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Portrait of a young singer on the cusp of stardom
“Nelson, our rock star!” jokes his friend Joey Baker, as they stroll through campus, while a smiling Nelson hugs and high-fives every student who passes. A soprano begs him to come to her recital that weekend. A baritone asks if they can practice a duet.
Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of Nelson.
He gives willingly _ tutoring a freshman mezzo-soprano on reaching her high notes, singing the spiritual “Give Me Jesus” as a favor for a friend in church, introducing friends to his “special place” a little homespun Brazilian restaurant where the cooks hail him in Portuguese as if he is a brother.
“Nelson has this huge talent, but he is also a really good person,” says his voice teacher, Wayne Rivera. “And I think that humanity, the way he cares about people, comes out in his singing.”
In Connecticut, Nelson expanded his repertoire, working on his technique and stamina. He racked up accolades in recitals, winning competitions and attending master classes, where opera stars work with young singers on improving skills.
One of his first was with Marilyn Horne, the legendary American mezzo-soprano famous for her mastery of demanding Rossini arias. International vocal coach Herbert Burtis was in the audience, and he was mesmerized.
“Then a 25-year-old tenor from Angola came on stage and blew us all away with his rendition of Tosti’s `Mattinata,’” Burtis wrote. “He was a little afraid of the high B Flat at first, but I could hear that that can be worked out with practice. … It was a magnificent performance.”
At times Nelson seems genuinely astonished, humbled even, by the praise and attention.
“It is because the songs are so beautiful,” he says. “If you sing them properly people connect, you make them feel something very special.”
And yet his eyes dance with delight when he knows he has a crowd in his thrall.
At a recent concert in South Windsor, Conn., Nelson sang 11 compositions with such melting perfection _ beginning with Handel’s “Ombra mai fu” and ending with Tosti’s “Aprile” _ that the audience simply erupted in ecstasy. People just wanted to touch him.
“You filled me with love,” one woman said. “I felt transported. God bless you.”
Another clutched his arm, seemingly too overcome to speak.
It is not just opera lovers who feel this connection. After a winter concert in New York, Nelson was feted at a reception, showered with praise for his moving performance of the Spanish aria, “No puede ser.”
It was getting late. All Nelson could think of was the three-hour bus journey back to Hartford, where he had to study for finals the next day. Politely extricating himself, he dashed through the darkened church where the concert had been held.
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