two reports!

News came out earlier this year that Andrea Bocelli would be performing a concert in Central Park in New York City.  This was not the first time news like this had hit cyberspace.  Back in 2003 he was scheduled to perform a concert in celebration of the "birthday" of Central Park.  I think it was 150 years old then but I can't swear to it now.  After all, that WAS 8 years ago. ;) winking A small group of friends and I planned to attend.  We made our flight bookings and hotel reservations. In enough time to change our plans if we wanted to, we learned that Andrea's plans had been changed.  For reasons we never did know, his participation would no longer be taking place. The concert would happen with other artists. This news caused some people to cancel their plans.  I said to my friends, "come on!  Let's go anyway!  It's New York.  There is still plenty to do.  Let's just go and have New York fun".  We did go and we did have a great time but...something was missing.
Flash forward to 2011.  When the NEW Andrea Bocelli in Central Park concert news hit, I said, "I've GOT to go.  He's owed me this concert for 8 years!". ;;) batting eyelashes I checked with the friends who had gone with me 8 years ago.  Ultimately, only one of them was able to make the return trip.  We had another friend along this time. We were a party of three--Cathy, Sally, and yours truly.
The concert was FREE for most folks.  Andrea had wanted to give a gift to New York.  He says it is one of his favorite cities in the world.  Lucky New York!  :) happy Because the concert was free, the tickets were general admission.  There would be no free seats.  Where you wound up on the Great Lawn depended on when you got in line...for starters (more on that later!).  Our threesome wanted to be as close as we could.  We checked on the "line" at 11am and there was none.  Phew!  At least we didn't have to start lining up THAT early for a concert due to start at 7pm and said to have an admission time of 3pm (more on THAT later, too!). We went to a museum with the plan of checking the line again once we got out. Around 1pm, we again went to the area where people were to start lining up.  They had started the lining up while we were visiting the dinosaurs. :) happy It wasn't yet that long, though, but we didn't want to tempt fate by not getting in still so we joined the crowd.
I had been in NYC since Tuesday (the concert was on Thursday night).  The weather had been wonderfully summerlike on those two previous days.  Clear, warm, really nice weather for being outside.  Thursday?  Clouds!  Not white, fluffy clouds either.  Gray, threatening clouds that wanted to give their own "gift" to New York--the "r" word--RAIN! The endless list of what NOT to bring into the park included umbrellas.  I left mine in the hotel room. What can I say?  I follow instructions!  I had suggested Cathy leave hers behind also.  She did.  So, of course, you KNOW what started to happen when we were in line--the "r" word!  It wasn't heavy, though, and we all just pulled up our sweaters and towels to cover our heads.  Many OTHER people put up umbrellas, though.  Grrrr!!!!!  It was only a few minutes when it passed.  I said, "it's not raining anymore!" and we uncovered.  I was hoping BIG TIME that that was all the precipitation we'd be getting in the evening.  No such luck. 
While standing around chatting about anything and everything to help pass the time, a man appeared saying he had rain ponchos for sale for $5.00.  I figured it would be good to have "just in case" and I could use it to sit on when we got in the park.  I knew the ground would be wet so it seemed like a good deal.  I bought one.  I swear I did not see him any more after that.  You would have thought he'd work the whole line or something but he sold me a poncho and I didn't see him again.  My poncho angel! O:-) angel Believe me, it came in handy soon enough.  The rain was an off and on occurrence all during our time in line.  Our FOUR HOURS in line!  When 3pm rolled around and we didn't start going in, we all wondered what was up but no one gave any "official" word.  When 4pm rolled around and we were STILL not making progress into the park, I was reeeeeeeeally wondering what was going on.  Some people started saying, "maybe they don't know yet if they will go on".  Oh no.  That was NOT happening.  I'd waited 8 YEARS for this event. There WOULD be a concert that night and I WOULD be there to see it!
Every so often during the FOUR hours we'd been in line, there was some movement further up the block.  We'd thought each time that perhaps people were being let in.  Turns out they were probably just spreading out or something because we were not actually allowed into the park until a shade before 5pm.  When people started moving FOR REAL, we were too excited! I'd been bored and tired and such during the time we were waiting but when we started moving, all that was instantly gone and I was rejuvenated and ready. We had to make our way about 10 blocks up through the park to the Great Lawn. It was no problem at all!  
There were chairs inside for PBS subscribers and VIPs and selected New Yorkers like school children and such.  Behind the chairs were portable barriers to separate the seated area from the lawn.  Since we were early into the park, we were able to choose a spot on the lawn very near the dividers.  It was also very near a big screen which would be showing the front row view to the rest of the crowd.  It seemed like a good place to settle.  I put my towel down on the lawn and was just happy to NOT BE STANDING anymore after the loooooong wait in line.  The more I considered the location, though, the less I was liking it for my own personal experience.  I could tell that we would have no real view of the stage unless we stood up.  People on the lawn were clearly sitting down and wanting everyone else to do the same.  While we did have a view of the big screen, I was already feeling like I wasn't REALLY there.  I was feeling like I was just outside of everything.  Technically, I was!  Maybe sitting that close to the fencing was working on me psychologically or something.  I thought more and more that once the concert started, I would be going elsewhere.
