Forte trio lend voices to Boca arts festival

By Elizabeth Rahe

Since competing on NBC’s America’s Got Talent last summer, the three tenors of Forte have enjoyed quite a ride, including performances at Carnegie Hall and the White House. On March 15, Josh Page, Sean Panikkar and Fernando Varela will bring their soaring vocals to the Festival of the Arts Boca for their first full-length Florida concert.

They are among a diverse collection of artists and authors booked for the fest, March 6-15, including violinist Itzhak Perlman, jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, the aerialists of Cirque de la Symphonie, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and many more.

South Florida is familiar territory for one of Forte’s tenors, Varela of Orlando, who joined Palm Beach Opera’s Resident Artist Program a decade ago. “I had a great time living in South Florida for a couple years,” Varela says. “It was an important time for me – I met some of the teachers who helped shape who I was to become as an artist.”

Who Puerto Rico-born Varela has become is a crossover performer, as comfortable singing opera as pop. He came together with Page, a New York classical artist who also performs in a rock band, and Panikkar, a Michigan-based opera singer of Sri Lankan heritage, just before the America’s Got Talent audition. “We were starting from scratch, not only musically but personally, too,” he says.

However, the talented and personable tenors resonated with judges and viewers, who voted them to a fourth-place finish. Although all three have solo careers, the show’s exposure has opened new opportunities for Forte, including a large-scale tour now in the works.

“The floodgates have flung wide open since AGT,” Varela says. “It put us in a whole other league.”

For their festival concert Varela says Forte will perform music from their first album, Forte, including My Heart Will Go On – “which gave us one of the best moments we had on the show” – and Somewhere from West Side Story. “We’ll probably also sing Nessun Dorma, so there is at least one opera aria among the pop songs.”

The fest kicks off March 6 with Perlman’s violin virtuosity and the Festival Orchestra Boca, conducted by Constantine Kitsopoulos. Perlman returns March 9, joining with Israeli-born chief cantor of New York City’s Park East Synagogue, Yitzchak Meir Helfgot, for a concert based on their album, Eternal Echoes: Songs and Dances for the Soul. The program, which Perlman often refers to as “Jewish comfort music,” combines the violinist’s classical technique with Helfgot’s soulful voice, backed by chamber-orchestra and
klezmer musicians.

Festival of the Arts Boca at Mizner Park Amphitheater and Cultural Arts Center, March 6-15, 561-368-8445 (information), 866-571-2787 (box office),; tickets $25-$125.

Above photo: Josh Page, Sean Panikkar and Fernando Varela of Forte



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