December 1, 2005
Washington DC, US

A Royal Christmas 2005

Washington, 1. 12. 2005, rehearsal, thanks to Jack!

It’s  Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas!
Cami McNamee
Mi dispiace, George. Lighting up the nation’s Christmas tree is nice and all, but I’m afraid that for us, the center of the immediate universe last night was across town at the MCI center, where visions of Bocelli sugarplums danced in our heads! This time we had Andrea right in our own backyard.
The arena looked festively filled, and I’d say the overwhelming demographic was couples of all ages. (I can remember a time when women seemed to be the dominant group.) I saw some from the younger set as well. Like the golden-haired young lass clad in a long, red, velvet dress, requisite black patent leather shoes, and very special Christmas socks. Beata bambina to be given such an early head start on experiences Bocelli and classical!
The stage was beautifully bedecked with a rich, midnight blue backdrop studded with “starlight,” hung with a huge bountiful wreath, and clusters of convincingly life-like Christmas trees placed stage right and stage left, all twinkling intensely with Christmas spirit. The choir members were seated in tiers on either side of center stage, and the orchestra was at floor level in front.
To be honest, I’m having a really tough time remembering precisely what preceded Andrea’s first appearance onstage. It’s embarrassing, because I’m guessing there was a good 20 minutes worth of entertaining going on up there. That song comes to mind, “Are the stars out tonight? I don’t care if it’s cloudy or bright, for I only have eyes for youuuu…”
It’s not as if the more than ample supporting cast of 175 plus wasn’t competent or appealing. The lush orchestra, energetically conducted by Edwin Outwater, resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, opened with the Christmas medley that I’m guessing has been etched into our collective memories through various orchestral renditions over countless Christmases. I’m sure you’d know it … lots of sleigh bells jingling, ring, ting, tingling too, and French horns majestically intoning a familiar sequence of popular and religious carols.
In the ballet department, how can you lose with the traditionally favorite Tchaikovsky Nutcracker ballet? The mice were amusingly mouselike in a balletic sort of way. The sugarplum fairy was floatingly fairylike, in graceful time to the delicately twinkling heavenly sound of the celesta. Funny though. I hadn’t remembered that sweet little Clara had been so intimately enamored of that nutcracker boy of hers, but hey.  Then there was the dynamically acrobatic dance troupe of Ukrainians that leaped, kicked, back flipped, and twirled their hearts out for us with admirable gusto.
The Westminster Concert Choir blended articulate voices in several carols. I know they did Handel’s majestic and spirited Hallelujah chorus at some point, and the Carol of the Bells and Angels We Have Heard on High. They made us warmly recollect holiday gatherings with It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and they provided a nice vocal backdrop for both Denyce and Andrea.
Denyce took the stage before Andrea, causing a ripple of comment with a golden gown sporting a Marie Antoinettish bustle. (Yes, I said bustle.) And is it OK if I don’t remember what she sang first? I do know she sang O Holy Night with her lush mezzo, and later she did Go Tell It on the Mountain. She has a convincing ability to really narrate a song like this.
When Andrea did finally walk out, the crowd was chomping at the bit for him. He was applauded warmly of course, and he flashed a grateful smile in return. My memory serves well enough to remember which songs he sang, but unfortunately has pretty much let go of when he sang them. (Although there was no program, which would have helped me out here, the jacket of the Sacred Arias CD would nearly suffice for one).
He and Denyce sang Panis Angelicus as an interesting duet. He has somehow managed to shape and deepen this song over time. Andrea was also in full command of Rossini’s Domine Deus, a powerful warm-up for his Teatro San Carlo debut this coming spring, when he will sing the full Petite Messe Solenelle. Adeste fideles was absolutely grand! Andrea flung it out full tilt, combining all the earnest fervor of an innocent choirboy and all the supercharged, masterful power of his matured operatic voice. And how many of you out there know the second verse in Latin by heart? Atta boy, Andrea! When he reached the full-throated finish, the audience was energized, rewarding our tenore with enthusiastic applause. Ombra Mai Fu has always been a puzzle to me. Andrea sings it just fine, and it’s nice to know how beautifully he handles Handel…but it’s a love song to a plant! Well, OK, with a stretch I can imagine it as an early music precursor to O Tannenbaum. But Ave Verum Corpus is a bit more challenging to justify. The words don’t exactly say “Merry Christmas” to me. Well, Andrea has always followed a logic distinctly his own. Mozart’s aria is infused with poignant sorrow, and Andrea interprets it with the emotion he taps from deep within. If he wants to give it to us, I’m there to receive it.
As our son noted, a bit mystified, Andrea included many Ave Maria’s in the program. But in a preconcert interview, Andrea had made it clear that for him, the sacred is the obvious focus of the season, with Mary in the place of honor. Mary, madre pia, vergin del ciel. I have a weakness for the Schubert version of Ave Maria when Andrea sings it in Italian.  Its melodious reverence seems to fit his voice like a glove, and Andrea has included it in several concerts over the years. On the other hand, it has been a long while since I recall hearing him do the Bach/Gounod version. It never fails to stir the heart with its prayerful sweetness. But of all the Ave Maria’s, it is the one written to Mascagni’s intermezzo from Cavelleria Rusticana that melts my heart. With riveting intensity, Andrea opens that sacred aria up from the depths of his soul, and your being just falls into it, transported to another dimension. It is achingly beautiful, and he unerringly floats that final note in a way that is surreal, yet somehow completely expected.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that it was rather a tough leap from the purity of the recent acoustically perfect concert experience at Ferguson Hall in Newport News, Virginia, to this evening’s potpourri at the cavernous MCI center. But it also made me realize that Andrea has done a good deal of branching out these last two years: ice shows, more classical concerts senza microphone, lullabies for little Elmo, his first completely pop concert just ahead, anticipating debuts at Teatro San Carlo and the Lincoln Center. His versatility is simply astounding. Whatever he does, he brings us along with him. As he observed so simply, “I think that if the audience likes me, they will follow me.” Do we ever.
Of course, a rare few are a bit more disgruntled, like the grumpy little man seated beside us at MCI who kept up an uninterrupted litany of grumbling through the concert—he hadn’t come all the way from New York to see a lot of ballet dancers, yada yada yada….finally, at yet another appearance of those pesky Ukrainians, he had had enough and tottered off in disgusted protest, his unhappy companion reluctantly in tow—just in time to miss three of the most glorious offerings of Andrea for the night. I guess he showed THEM!!
As the evening drew to the end, the crowd begged for encores and of course they were graciously granted. First, Andrea’s Italian version of White Christmas. His deceptively easy-going, mellow tone almost made you forget that Bing ever recorded the song. Then the familiar introduction of The Prayer commenced, and the audience was in full surrender. But I wish that just once they could manage to restrain their thunderously adoring response so we could actually hear the impossibly held clarity of that final sweet note. But bless their little hearts, they can’t help it. Then Andrea spoke a few words, saying that he thought it was important to have an evening like this, different from his usual concert and, particularly at this time of year, to give us the sacred arias. He said thank you, and he wished us all “Merry Christmas”!
For me, the evening’s shining star atop the tree was the Silent Night duet, Andrea and Denyce blending in heart and voice in this profoundly simple, timeless carol. When all is said and done, this, after all, is the essence of Christmas. Silent night. Holy night. For a blessed moment in time, at the political power center of the nation, a bit of the weary world rejoiced with our tenore.
Grazie, Andrea.
by Cami McNamee

Back to concert page
 zurück nach oben