The orchestra always does a number solo, before Andrea takes the stage, at Bocelli concerts.  From our "view", the only way we knew the concert had started was hearing the applause when the conductor came onstage and seeing him on the big screen. That let me learn what my night would be like if I stayed seated on the lawn.  I also was NOT liking the fact that people apparently didn't feel the need to be quiet that far from the stage.  If I was going to have to spend all night telling people to "shhh!", I knew I would not have the experience I'd been waiting 8 years for.  I had to leave!  I excused myself from my group while the orchestra was playing and set out to find a spot where I'd be able to see the concert as it was happening and not only via the big screen.
I walked outside the barriers further up the path to the left, closer to the stage.  Of course, the area I'd left felt like 80 miles from the stage so getting "closer" was not hard to do.=) Andrea had taken the spotlight by this time so I felt like I had to stop and watch. I also had the feeling I would not spend the entire night at that location, either. It was an improvement from where I'd started but I knew I could do even better! I saw a split in the barriers.  It was where one fence hooked up to the next.  I thought, "hmmm!  Should I go through and join the crowd?".  As I was standing there thinking, a woman with a camera went through the very split I'd been eyeing and hardly walked 10 feet before a security guard stopped her and told her to go back.  My hopes were initially dashed BUT...I didn't leave.  I was still standing near the split when a man walked up and saw the divide.  He said, "why don't we go through?".  I said, "I'll go if you go!".  He parted the fences a little more and walked in.  I went right behind him.  Yay!  I made short work of the distance between those barriers and a swell tree not too far from the seats.  I'd say my location was comparable to being at the back of the main floor in an arena.  I've actually sat there at Bocelli concerts before.  I knew I'd found my place. =)
The stage had a fantasy backdrop of tiny lights against black which made it look like a night sky.  If only the REAL night sky had been clear enough to see the stars.  It was raining off and on throughout the evening.  The tree I was standing under was so wonderfully dense, though, that the only way I knew it was raining was to look in the direction of the stage lighting and I could see it pouring down.  I had a funny moment thinking, "the rain always looks harder than it is in person when you see it on tv".  While the concert would indeed air on tv eventually, that night it was LIVE and I was THERE! It really WAS that hard...I guess.  Like I said, I was under my buddy the perfect tree. :D big grin
The concert was definitely unique from other Bocelli concerts I have seen. More songs than not involved Andrea and a "special guest".  I am known for liking "all-Andrea-all-the-time" and not wanting to see anyone else but this night was different.  I knew what a big event it was for him and I was happy to see him share it with fellow artists.  I still manage to only see him onstage anyway.  :x lovestruck When he sang "Amazing Grace", he managed to make the 60,000 other people in the park disappear as well.  It was only the two of us there, and the music.  I was amazed (seriously!) at how intimate the song felt in such a vast space.  Andrea had mentioned at the interview I attended on Tuesday evening learning four songs in English for the concert and that it was difficult for him.  :) happy He did a terrific job with all of them! He does NOT have "terrible English" like he always says.  I knew there would be English songs, but I didn't know which songs they would be.  It was a gift on top of a gift for him to sing them. 
I tried calling Cathy at the intermission but she had her phone turned off so I left her a message.  I told her about my great tree  :D big grin and I hoped she and the others were not too wet out on the lawn. I held my ground during the break.  Wasn't about to lose that spot!
The second half of Bocelli concerts always seems to go by faster than the first half for me, no matter the location. The special guests kept on coming, with Celine Dion and Tony Bennett rounding out the night.  Tony joined Andrea for "New York New York", with a light-up "I (heart) NY" sign above them onstage.  Too cute! "Con Te Partiro" has been the final song in his concerts for a long time.  Several people thought it was the last song in Central Park, too, and left the area ahead of me when it was through.  Me?  Not a chance!  ;) winking  When I saw people leave, I moved on up!  It had stopped raining by that time.  I figured even if there were no more songs, there would still be a bow or two for Andrea to take and I'd be closer than ever.  The orchestra had NOT left the stage.  Always a good clue that the night is not yet over.  Andrea returned.  The conductor got ready.  "Nessun Dorma"!  Yes!  Andrea, the orchestra, and the choir ended the night at the top of their game with full power on display for all. :) happy I pretty much knew the night was over after that but I still waited until the orchestra members started getting up out of their chairs before I gave in and started making my way out of the park.
The weather had cleared up nicely for me to walk back to my hotel. None of the FOUR HOURS of waiting mattered anymore.  The rain didn't matter.  The wind didn't matter.  The cold didn't matter. I didn't for one second on my walk think about any of the less than ideal parts of the day. I was only thinking about how my night 8 years in the making had finally happened...and it was worth the wait!
by Janice Sopicki, Chicago, USA



