Sometimes talent is hiding in the most unsuspecting places.
That’s what Tony Russo, the owner of Russo’s Market in Watertown, discovered this weekend after one of his employees delivered a series of unanticipated holiday performances inside the store that stopped customers dead in their tracks.
Russo said he was clueless to Guilherme Assuncao’s abilities until late Friday night, when the 23-year-old from Brazil offered to do a sound check on equipment to be used by classically-trained musicians over the weekend, as they entertained shoppers picking up groceries.
“I expected it to be pretty good,” said Russo. “He turned out to be even better than I thought.”
On Saturday and Sunday, after blowing away his shocked coworkers, Assuncao — everyone at Russo’s calls him “Gilly” —was invited to step up to the microphone to sing several songs he had memorized, including “Hallelujah” and Andrea Bocelli’s “Con Te Partirò.”
Storeowners posted three videos of him performing to the company’s Facebook page. By Monday morning, a video of Assuncao singing “O Holy Night” while in his white work uniform had been viewed more than 16,000 times.
“Wish I had been there,” one customer wrote beneath the video on Facebook. “Lovely, what a talented young man!”
Janet Porcaro, a realtor who stumbled upon Assuncao singing while shopping Saturday, said the performance took her breath away.
“I heard the music and I thought, ‘That seems louder than just a record,’” she said. “And then I walked in and I could hear this incredible voice. I left my cart and left my bag, and people were circling around. Everybody just stopped. It was just so beautiful.”
In 2015, Assuncao moved to the United States to attend college in Utah. When the cost of classes got too expensive, he found an opportunity to continue his education in the Boston area, at the Computer Systems Institute.
He started working as a dishwasher at Russo’s six months ago, to help pay his bills. Each day he would slip on his headphones and listen to music and sing to himself as he went about his duties, he said. These days, he works at the hot food bar, and occasionally does food deliveries and catering jobs for the company.
Assuncao said he isn’t formally trained in classical music or opera, but singing has been a passion of his since a very young age. During high school, he was in the choir. And in 2012, he was the “Phantom” during a production of “Phantom of the Opera” — it’s his favorite musical of all time — while still living in Brazil.
Besides some karaoke stints here and there, he hasn’t done an actual performance in years. That made the opportunity at Russo’s this weekend a particularly liberating one for the aspiring musician.
“Music is my life,” he said. “It’s everything to me.”
Assuncao said he chose to sing “O Holy Night” because he’s been practicing it for a performance at his church on Christmas Eve.
As for Bocelli’s “Con Te Partirò,” the song has long held a special place in his heart.
At the age of 6, Assuncao’s great-grandmother passed away. On the day of her funeral, he stayed home with a baby-sitter as his family attended the services. While grappling with the death of his relative, he played Bocelli’s song on repeat.
“I just didn’t have the strength to go,” he said. “I just felt a connection with [the song], it was just helping me.”
The reaction to his performances both online and in person has somewhat shocked Assuncao.
“[When I was singing], the whole store stopped to watch and a lot of people were filming,” he said. “It was just amazing. I haven’t felt like that in a long time.”
It has also left him feeling optimistic about what the future holds.
“For music, all you need is opportunities,” said Assuncao, who dreams of one day studying at Berklee College of Music. “And I hope this helps to open some.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.