September 8, 9, 11, 2009
Carnegie Hall, New York, USA
AB at Carnegie
Walking into Carnegie Hall for the first time is to experience one of the unique places in the United States that evokes a feeling of awed reverence reserved for sites steeped in historic legend. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky conducted at its opening in 1891, followed by a succession of the most illustrious performers in every musical field—from Caruso to Pavarotti, Rachmaninoff to Van Cliburn, Heifitz to Perlman, Casals to Yo-Yo Ma. With his three concerts in this venerable venue, Andrea has now stepped into that realm of those consecrated into the echelon of the great musical artists who have left their imprint there. What a privilege it has been to share with Andrea this remarkable landmark in his career.
The Hall
The roman brick building of dark reddish hue is gracefully arched in the Italian Renaissance style; within, it is all ivory and gold, richly mellow, with the fluid curve of the side tiers repeated by the gold-gilt oval tracing around the recessed dome of the ceiling. The hallways are lined with framed memorabilia marking musical history and signed by the luminaries who have made it. Its perfect acoustics are world-renowned, and it seats 2,804.
The fans had gathered from numerous states west to east and from around the world—England, Austria, Italy, Spain, California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida, to mention just those that I was aware of.
It was impossible not to notice that many among the diverse crowd of young and old engaged in an intensely rigorous activity of photo snapping of themselves, as if there was more than the usual desire associated with such an event to preserve the importance of the moment. Among the notorieties drawn to our internationally beloved tenor, I recognized Eugene Kohn, Chelsea Clinton, Zarin Mehta (president and executive director of the New York Philharmonic, and brother of Zubin), and the parents of tennis great Roger Federer. Not to mention the little tot who brought a delighted smile to Andrea’s face when he (or she) gave an audible infant-sized wail at the conclusion of his first aria of the evening, “Pieta’ Signore.” Clearly a budding fan!
The Presence
For better or for worse, our vantage point for all three concerts was front row at Andrea’s elegantly patent-leather-clad feet. This perspective certainly had its limitations. For example, we perhaps did not experience the fullest range of the fabled acoustics of this venerable space. (Nevertheless, intermission checks with other fans situated throughout the hall confirmed that Andrea was easily heard in diverse locations, high and low.) But the privilege of observing and hearing Andrea for these historic concerts from an intimate proximity only shared by the first violinist and Maestro Asher Fisch at his side was an extraordinary gift, long to be treasured.
Impeccably attired, handsomely tanned, trimly fit—his presence simply took your breath away. So happy were his audiences just to see him, that his mere entry onstage each night was instantly greeted with affectionate and enthusiastic applause of significant duration and volume—culminating on the final night with an opening response generally reserved to signify a level of appreciation earned only at the halfway point of most average concerts.
From the front row, smack in front of and directly below Andrea, it was difficult through the course of three performances to ignore the restless energy exhibited by this man who seems to find stillness an impossibility. Physically, it seemed to me Andrea was more animated for these concerts than he has ever been. He frequently used his body to underscore a dramatic phrase. Occasionally, he turned slightly to his left or right to address the full audience. Not one-fisted but two-fisted rhythmic pumping at his side and the characteristic surreptitious hand conducting were again amply evident. Finally, how can I describe a newly developed, somewhat acrobatic body motion that was observed in the course of these concerts? It was a kind of tenorial two-way tug—a subtle, fluidly executed torso twist nearly simultaneously to the right and then immediately to the left that seemed quite useful to assist Andrea in producing a few of the more complex vocal trills and top notes in his repertoire. It was quite amazing, and definitely charming, to watch his deft execution of this new athletic achievement.
Finally, at one point in Friday’s performance, I was astonished by a spontaneous gesture that would be well within the normal expressive repertoire of most performers but was, for Andrea, a groundbreaking event that would have prompted an unbidden, audible “Whoa!!” from my mouth had I been anywhere but the hallowed Carnegie Hall. In a moment in the aria when he was clearly emotionally carried away, Andrea lifted his arms from his sides and widely opened both hands to emphasize a phrase—a startlingly uncharacteristic operatic “sell” from our tenor that was quite endearing!
The New York Philharmonic
Having the prestigious New York Philharmonic as your accompaniment is an honor in itself. This orchestra is considered to be among the finest, if not the finest, in the world. Asher Fisch conducted with animated vigor and graced us with outstanding orchestral interludes. The two Bach works in the program’s first half—the cascades of melodic, rich strings of the “Passacaglia” and the ever-so-gentle “Sheep May Safely Graze”—allowed a welcome respite from the earlier blustery, rain-drenched day and the incessant nerve-jangling din of the traffic in the city that most of us had endured between concerts. The overture to Bellini’s Norma was smashing, the musicians at their precise best. One passage midway through achieved an ethereal luminescence that was transcendent. The bewitching string section again strongly conveyed the wistful melancholy of the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and the poignant undercurrent and final redemptive grace of the tragic heroine.