Once in a Lifetime, September 15, 2011

A spectacular sunset silhouetting the dramatic New York skyline seemed the twin of the one that had ignited the Twin Towers in reflected glory many years ago and made Andrea’s Statue of Liberty concert so memorable. But life can be cruel. This evening of September 15 in New York did not fulfill the brief promise of clear skies. Live at Central Park was definitely not for the faint of heart. As long as fans of Andrea live, there will be debates about the fateful call to go ahead with this concert despite the ominous threats of scudding grey clouds and the suddenly dropping temperature. It was impossible to choose rightly—cancel and you would disappoint thousands who might not be able to return for the rain date. Forge ahead, and the rain-soaked fans would question for the rest of eternity whether they had completely lost their sanity to sit in a sodden huddle of numbness to hear the voice of just one man.

Without doubt there were disappointments September 15. Many were daunted by the fifteen-block line that had gradually lengthened by the 7:00 pm starting time or were discouraged from even the attempt at navigating, in the rapidly increasing darkness, the soggy labyrinth of ponchos, tarps, blankets, towels, umbrellas, and bodies to claim a damp patch of lawn from which to view the massive stage that seemed discouragingly small from the farthest end of the Great Lawn. A few tried faithfully to stick it out, but finally surrendered to the elements at the intermission. One family sitting near us had traveled all the way from California with their little girl who had an incapacitating neuromuscular disease. From the moment she had first discovered Andrea’s voice, it lit up her world. She requested the beloved melodies every day and had memorized the Italian lyrics. The journey to hear her beloved hero live for the first time was a dream come true. But, bundled as she was, the frail little one was no match for the elements and, tearfully, her mom had to gather belongings and family to leave before her daughter could hear her very most favorite, “Funiculì, funiculà.” A small corner of my heart was deeply saddened that the weather’s misery had sapped some of the joy from Andrea’s long anticipated dream, and ours. Why did this night have to be the only one of the week in New York to be so thoroughly spoiled?

Nevertheless, it was an incredible tribute to Andrea that the majority of the 60,000-plus crowd stood their ground—quietly lifting their forbidden umbrellas each time the bands of rain surged over them to cancel the promise of that splendid sunset that had briefly burnished the skies at the moment when Andrea first took the stage. Those who remained—young and old, from every part of the country and world—would not be disappointed.

Early on, Andrea acknowledged the harsh reality of the icy winds, and bone-chilling rains and warmly thanked his audience for their support, calling us “heroes,” (which he spoke adorably without the “h”). The classical part of the concert was incredibly challenging. Beautifully buoyed by the peerless New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert, Andrea’s voice has clearly evolved and matured. There is strength and experience deep within that he emphatically communicates. His voice begins where mere words fail. By the time he had finished the first two arias, “La donna è mobile” and the compelling “Di quella pira,” I hardly minded that I could no longer feel my feet and was barely indistinguishable from a drowned rat. With prayerful emotion, he sang the haunting “Ave Maria” to the accompaniment of a pelting rain. But when Andrea and his most perfect partner Ana Maria Martinez joined for the powerfully mesmerizing “Vicino a te,” all tribulations melted away—the numbing cold, the rain dripping down my neck, the annoyances of the randomly milling crowd, the rude shouts to “sit down”!

Andrea was clearly enthusiastic when he introduced his first guest star Bryn Terfel, calling him a “big man with a big talent” who also clearly has a big heart and big affection for our tenor. The stirring duet from The Pearl Fishers shared by Bryn and AB was as good as it gets. The affinity between them is a joy to behold, the blend of their voices, matchless. Maybe it really was possible for the rain to stop.

At the start of the program’s second half, the alchemy of Bryn’s indomitable personality somehow transformed the discouraged mood of the crowd. This gentle giant had little patience for our weather-wrought self-pity, however justified. With the wink of a piercingly blue Welsh eye, he coaxed our smiles with the sheer incongruity of hearing his richly booming operatic baritone interpret the homespun melody of “Home on the Range”! He could not suppress his innate need to communicate and enliven our flagging spirits with his warm hospitality. Despite ourselves, we were soon raising our voices for all we were worth with the splendor of the Westminster Choir in the cheery and familiar chorus: “Home home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play”!

