June 11, 2006
Hollywood, California


Bowled Over at the Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood Bowl, June 11, 2006, thanks to Jack!

Only a week ago, breakfast had been sfogliatelle and cappuccino in Napoli. This morning it was sausage McMuffin and Starbucks in LA. My poor brain didn’t quite know which range of jet lag deficit to defer to—3 hours for California or 6 hours for Italy. In the taxi on the way to LAX, my nonfunctional stupor made one thing clear…4 hours of sleep is not really enough—but O DIO it was all SO worth it for the privilege of being there for this incredible event! Because last night, Andrea Bocelli filled the Hollywood Bowl to capacity and then held it in the palm of his hand, legend meeting legend.
From the first intricately perfect colorful burst of "Improvviso" from Andrea Chenier to the last brilliant vocal shower of "Nessun Dorma," this more than 2˝ hour concert dazzled us throughout with the intensity of the grand finale of a spectacular fireworks show. In addition to the two just mentioned, the program catalogued a list of arias for Andrea to perform that were unstinting in the level of challenge they presented, "E Lucevan le Stelle" from Tosca, "Di Quella Pira" from Il Trovatore, the duet "Au Fond du Temple Saint" from The Pearlfishers, and the Act I trio from Il Trovatore. Then throw in the grandeur of "Granada" by Lara, some never-before-heard additions from Andrea—"Vieni Sul Mar," "Mamma," "Funiculi, Funicula"—and highlights from Amore, including "Can’t Help Falling in Love." Honestly, could he have packed any more goodies into the evening? For any given concert, I would have been more than content to have been given a few of these musical offerings. Having them all made me just plain giddy! I spoke briefly with a member of the choir from California State University of Fullerton, participating in the concert, who commented that he had new respect for Andrea after listening to him navigate this difficult program three nights in a row. During the evening’s classical offerings, each piece from Andrea, one after the other, was dead-on, precisely perfect, and confident. The skillful trills, the long-held notes, impressive control reflected his growing vocal maturity.
This was really a completely redesigned program, one that showed clearly that Andrea has mastered the "split" personality of his two musical realms, integrating with ease both the operatic challenge he set for himself in the first half and the popular repertoire of the second half, no longer confined just to the "encore" category. After intermission, Andrea seemed both visibly and mentally transformed. Now onstage with portable mike in hand, he noted that because he was so "happy and delighted" with the success of his new CD Amore, he had decided for the first time to include some popular songs in the concert. But of course, he added impishly, it had required "the change of the jacket." From the instant he stepped out, that impeccably fitted, trim white dinner jacket he now sported drew whistles of admiration from the audience and a sheepishly pleased grin from Andrea, who seemed ready to kick back and relax.
 First he offered a romantically old-fashioned traditional Italian folk melody that we have never heard before—wistfully sweet: "Come out on the sea, Come rowing with me, You will feel your sailor’s ecstasy!" Then he electrified his audience with the grandness of "Granada." Placido Domingo’s version of this classic is firmly planted in my memory bank, and I wondered momentarily how Andrea’s would compare. There was no need for concern. He simply made it his own—forcefully beautiful with a commanding vocal flourish that caught you in the sweep of it. Then he lightened the mood with two popular old Italian favorites. With the lively, light-hearted "Funiculi, Funicula," the choral accompaniment was crisp and animated. Then he sang the venerable tribute "Mamma" with just the right touch of heartfelt emotion. Judging by the snatches of Italian we had heard from older folk, many with graying hair, as we walked along earlier in the evening, this song undoubtedly brought a tear to many an eye in the audience, tapping cherished memories of long-ago tenors and, of course, of everyone’s "mamma."
In the course of the evening, Steven Mercurio conducted the Hollywood Bowl orchestra in several orchestral interludes, beginning with the Overture to La Forza del Destino. His stamp was strongly on the second half of the program with six of the first seven pieces either composed or specially arranged by him. Two of the compositions, Cinema Paradiso (which always tugs at my heartstrings) and Tango Sentimental y Apasionado were illustrated with dramatic use of film clips on the two big screens in the Bowl, giving an appropriate nod to the movie-making heart of this tinsel town setting. More than any other conductor I have seen, Steven convinces you that somehow he is physically investing his charges with energy and sound by the sheer force of his presence. The sound he drew from this orchestra was gloriously full and precise and appropriately classical or pop as required. It is always clear that Steven is an unflagging comrade to Andrea. And it was a joy to see another friend of long-standing reunited with Andrea onstage. The richly elegant vocal strength of Ana Maria Martinez seems to fit flawlessly with Andrea’s voice in a comfortable way that no other soprano has managed to match in the concerts I have heard. "O Soave Fanciulla" may be familiar, but it is never worn out when they sing it together. She was dramatically superb in the Il Trovatore trio, and I think I could listen to her sing the zarzuela "El Nino Judio" over and over. Her defiant flash of pride when she thrusts the words out to us "De Espana vengo, de Espana soy" is something to relish. The addition of a baritone is one of the new dimensions added to this American concert tour. It allows the opportunity to hear the wonderfully exciting charged dynamic of two male voices. Luis Ledesma joined Andrea for the beautifully mesmerizing Pearl Fishers duet and of course the Trovatore trio. He also convinced us with his sweeping, flamboyant dramatic presentation that he was every bit the Toreador from Carmen.
