Seattle opera singer brings ‘good vibratos’ to neighbors with front yard concerts

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SEATTLE -- On any given weekday, a socially distant crowd gathers in Seattle's East Ballard neighborhood.

At 5 o'clock on the dot, Stephen Wall emerges from his home. And something magical happens.

It began a few weeks ago on a whim, as Stephen, an accomplished opera singer and musician, practiced his string bass in the yard.

"I thought this will be innocuous ... no one will be bothered by it, and strangely it had the opposite effect," he says. "People walking by would stop and listen for a while, and bikes would give the far out thumbs up. They were excited about it."

Later that day, Stephen became inspired while watching TV.

"They showed a man on his balcony in Naples, Italy when Italy was sort of the big news, and he was singing the 'Nessun Dorma' from his balcony," Stephen recalls.

The next day, Stephen walked out his front door, and all by his lonesome, he began to sing.

"By the time 10 minutes was up, I would say a dozen people had gathered ... saying, 'This is great. Are you going to do this again?' I thought, 'Well, yeah.' The next day I had sort of forgotten about it. I was bringing groceries in at 4:45 and as I walk past the sliding door, I see that there are people in the street."

So Stephen grabbed his speaker, walked outside and greeted his eager audience. And he sang.

Singing and teaching opera is his profession, but the reason Stephen sings so passionately is quite personal: His wife is in the health care field, on the front lines of this pandemic.

"I almost always ask for a show of hands at the concerts of whose medical, which gets huge applause," Stephen says. "We`re all looking for something that we recognize from before."

Maybe it's comfort they find in his resonating vibrato and colorful bellow.

"I think that we are all longing for anything that feels normal and hopeful," Stephen says. "It's our job as the performers to stay a little bit detached, stay strong. I've found when performing an opera or a show like this - you stave that off until the show is over and then you can go inside and fall apart when you`re not in front of anybody."

Stephen has a catalog of about 30 songs he cycles through to keep things fresh, but he always ends with "Nessun Dorma."

"It's a story at a moment of confusion and uncertainty when he sings it, but he sings with the greatest confidence that speaks Italian - in the morning we shall be triumphant ... And you don`t even have to know Italian to kind of get that that`s what he`s talking about."

Stephen hopes his performances will teach people that gifts are meant to be shared.

"If you're thinking of it, then go do it. If not now, when?"

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