Aprile Millo is known as “The Golden Voiced Diva”. She’s an operatic soprano, a huge success, a household name for opera buffs. Aprile is a grand beauty, dressed in gowns of the most elevated haute couture, at home onstage with the Metropolitan Opera.
But my view of Aprile goes back to the days long before she became famous, when we both attended Hollywood High School. We graduated, grew into ourselves, grew up. Aprile Millo became synonymous with The Golden Voiced Diva, and I wrote a novel. In Chapter 13, I described the first time I heard her sing.
In spite of the red carpet image that “Hollywood” conjures up, our high school dealt with gangs, violence, prostitution, poverty. The Hollywood High auditorium — our “opera house” — always smelled strongly of dust and faintly of mold. The acoustics were dismal.
The day began unremarkably. I handed my teacher the required “pass” to attend the Fall Music Concert, and hurried to the other end of campus. I crossed the quad with its crumbling asphalt, covered with litter. I was pleased to miss English, which was interesting only when the students challenged the teacher, who was determined to bore us all into an irreversible coma. I expected nothing of this assembly beyond a break from the routine.
I took my seat next to a friend, and looked around, mildly frightened. I was born into a film industry family, and had been raised on Audience Etiquette. Apparently, these kids missed the memo. Gangs yelled and cursed threateningly. Paper airplanes and spitballs zoomed in every direction. Conversations never stopped for performances. Proctors intervened only if fights broke out.
Then a girl I’d never met walked onstage. Aprile had long, untamed red hair. She wore blue jeans. I don’t remember the song, but it was classical. I do remember thinking that the musical director had made a terrible mistake — forcing a girl to perform a classical piece that this out-for-blood-audience would surely despise. Students at Hollywood High were beaten up for much less.
Aprile began to sing, and I caught my breath. Her voice was like nothing I had ever heard. Silky and tough, honey and grit — powerful enough to cut through the roar, gentle enough to take each of us by the hand. She held her body nearly immobile, her eyes locking onto the loudest groups. I followed her eyes. I remember with absolute clarity the looks of astonishment on one person after another, as they began to listen. Gangs quieted. Conversations tapered into silence. Paper airplanes glided to a smooth landing. When she finished, the auditorium was still. Then Aprile smiled – disarming, endearing, coltish. The applause literally shook the room.
When I wrote my first novel, I remembered those five minutes when Aprile Millo transformed a room full of howling hormones into a rapt audience. To this day, I’ve never seen anything like it. I tried to capture it in my novel, but at the same time, I know that Aprile’s voice is not meant to be “captured”.
Except for hearing Aprile sing, I had no contact with her during our high school years. But she gave me a gift that morning, years before she became The Golden Voiced Diva. I’ll carry her song with me always.
Thanks to Aprile Millo for giving me permission to write this piece. Check out her website, read her posts, follow her career.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, the power of friendship — and was written in gratitude to Hollywood High School with its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.
Click here to purchase one of Amy’s novels, to read reviews, to check out the first few chapters.