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At a winter concert in Lambertville, N.J. _ a glittering event sponsored by a countess and featuring renowned tenor Marcello Giordani _ other young singers mingled backstage, warming up, joking, chewing mints. Nelson crouched behind a marble pillar, cradling his head in his hands, his brow glistening with sweat.

“My voice is no good,” he moaned. “I have a cough. I’m freezing. I can’t do it …”

Giordani strode over, wrapped his winter coat around the shivering singer and patted him on the back. “Nerves are normal,” the big man boomed. “Relax. You will be great.”

An hour later, after stirring renditions of Verdi and Donizetti classics, Giordani announced that the audience was in for a special treat.

Just days before, during a master class in New York, he had heard a voice so impressive, so rare, that he had invited the young singer to join them. There hadn’t even been time to list him on the program.

“He is very special,” Giordani said. “And he is very, very scared.”

Nelson bowed graciously. Then he began to sing _ “Ah, la paterna mano,” from Verdi’s “Macbeth.” The famous aria portrays the agony of a man who has just learned his family has been murdered.

Nelson clutched his chest, his face wracked with grief. His pure lyric voice soared through the church.

The ovation was thunderous; the audience was on its feet. Some had tears in their eyes. “Bravo!” they cried. “Bravi!”

Nelson Hebo beamed with happiness and relief.

“Thank you so much”, he said over and over, as people clustered around, begging him to sign programs, praising his talent. Where, they asked, had he learned such passion?

“The voice, that comes from God,” he told them. “I come from Angola.”