“It’s like coming home, being in The Villages,” Fernando Varela said with emotion as he opened his Monday night “Unplugged’ concerts with Maestro Bill Doherty at the Savannah Center. ” It’s amazing how all of you have impacted me and my family in wonderful ways. I know I am who I am today because I know you,” he said, gesturing broadly at the audience and focusing on Doherty at the piano — his first voice teacher, coach, mentor and supporter.
Varela and Doherty presented a long, but in Fernando’s words, ‘scaled down show,’ without a large orchestra or chorus. It was just Doherty at the keyboard, Varela and seven singing waiters with great voices who perform at the Tierra del Sol Restaurant in The Villages Wednesday through Sunday nights. Fernando’s performance belied the laryngitis he had caught from his four-year-old son — as he exhibited his broad range of scale, from mellow low sounds to high notes. The comedic Father Mark, from St. Paul’s Catholic parish in Belleview, added hilarity during the intermission.
This was an evening of inspirational music: ‘Besame Mucho,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘I Believe’ and ‘Maria’ from West Side Story. ‘O Sole Mio’ was a show-stopper, with Fernando and all seven waiters at their best; and there were special ‘Les Miz’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’ moments plus ‘The Prayer’ as sung by Andrea Bocelli. Fernando was ‘at home’ with two standing room only crowds, plus quite a few friends and family members backstage.
“We always knew Fernando would be a star,” said his beaming abuelita (grandmother), Carmen Soldevilla, proudly. “He always liked to sing.” “All of us in the family are so very happy for him,” his mother, Margarita Varela, added. “He has worked very hard, but God has blessed him.”
What is so wonderful about Fernando Varela, the Puerto Rico-born Orlando resident who launched his career in The Villages? His majestic tenor voice? YES! His smiling demeanor and charisma? YES! His ability to connect with people of all ages and nationalities? YES! His command of several foreign languages? YES! His large genre-spanning repertoire ranging from folk music, to popular melodies, to masterfully sung opera? YES! But perhaps what appeals to Villagers most of all is his humility and genuine regard for everyone.
Fernando has never forgotten his roots. The road from a ‘good voice’ to a ‘unique voice’ was long and uncertain, but perseverance and a lot of training along the way brought him through. He is confident now — a consummate professional — who knows he has done well — but Varela is ever thankful to all the people who contributed to his success. He expresses his gratitude to Maestro Bill Doherty, tenor Oscar Feliu, and others in The Villages who were instrumental in nurturing his fledgling talent and getting him early exposure.
While many people believe big stars are just lucky, it took Varela seventeen years of perspiration and faith in his dream to create that good luck. At age seventeen, Fernando began singing at Celebration Sunday services at Church on the Square in The Villages . He also sang at St. Paul’s Catholic Parish masses in Belleview. Over the years, he was mentored not only by Maestro Doherty, but by Metropolitan Opera legend Mme. Licia Albanese and later Maestro Giancarlo Chiaramello, conductor for the late Luciano Pavarotti in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Varela’s talent built a loyal following among the residents of The Villages and surrounding areas, who returned again and again to hear him sing at the Savannah Center. But his ‘big break’ came last year, when he placed fourth with ‘Forte’ on television’s popular ‘America’s Got Talent.”
The members of ‘Forte :,’ Varela, Hana Ryu from South Korea and John Page from New York, met on the Internet only weeks before their big audition. “We didn’t have time to be nervous,” Varela said of himself and his fellow ‘Forte’ tenors. “We couldn’t think about the twelve million people in the viewing audience. We just had to sing the best we could for ninety seconds.” That exposure catapulted Varela and ‘Forte’ to world fame. (Since then, Ryu has dropped out due to visa issues, and Sean Panikkar has taken his place .)
Benefits from his Villages concerts will go to support a backpack program with donated hygiene items for homeless children. Fernando will soon begin a 50-stop fundraiser concert tour of the United States in ten weeks, starting in the state of Washington, and traveling several loops around and back to Florida. He and his talented wife, Susan, also plan to go to Ecuador to sponsor a village with 600 children who need help with basic needs, like clean water, food, clothing and education.
All this week, Fernando will be producing shows at the Savannah Center, including a Fleetwood Mac tribute show on Tuesday evening and the Sweeney Family Band country comedy review on Wednesday. Then, from Thursday through Sunday, Fernando will be back on stage as part of ‘ Four Divo, ‘ including Craig Irvin, Brandon James and Tod Mummert. That program will featuring the music of Il Divo, Jersey Boys and Les Miserables.
You can order tickets for those shows from the Villages Box Office at the link below:
The Villages has been very good for Fernando Varela, and Fernando has been good for The Villages.