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“Hey, Mister Angola!” a voice cried out. “Mister singer from Angola. You were amazing. Good luck in your career.”

It was the maintenance man whom Nelson had befriended a few hours earlier when he was searching for a place to be alone to calm his frenzied nerves.

Nelson bowed and shook the man’s hand.

“Thank you, my friend,” he said.

Then the tenor raced out into the rain to catch his bus.

___

The opera world is forever searching for the next Pavarotti, every now and then anointing some dazzling new tenor only to witness him torn in too many directions, pushed so hard he self-destructs.

But those who know Nelson have great hope. He has just gained admission to the Academy of Vocal Arts, the school that rejected him six years ago, the school that has launched numerous stars. As a finalist in the prestigious Gerda Lissner Foundation’s international vocal competition, he triumphed in a recent concert in Carnegie Hall, winning the kind of applause and accolades that young singers dream of.

The expectations are huge, and so is the burden.

For Nelson isn’t just driven to succeed for himself and the surviving members of his family (his father also died while he was in Spain). He is also singing for his country.

“There are so many young men in Angola like me,” he says. “I am just a tiny story. But I got a chance that so many others also deserve.”

Nelson rarely talks about Angola, confiding in just a few people _ a priest, a family of opera singers in New Hampshire who have embraced him as one of their own.

“I think about Angola all the time,” he says. “But that was a crazy time, during the war. It makes me sad to talk about it, to think of my parents and the people who died.”

He knows that, had they lived, his parents would have been immensely proud of their special son, the one with the beautiful voice, the one they once thought was mad. But they would have been bewildered, too.

Even Nelson catches himself wondering if it is all real, this amazing life he has been given. He wakes up every day wondering if his voice will still be there. And, before every performance, he becomes convinced that when he opens his mouth the notes won’t come. The bigger the performance, the bigger the struggle with nerves.

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