Ever wonder what it’s like to be a viral phenomenon on social media? Just ask Boston Conservatory alumnus Justin Gigliello (B.M. '11, voice). Gigliello’s impromptu performance of “Ave Maria” at a Disney World resort in March 2019 quickly became an internet sensation, gaining the attention of national news outlets from Good Morning America to People magazine, and worldwide exposure on social media, with nearly 20 million views (and counting) on Facebook alone. The singer shares his story leading up to the serenade, and the unforeseen aftermath of his spur-of-the-moment recital.
Can you walk us through how the moment at the Grand Floridian Hotel unfolded?
Well, my family and I were out to lunch at the Floridian. I was telling my daughter how my parents would take me to Disney World every year, and we would stay next door at the Polynesian Hotel. I told her how much I enjoyed when we would go to the Floridian and listen to the piano music and band in the lobby, so she asked if we could go check it out after lunch. The pianist was already playing, so we started dancing. She then went up to the pianist and told him “My daddy loves to play and sing!” He asked her which piece I like, and she said “Ave Maria.” He asked me which version, I said Schubert, and it just happened.
How did the video go viral?
I posted it on Facebook, because I wanted some professors at the Conservatory and friends from school to see that I was still singing and using my degree. People must have started sharing the video because they enjoyed it. It ended up getting shared to some of the Disney Facebook groups, and then from there it just went viral. Now, it is all over the world and has almost 20 million views on Facebook!
Why did your daughter choose Schubert’s “Ave Maria”?
Lyla has heard me practice the piece at home when I’m asked to sing it for a wedding or funeral. She has also come to a few wedding gigs with me and will sit in the back and hear me perform. It is her favorite piece for me to sing.
Some of the news coverage mentions how your outward appearance—football jerseys, New England accent—belies your vocal training. What is your response to these reactions?
I think it is great, and I love it! I think it adds to people’s reactions once they hear me sing. When I was at the Conservatory I always got “you don’t look like you should be an opera singer”—jokingly, of course. But it was all because of my love for sports and how I carried myself. You can never judge a book by its cover.
For those of us who will never know this experience, what is it like to be a viral sensation?
It is absolutely incredible! It is something I couldn’t even imagine being possible. Everything has happened so fast and my family and I are just trying to stay in the moment as much as possible. We are taking it one day at a time, and are so appreciative of everyone who has viewed and shared the video. They all made this happen, and we are eternally grateful.
I would also like to thank every Conservatory professor who worked with me, especially Victor Jannett and Patty Thom. They helped me so much with my voice and I am extremely thankful. I would also like to thank the entire class of 2011. So many of my friends helped me through challenges, and I’m a better person because of it.