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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
First Union Center
December 8, 2002

Philadelphia PA, December 8, 2002 - thanks to Jack

Philadelphia, December 8, 2002

Until last Sunday in Philadelphia, I thought that the voice on the Sentimento CD was about as good as it gets and that last June’s concert in Washington, DC, was an ultimate high. That was, until this past Sunday in Philly at the First Union Center when Andrea Bocelli strode strongly with Steven Mercurio to center stage and, with the solid, sensual tones of "Aranjuez," took command and never let go.

The orchestrated lights, the perfectly measured sound system, the dominant backdrop of the single, giant screen revealing the larger-than-life intimate details of a passionately focused performance…this was one classy production—grand, but never overshadowing the force of Andrea’s quietly charged presence. The man is distilled elegance.

And his companions. Hard to resist the charming image of Andrea striding proudly onstage with an extraordinarily talented beauty on each arm! Each so young—and gifted with this opportunity by a generous-hearted colleague who understands well its importance. Lidia Baich is a diminutive dynamo, her capable musicianship charged with energy and finesse. Violin and tenor voice—liquid silver and molten gold. And darling Maria Luigia Borsi, just a delight! The sweet and saucy ingenue with a voice that blends beautifully with Andrea’s in "O soave fanciulla." She has an easy presence that interacts warmly and gently with Andrea. Yet, she has the dramatic power to capably convey the darkly glowing sensual embers banked beneath the love duet from Otello, "Gia nella notte densa."

Of course, the faithful presence of Maestro Mercurio is by now almost a given for these concerts—instinctively and ceaselessly supporting his friend with solid artistry. Reassuringly gleeful companion. Essence of energy. Inspired djinn. He takes those familiar and not-so-familiar orchestral pieces and makes them fresh for us, squeezing every ounce of dedication from the marvelous musicians who surely are somewhat weary on this, the last night of a long tour. But there he is, conjuring life into them and into this music in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the wildy animated sorcerer’s apprentice, Mickey Mouse.

There is something extraordinary happening here. This amazing concert combines an intoxicating mix of sheer operatic power (the Otello duet and "E lucevan le stelle"), nostalgically old-fashioned romance (Tosti's "Musica proibita," "Because"), smoldering sensuality ("Occhi di fata"), haunting melodies ("Plaisir d'amour," "Core 'ngrato"), the sacred ("Panis angelicus"), the profane ("Marechiare"), and classic pop ballads ("My way"). And one voice owns them all.

Almost always at some point in these concerts I glance over the faces in the audience, noting its make-up. This crowd was, I think, one of the most diverse I have seen, many of them young—20s and 30s—many of them couples, many with very small children. I had to wonder how many might have missed discovering the power of Verdi or the meltingly lilting beauty of Juliet’s "Je veux vivre" by Gounod if they hadn’t been led here by the Tuscan pied piper of "Melodramma," "Con te partiro," and "My Way." Diverse or not, Andrea brought them all to their feet time after time with the emotional power of that voice, which at times seemed almost too much to bear. More than once, after the thrill of an impossible note, I looked at my friend in astonishment. And how we take delight in "coaxing" encores from Andrea. But kids, I think it’s only an illusion. Almost before we were finished asking, he was up there tossing them out to us like candy from a Mardi Gras float! I think the man is actually having a good time, and he is doing things with his voice that I haven’t yet mastered the vocabulary to describe!

Here’s the thing. Everything seems to be coming together. Measured in smiles per performance minute, this is one happy tenor. More relaxed than any of us, maybe even Andrea himself, would have thought possible, he is clearly in a good place with his voice, and it shows in his confident air. Almost hard to believe for those of us who have been watching from the beginning! But this young tenore of ours is just approaching the prime of his career—with plenty of room to grow. Now how does that quote go? "Grow old with me…"

Cami McNamee

On December 8, 2002, I heard Andrea Bocelli at the First Union Center, in Philadelphia. I'd thought at one point that I wouldn't go to any more arena concerts because of the drawbacks of poor acoustics and heavy amplification (too loud, too distorting) and because of the burden that concert tours place on Andrea. But when tickets went on Internet presale for the December 8 concert, there I was online buying mine. The seats were in the lowest price range, but in the first row of the mezzanine section and close to Andrea's side of the stage. The seats were good; Andrea was stupendous.

