song, perfectly describing each moment with a Broadway worthy performance. It was truly a spectacular wedding!

 

JL:  What now, Fernando.  What does Paul have for you on the horizon ~

 

Susan and Fernando at the same photo shoot with Sonny Senser prior to their engagement.

FA: Lots of exciting opportunities await.  We have several concerts that will be taking place all over the world as we begin promoting DARE TO LIVE internationally.  We will be starting with concerts in Puerto Rico and then fanning out from there.  And Jo Lee, if any of your multi-million readers would like to be a part of my journey, I’m right there at www.fernandovarela.com.  Sign up under Friends of Fernando.  This will ensure that everyone will be there, every step of the way, as we continue forward.  It, indeed, feels like the start of something significant…

JL:  Tomorrow’s Tenor Superstar!!  See!  I travel with several of your CDs – right here in my briefcase.  You inspire me and, I adore you ~

FA: And I adore you too! After reading your last issue, I told Paul that you are like the Canadian Oprah!  I am honored that you have included me in your beautiful magazine…





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