Maestro Fisch was generously attentive to our tenor and vigilant in his effort to coordinate the orchestra with Andrea’s nuanced vocal efforts. Consistently through the evenings, he was immediately responsive to Andrea’s hand outstretched for a quick co-celebration of each successful offering. Only once, when the conductor was momentarily distracted, did the tenor’s extended hand remain in midair…unmet. I admit to a slightly shocked disappointment at the negligence. But sunny Andrea, undaunted, insistently reached into the air a second time—and, of course, the looked-for collegial support was then quickly and heartily returned.
The Program
Power is a tricky word and encompasses a nuanced range of meaning from brute force to subtly irresistible influence. Critics who are content with a cleverly superficial analysis of a performance might be inclined to judge what they perceive as a lack of bombastic vocal punch as a detriment. Their loss. Andrea’s is an undeniable vocal power that communicates an emotional intensity directly to his listeners. With a pleasing blend of sacred, Elizabethan, baroque, operatic, and bel canto arias and classically elegant canzone, or songs, we were treated to a program that gave Andrea the opportunity to exhibit the strengths of vocal technique and impressive range, beautifully forged with and sustained by his inner strengths of faith, heart, and cultural pride that he has so often expressed.
Drawn from the canon of compositions traditionally suited to a classical recital of this type, the arias in the program highlighted Andrea’s inimitable ability to melt the hearts of his listeners with the emotional power and straightforward, captivating beauty of his voice. The pieces, progressively spanning three centuries of predominately Italian musical history, were offered in sets of three and interspersed with the orchestral offerings, which gave a nice overall rhythm and balance to the program.
Stradella (misattributed), “Pieta’ Signore” This sacred aria was a firm beginning for Andrea. There was a confident force in the strongly placed opening notes—you could feel them soar easily out into the space of the hall. Andrea’s interpretation of the emotional tug of the words of this aria, charged with pleading, was subtly dramatic and commanding. Particularly striking were the seamlessly smooth and darkly rich lowest notes of “dal tuo rigor” that close the last two stanzas.
Handel, “Frondi tenere…Ombra mai fu” Some melodies are deceptive in their simplicity. Andrea translates the fluid beauty of this aria so well, with impressive control.
Bach, “Lodate Dio” A triumphant mood launches this hymn of praise to God that is based on a Bach cantata. The lively orchestral accompaniment highlighted by the trumpets’ clarion notes was infectious. Andrea responded to the liveliness of the pace and the orchestra’s precise fullness, transmitting his honest tone of a firm believer to the text.
Caccini (misattributed), “Ave Maria” Halfway through this piece, I realized, or actually re-realized, that there are only two words repeated throughout. Yet, the overall impression is far from repetitious as you become lost in the vocal artistry Andrea weaves—transfixed by the pure instrumental quality of his voice.
You might question why anyone would sing three “Ave Maria’s” in succession. But once he has completed the trio, you realize that hearing them together reinforces the distinct beauty and power of each individually and you gain an appreciation of the artistic variety possible in the interpretation of a single subject.
Schubert, “Ave Maria” Although Andrea often favors the Italian version of this well-loved hymn, for this recital he offered it in perfectly enunciated Latin. Schubert has given us the honest simplicity of a tenderly touching melody that, incredibly, seems new at each hearing. Andrea’s often expressed reverent devotion for the mother of God confirms and reinforces the honest melody he offers. His faith-filled rendition never fails to gently touch the heart.
J. S. Bach–Gounod, “Ave Maria” The presentation of this last paean to Mary was stunningly effective and unique in its presentation. As the solo violin rendition of this timeless melody quietly began, Andrea turned to the first violinist and stood in profile, basking, for a meditative moment, in the tranquil beauty of the work. When Andrea then followed with his vocal equivalent, it was as if we were hearing another finely tuned instrument directed by a masterful skill. There was a slight reluctance to shatter the sacred moment that followed the lovely purity of his final note. It felt like we had been given a musical benediction. But the applause quickly flooded out and brought the first half of the concert to a triumphant close.
Verdi, “Oh! fede negar potessi…Quando le sere al placido,” from Luisa Miller After the intermission, the gentle tranquility of the concert’s first half momentarily gave way to the drama of the operatic world with the typically forceful power of this Verdian aria. Andrea masterfully registered the disillusioned anger and heartbreak of the betrayed lover. It was an immediate thrill to see and hear him now assume this operatic dynamic in a commanding way!