When Andrea first performed in Philadelphia-on July 21, 1998-he was equally wonderful because the emotional warmth of his singing, his ability to reflect on and convey the meaning of each song or aria as he is performing it, his sincerity, and his commitment to music have always been with him and always been clear. But the growth and development of Andrea as an artist were striking to witness at Sunday's concert. The shyness and nervousness so evident in 1998 were replaced by his commanding presence on stage and the power and individuality with which he performed every piece. He is in full flower as a singer and as the wonderful individual he reveals through his singing.

Andrea recently said that "E lucevan le stelle" is his favorite aria, if he had to choose one. On Sunday, he sang "E lucevan le stelle" with more emotional intensity and sincerity than I could have imagined anyone being capable of expressing. That aria was a highlight in an evening of highlights. "O soave fanciulla" also moved beyond magnificence to something celestial, and the shared high C's at the end went on and on.

In "My Way," Andrea seemed to double up his will and his spirit and drive them through the song. I liked the fact that the result was not so much a glitzy performance as a manifesto.

Having played Sentimento dozens and dozens and dozens of times since it was released, I was moved by hearing four of the songs with Andrea right there in front of me (not too far away, anyway!), and these live performances ("Aranjuez," "Plaisir d'amour," "Occhi di fata," and "Musica proibita") were even more affecting than the recorded versions.

Another special choice was "Panis Angelicus," which Andrea sang as angelically as I've ever heard him. I did feel he was actually saying some sort of prayer before he started singing, rather than just giving the impression of prayerfulness by folding his hands on his chest.

And then there was "Core 'ngrato." Whether or not Andrea's Neapolitan accent is up to snuff is entirely irrelevant. He sings that song with such drama and conviction that it's a spiritual experience to hear him.

As usual, Maestro Steven Mercurio had the audience clap along to parts of the happy "Brindisi." "O' sole mio" also had some up-tempo accompaniment from the orchestra, and Andrea briefly marked the time with his right hand, as if he were caught up in the catchy rhythm. His life has taken him on quite an adventure since he sang that song as a boy.

Andrea and Maria Luigia Borsi both put considerable animation-as well as powerful singing-into their "Gia nella notte densa," from Otello. Andrea's "Marechiare" likewise had terrific energy. Throughout the concert, I continued to wonder how Andrea could sustain such power and such a high level of performance as he maintained.

And now to the subject so dear to the hearts of some critics and would-be critics: whether or not Andrea has such-and-such or thus-and-so gap between his singing and perfection. These folks seem to arrive with some sort of preconceived checklist that doesn't allow for new and perhaps even more wonderful gifts than those enshrined on the list. But what an absolute waste of time and opportunity it is to try to figure out where Andrea might fail to walk on water.

Instead, what does matter enormously is what Andrea gives to others through his music. His magnificent high notes, the emotional richness and sincerity of his delivery, his ability to share with listeners his own understanding of the words and music in each song or aria, the warmth of his voice from top to bottom, his palpable aura that audiences respond to so enthusiastically-these qualities are a few of those that make Andrea a glorious singer and make comparisons with this or that other singer, or this or that rigid set of standards, meaningless.

Furthermore, I believe that some critics write the bulk of their reviews prior to performances and base their judgments on Andrea's work several years ago-which was also wonderful, although perhaps even harder for some of the more unimaginative critics to fit into the formulas for judgment that they use in place of careful listening, independent thought, and an employing of the heart as well as the head.

A couple additional notes: Andrea looked wonderful, fit and elegant. The new hair style and dark shirt seem to suit his present self-assurance and apparently greater peace of mind. Before "Because," Andrea spoke to the audience, saying that he needed our help because the song was in English. He spoke of "Because" having been recorded by many singers, including Mario Lanza, from Philadelphia. The evening's four encores were "Melodramma," with Andrea playing the flute in the introduction and during a bridge; "The Prayer," in Italian; "My Way," with Andrea on keyboard; and "Con te partirò"/"Time to Say Goodbye," with the solo violinist and the soprano joining him.

Throughout the concert, I felt that the violinist-Lidia Baich-played beautifully and that Ms. Borsi was effective both as a soloist and in duet with Andrea. As fans of Andrea know, Steven Mercurio is a terrific conductor; he almost throws himself into the air to get just the results he wants from the orchestra, which responded with crisp and stirring playing.

Winnie Hayek

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