The papers had stated beforehand that the audience would be star-studded for the sold-out concert. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Mike Douglas, and Billy Crystal were among those expected to attend. Jack spotted former Governor Jerry Brown, and we stood near Tony Renis, whom we had met at the Las Vegas concert. I’m a really poor stargazer and normally walk right past people I should recognize. However, there was no doubt that Donald Trump was there, sitting in the prestigious "Pool Circle" (which at one time actually had a pool) at the foot of the stage. At one point in the evening, he was called up to present Andrea with the platinum disc for 1 million copies of Amore sold, but he noted that this award was about to become outdated because Amore was very near hitting "double platinum." That proud moment came just before Andrea called David Foster onstage as a "surprise" guest of the evening, but I wouldn’t have taken any bets on that one’s ability to stay away from such a tempting opportunity! He is an irrepressible Andrea booster, and he took his seat at the piano to accompany our tenor with the genuinely enthusiastic comment "I can’t believe you are going to sing THIS song in the Hollywood Bowl!!!" He was clearly delighted at the prospect and the crowd responded in delirium in immediate recognition as he played the familiar introductory notes of the surprise addition to the program, "Can’t Help Falling in Love." I think I have forgotten that anyone else ever sang this innately romantic song, and Andrea was feeling frisky enough to take the last high note just as he does it on the CD. "Pinch me," I thought, "does it get any better than this?" Then it did. Katharine McPhee came out once more to join him for "The Prayer" and Andrea teased Foster by asking if he knew the notes of the song, adding that he should because "he writed it" only a slight linguistic faux pas that Andrea immediately recognized and attempted, in a mildly flustered undertone, to correct "No, written, right?" He needn’t have fussed, because the sympathetic murmur of the audience indicated they thought it entirely forgivable and, in fact, completely charming. Andrea sang three selections from Amore that I think preceded the Donald moment: "Besame Mucho," "Somos Novios" (with McPhee taking the Aguileras part of the duet), and "Mi Manchi." Each was greeted with waves of applause that indicated this audience was already more than familiar with what Andrea could do with them. By this point he was the ultimate showman, perfectly at ease in this milieu. In fact, I believe that David Foster and the Lake Las Vegas experience have had their effect on Andrea. He is actually learning to work the crowd!! More than once he used the mike for comments. For example, he teasingly called out to us the rhetorical question "Do you know this girl?!" coaxing our positive response when Katherine McPhee first took the stage for their duet. When have we ever had that kind of interaction from the seriously focused tenore?
It was getting late, but Andrea diverged once again from the program and sang the soaring "Ama, Credi, e Vai." But incredibly, he wasn’t finished yet. He returned to the stage with Ana Maria to the opening notes of "Con Te Partiro" and the decibel level of the crowd response ranged impossibly up another notch. When they had finished, we persisted with cheers, whistles, and applause, hoping against hope that "Time to Say Good-bye" really hadn’t come yet. Then the unbelievable happened. Steven returned to the podium and with a familiar introduction, we realized that for the evening’s incredible piece de resistance, Andrea was about to bestow on us the crowning glory of a completely unexpected "Nessun Dorma." This, I’m willing to bet, was his final homage and encouragement to the beloved Italian "football" team on the eve of their first game in the soccer World Cup…I simply couldn’t believe Andrea had the energy left for that gloriously held "Vincero’" after the more than two-hour vocal workout he had just completed. But hold it he did, to our astonished delight. All of us, nearly 18,000, were on our feet with frenzied cheering to bring him back for more (selfish, yes, but we can’t help wanting it). But although he returned for one last smile and wave, Andrea had given us—wholeheartedly and exuberantly—everything he had for this night. The house lights came up in that famous shell, and the enchanted evening ended.
Because the massive parking area was slow to empty and we were so elated from the evening and not yet ready to head "home" to the motel, we lingered at the artists entrance on the chance of catching a last glimpse of Andrea. In most circumstances, it wouldn’t have entered my head to "shout" to Andrea, but I had been thinking about his "Nessun Dorma" homage to the Italian team and, when he finally emerged and headed with his entourage at a quick pace toward his car, I spontaneously called out "Forza Italia, Andrea!" He stopped in his tracks, turned instantly to my voice with a beaming smile, and responded in English, "Yes. But tomorrow, I will suffer." No, I thought to myself, "Domani, vincerai," and the next day, and the next. Even if your beloved Italian team does not win, you, caro Maestro, are the quintessential winner every day, and we bask in the glow.
by Cami McNamee
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