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Of Gifts, Giving, and a ‘Prayer’ to Remember

Laguna Beach teen, Tessa Mansour, sings a duet with beloved tenor Andrea Bocelli

By Tad Heitmann, Special to the Independent

Photo by Gregg Ostro LBHS sophomore Tessa Mansour accompanies star tenor Andrea Boccelli at a recent fundraiser in Phoenix.

Photo by Gregg Ostro
LBHS sophomore Tessa Mansour accompanies star tenor Andrea Boccelli at a recent fundraiser in Phoenix.

The holiday season evokes a time of special magic, of generosity and gratitude, of unexpected blessings, and, of course, wonderful music. This season emerges a new tale about how stars and hearts aligned to bring Laguna Beach High School sophomore Tessa Mansour and legendary Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, together — and about one duet that a young singer will never forget.

A few weeks ago, Tessa happily accepted an invitation from Jimmy Walker, president of Celebrity Fight Night Foundation, to sing Italian opera at a private event in Phoenix. Walker knew that 15-year-old Tessa had been studying classical voice for more than four years and that she loved to sing. Laguna audiences last heard Tessa in Laguna Beach High School’s recent production of “Little Women” last month.

Tessa remembered Walker as a friend of her grandfather, Lee Hanley, who died last year.  She knew her grandfather would be proud that her hard work had taken her voice to the point that she could perform for such a good cause.

The Phoenix event was being mounted for wealthy donors interested in a planned tour of Florence, Italy, to be hosted by Andrea Bocelli next September and intended to raise funds for Celebrity Fight Night projects.  Giving back is second nature for the famous tenor who works to break down barriers to success and fight poverty in Italy and the developing world through The Andrea Bocelli Foundation.

Pausing from a current world tour, Bocelli had agreed to add his world-renowned voice to the afternoon gathering at a private home to help promote the trip. Tessa learned that she would be singing an aria as a prelude to Bocelli’s performance. She was also asked to learn his duet, “The Prayer,” “just in case”, and she set her mind to mastering it.

With only a few weeks to get ready, a connected and committed group of talented musicians in Laguna Beach stepped up to help. Tessa turned first to her LBHS choral teacher, Roxanna Ward.  Meeting after school, Tessa rehearsed her part of the duet and Ward helped her to understand the meaning of the song and fill her performance with emotion. Another family friend, Rob Harryman, a gifted tenor in his own right who sings with the LagunaTunes Community Chorus and the St. Mary’s Episcopal Church choir, came to Tessa’s home to play the piano and sing with Tessa so that she could practice the duet.  For the requested solo performance, Tessa prepared the Handel aria “Bel Piacere”, and Bob Gunn, the director of LagunaTunes, St. Mary’s choir, and Men Alive Chorus, agreed to make the trip to Phoenix to accompany her on the piano.  With this creative cadre behind her, Tessa felt ready as the performance approached.

However, it wasn’t until the day of the event that Tessa learned Bocelli did indeed intend to sing part of “The Prayer” with her. Without the benefit of any rehearsal, and with Bocelli sitting down at the piano to play, Tessa admitted to feeling nervous inside, but her training paid off and she managed to maintain her poise. She recalls that when she heard Bocelli sing his first line of the song, she felt a rush of emotion that brought tears to her eyes.  While much of the rest of the afternoon is a blur, Tessa expects she will never forget the magic of an extraordinary opportunity to perform with an international star.  The experience was also a reminder to Tessa to appreciate her voice’s power as a force for good and the supportive community standing behind its young people to encourage their dreams.

Tad Heitman is a parent of children involved in the high school’s theater program.

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