Former quarterback went viral as balcony opera singer to perform at ASU

October 25, 2022

Gus Farwell’s journey from soccer field to opera comes full circle

Gus Farwell is known as the former quarterback who went viral for singing an opera from his seventh floor balcony in Barcelona, ​​Spain during the pandemic shutdown in 2020.

Farwell’s life — from high school football player to ASU Sun Devil to opera guy on the balcony — is lyrical in its ups and downs.

His journey will come full circle when he performs at a free event on November 4 called “Gridiron at ASU Gammage” at Arizona State University.

“We call it a concert pep rally,” Farwell said. “This will truly be a love letter to ASU.”

As a teenager in Los Gatos, California, Farwell enjoyed doing musical theater, but he never heard opera. Then, one evening, while hanging out at a friend’s house, the CD player jumped to his friend’s parents’ opera CD.

“It was a really visceral moment where the room melted away from me,” he said. “I remember getting lost in the music.”

He asked to borrow the CD, and he still has it. At his 20th high school reunion, his friend told him that she didn’t know that was how his love of opera started and that he could keep the CD.

As a freshman at ASU — whom Farwell chose because of his theater program — he was an extra on the football team, playing backup behind quarterback Jake Plummer. In his sophomore year, he went to the 1997 Rose Bowl with the team. A few days before the match, the coach announced to the players that they would be going to Universal Studios the next day to enter a talent contest.

“I decided the best thing I could do was sing ‘Ridi Pagliaccio’ from ‘Pagliaccia’,” he said. “It’s something I should think about singing now, not when you’re 19.”

Gus Farwell performed opera on his balcony in Barcelona for 65 days during the 2020 pandemic lockdown – in all weathers. Photo courtesy of Gus Farwell

So, in front of the Arizona State and Ohio State football teams and in front of media cameras, he started singing a cappella.

“Everyone started laughing,” he said. “Then suddenly everyone shut up and thought, ‘Oh my god, he’s serious.’ ”

After an incredible Rose Bowl experience, despite the dramatic 20-17 loss, Farwell was eager to return to the Tempe campus. Plummer would graduate and head to the NFL, and Farwell would have a shot at quarterbacking.

But it all came crashing down a few days later when he found out that one of his best friends from high school had been killed by a drunk driver. The friend had been hugely supportive during Farwell’s senior year of high school, when his father died of pancreatic cancer.

Reeling from the loss, Farwell quit the football team and ASU midway through the semester, failing all of his classes.

Eventually, he got back on his feet, improved his community college grades, and graduated from Santa Clara University.

Always interested in opera, he met the woman who would become his wife during a trip to Europe, and he sang for her.

“I said, ‘I don’t know what to do with it,’ and she said, ‘There’s nothing you can do,'” he said.

He moved to Los Angeles and waited tables and tended a bar to earn enough money to pay for $300 an hour singing lessons with an opera singer.

“He gave me the bargain price,” Farwell said. “I would go for half an hour when I could.”

Then things started to work out. He and his wife, a breast cancer survivor, planned a big charity event, during which he performed his first operatic solo. This led to an invitation to perform at the Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night fundraiser in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2012, where he performed Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”

“I also sang ‘O Solo Mio’ and at the end Tom Hanks got up and grabbed the centerpiece flowers and started throwing tulips on the stage,” he said.

A few years later, he performed in Los Angeles and met Spanish opera singer Placido Domingo, who he says told him, “You belong in opera.”

Farwell and his family moved to Barcelona, ​​where he prepared at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. In 2019 he decided to participate in a new opera competition in Florence, Italy.

“One thing I’ve had to deal with in my career is being too old for everything,” he said, noting that many programs and competitions aim to give young artists a boost. But the Florence competition was open.

“I put so much effort into it,” he said. “I drove my family 2 p.m. from Barcelona and didn’t make it past the first lap.

“It was really disheartening. I thought maybe it wouldn’t work. So I stopped singing. I wasn’t practicing. And I tried to put myself in a place where I was from. agree with that.

And then the pandemic hit and Barcelona went into strict lockdown. The newspaper reported that everyone was invited out onto their balconies and porches at 8 p.m. to cheer on the medical workers.

“Everyone was cheering, and an ambulance came by and it was really emotional because everyone was cheering for the ambulance like it was a running back, running down the field,” Farwell said.

“That’s when I got caught in the moment, and let out the last two notes of “Nessum Dorma. » Everyone clapped and I thought that would be it.

But the next day, his wife offers him to sing a tune. He wasn’t thrilled with the idea, believing it would cause a stir around him, but his wife said, “They need something.”

So he sang the first verse and the chorus of “O Solo Mio” a cappella.

“I thought I was going to hit the high note at the end and be okay, but everyone went crazy and started chanting ‘Otre! Other!’ (‘Another another!’)”

“I started singing whatever came to mind, even though I hadn’t thought of arias in a long time.”

Then he put his PA speakers on the balcony to add a backing track. His daughter took a video from the other apartment balcony and his wife uploaded it and it went viral.

What was supposed to be a lark for 14 days turned into 65 days of balcony opera.

“I still have the pages where we made a schedule with what I would sing,” he said. “It was, ‘What are we eating, and what are daddy going to sing?’ ”

Besides opera favorites, Farwell also performs pop, Broadway and American standards. Photo courtesy of Gus Farwell

Eventually the lockdown eased and one Friday he learned that the following Sunday evening would be the last applause from the balcony. He was glad he had some time to prepare.

“There’s a tradition in opera that if you reach a certain level, every time you go on stage, no matter what’s happening in the opera, everyone starts clapping,” he said. he declares.

“I stepped out onto this balcony, and a hoarse noise hit me, and I immediately started crying. The street was crowded, all the balconies were full, and all the rooftops were full.

“I barely managed to finish the last song. I can hear it in my voice how moved I was. It was one of the most special times of my life.”

The next morning, a recording of His performance was on “Good Morning America”.

“Everyone wanted to know, ‘What’s next?’ ”

In the end, not much.

“COVID held firm. You couldn’t book anything,” he said.

But during his balcony performances, he had chatted with Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU vice president of cultural affairs and executive director of ASU Gammage.

“We talked about my time at ASU, and I told him that I used to sneak into Gammage from the loading dock when I was a freshman,” he said. declared.

“I would stand on stage in the dark, look at the empty chairs and say, ‘One day I’ll play here.’ “

And that day is November 4, when Farwell will perform in the family’s “Gridiron to ASU Gammage,” along with the ASU Symphony Orchestra, Gospel Choir, Sun Devil Marching Band and faculty artists. Before the show, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., there will be a tailgate at the ASU Gammage parking lot with food trucks and games.

“There will be a mix of music. There will be Billy Joel and the American standards and Broadway and the heavyweights of the operatic repertoire. I go for the big stuff with the big notes at the end.

“It will bleed brown and gold.”

Farwell also returned to football, working as an analyst for “Pac-12 After Dark”.

“Getting away from football was really difficult,” he said. “To come back now and have it completely turned around and walk around ASU as a place of light and positivity, I’m so glad we’ve come full circle.”

“Gridiron to ASU Gammage” is free, but tickets are required.

Top image: Former ASU quarterback Gus Farwell went viral in 2020 for performing opera arias on his balcony every night during the pandemic lockdown. Photo courtesy of Gus Farwell

Mary Beth Faller