Bellini, “Ninfa gentile” As his smile indicated, Andrea took delight in listening to the uniquely playful, occasionally almost jazzy, arrangement of the orchestral introduction for this piece by Bellini. This taste of bel canto revealed yet another aspect of Andrea’s versatility—a tour de force of vocal agility.
Donaudy, “Vaghissima sembianza” From the moment I first heard this hauntingly romantic melody from Andrea at the Statue of Liberty concert, I was in love with it. I could disappear into this song—Andrea too seems to lose himself to its spell. You can see his whole body inhabiting the notes that he spins out.  All that is best in his openly emotional, gentle heart pours out in this lilting, old-fashioned gift of a song.
Giordani, “Caro mio ben” By this point in the evening, the audience seemed firmly in the palm of our tenor’s hand. But if there was any shadow of a doubt, “Caro mio ben” (“My dear beloved”) confirmed the emotional bond that he had forged throughout the evening. Andrea translates the simple feeling of this aria in a way that is charged with quiet intensity. We succumbed to the achingly sweet coaxing of his incomparable pianissimos. Every night, there was a collective, audible sigh when the last skillfully fragile note floated away, and the evening’s applause increased another notch in its intensity.
Tosti, “Serenata” Because it suits his voice to a T, this delightful song has been included in Andrea’s repertoire from the earliest years of his career. He soared and played with the jaunty tune, and the ease of his highest notes is always thrilling. His sheer pleasure in the exuberant melody brings an irresistible smile.
Mascagni, “Serenata” Hearing this for the first time, you realize the force and skill that Andrea admires so ardently in the work of his fellow Tuscan, Mascagni. There is an aching melancholy in this melody that haunts your memory long after hearing it. The yearning in Andrea’s voice is palpable—and, oh, how indescribably sweet to hear his voice caress the phrase “ti voglio bene” (“I love you”) as he does in this enchanting aria.
The Encores
As always, the audience hates to let Andrea go. There were enthusiastic standing ovations each night at concert’s end. Then he returned to the stage each night for two encores.
Caccini, “Amarilli mia bella” The complex Elizabethan elegance of this song challenges the vocal agility of a singer—Andrea more than meets the challenge. The phrases “velvet soft” and “spun gold” come to mind. Quietly, but emphatically, he conveys the smoldering yearning embodied in the melodic line with a finely embroidered tracery of shimmering vocal threads.
Verdi, “La donna e’ mobile” When the familiar emphatic notes of this operatic standard from Verdi’s Rigoletto rang out from the Philharmonic, the audience roared with spontaneous delight. Each night, rising to the occasion and energized by the response, Andrea took the bit in his teeth and happily offered a solidly commanding rendition, punctuated with his rhythmic fist and a new toe-tapping accompaniment for added emphasis. As he stood onstage, composed and elegant, and the cabaletta flowed with a seemingly effortless bravura flourish from his rounded mouth, the thought came easily to mind—he was born to do this.
Concluding applause again echoed throughout the hall. In response, Andrea radiated a grateful smile, personally applauded the capable accompaniment of his colleagues, and acknowledged the sustained audible affection washing over him with a series of deep bows. Then, before we had time to think, he was leaving the stage, but not without a final grateful and heartily shouted “Thank you” in farewell, accompanied by the signature Bocelli good-bye wave above his head.
In the End
There is a worldwide, deep-seated, and growing affection displayed for Andrea Bocelli. It was amply evident in New York City this week. Its intensity may seem puzzling to some—but to any of us who have come to know him in any number of ways, it is inevitable…and it is a gift.
I found something that Mr. Andrew Carnegie, the great hall’s namesake, once said:
“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” What Andrea did was to sell out Mr. Carnegie’s legendary hall for three nights running, and then sing his heart out. Beautifully simple, and simply beautiful. I think Andrew Carnegie would have approved.
Grazie dal cuore, caro nostro ben…
Cami McNamee
September, 2009

To all Maestro Bocelli fans & Renate, I was very fortunate to be present Tuesday September 8 for this magnificient evening with Andrea & The New York Philharmonic!! BRAVO, BRAVO to Andrea!! His voice was so beautiful as was his most handsome face and humble persona. The three arrangements of "Ave Maria" brought tears of joy and sheer happiness to me and those around me! Then "Serenata" by Tosti was straight from God! The audience would not let Andrea leave, with standing ovations and four encores the hours of sheer heaven ended! God has truly blessed all of us with this man and his voice! It was a night to remember forever. I pray I may have this privilage again... hopefully @ "Teatro del Silenzio" next July! GRAZIE MILLE ANDREA

by Patrizia from Ohio, USA


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