Until now, “showman” is not a word I would have readily associated with Andrea. But for this second half of the concert, our tenor was as relaxed as he has ever been and was forging, with ease, a new kind of bond with his audience. He easily held his own with that inveterate upstager David Foster! Cherished classic popular songs that have won our hearts over the course of countless concerts followed one after the other: the velvet richness of “Aranjuez,” the ebullient “Funiculí, funiculà,” “O sole mio” with the stage bathed in a flood of golden lights that almost managed to literally warm us up. We definitely basked in the symbolic glow of Andrea’s warm embracing tones. The astonishingly nimble musical interlude of Andrea Griminelli “Flight of the bumblebee” on flute allowed Andrea to pay spoken tribute to the iconic Central Park concert of his beloved maestro and compatriot, Luciano Pavarotti. Griminelli had been onstage that night in 1993 to offer the same piece. For a playful moment, Andrea hijacked Griminelli’s flute and feigned helplessness to reproduce the masterful fingering we had just enjoyed. “Amazing Grace,” one of the five new songs in English that Andrea had proudly informed us at an earlier interview that he had studied hard to learn, was simply AMAZING! Andrea’s personal credo seems perfectly captured in the lyric: “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” Indeed, his faith has always seemed to provide him with the gift of a singular vision of life’s true meaning. It was a moment that tugged at the heart. “More,” delivered in a big-band swinging Sinatra mode and accompanied by the masterful trumpet tones of crowd favorite Chris Botti, drew enthusiastic response, particularly the drawn-out notes of tenor and trumpet that blended for the thrilling denouement. When Andrea’s microphone failed him at the most dramatic moment of “Nel blu dipintu di blu,” our tenor smoothly ad libbed with an emphatic and comically endearing complaint, “It’s not my fault! I don’t like them. I would prefer to sing without them, but in this case it was necessary.” In a gesture of humility that must have required personal fortitude, Foster yielded his own mike to Andrea.

Finally, the moment had arrived for the evening’s most anticipated guest appearances. With obvious relish, Foster introduced the queen of the evening, Celine Dion, to the roaring approval of the massive crowd. Though the reverently beautiful song “The Prayer” is nearly always included by Andrea in his concerts, no one can sing it as powerfully as these two glorious voices, who first brought it to the world’s attention.

Last, but not least, came the iconic moment of “New York, New York,” pairing Andrea with the master of the American songbook, Tony Bennett. Tony jogged energetically onstage as the crowd recognized and warmly acknowledged the unmistakable musical vamp with a second tidal wave of applause. The two men, the strikingly tall Andrea beside the shorter but definitely bigger-than-life Mr. Bennett, clasped hands and raised them in an exuberant upward thrust. It was clearly a highlight of an already highlight laden evening. Tony—a newly minted 85-year-old— looked fabulous. Andrea, in his elegant white evening suit, looked fabulous. We were finally nearly dry, we were cheering ourselves hoarse, we were in Central Park in the heart of the city that never sleeps, feeling that maybe we really were at the “top of the heap” with a guy from Tuscany who had definitely found his own way “to be a part of it”—NEW YORK, NEW YORK!!! The stage before us was suddenly lit up like Broadway and the smoothly blended harmony of the triumphant final note was punctuated with a surprisingly cool “Yeah!” from the lips of our suave master of the Italian lyric. The crowd, as they say, went wild.

We were nearly at the evening’s end. After an impromptu chorus of “happy Birthday” sung to Andrea from the sophisticated Westminster Symphonic Choir, and the inevitable signature tones of “Con te partirò,” which it seemed the tenor nearly forgot to sing, people began to surrender to the rigors of the evening and were on the verge of departing en masse. That is, until the majestic strains of the legendary aria “Nessun dorma” stopped them in their tracks and held the weather-beaten throng in thrall as the clarion tones of Andrea’s powerful tenor rang out thrillingly across the Great Lawn’s expanse. It was the only encore. It was all that was needed.

Finally, with the Great Lawn nearly emptied, a brilliant orb of a moon hung at last in the clear expanse of onyx sky. Now, for all time, this storied space would silently resound with the echoed glory of Lajatico’s child, lately come to the fabled land where dreams take root and grow beyond all imagining.

So many of our New York memories are woven from Bocelli magic. As we made our way home, images of Andrea’s past triumphs in this singular city unreeled in my mind—the concert at the Statue of Liberty so soon after the loss of his father, the poignancy of his “Ave Maria” quavering slightly with the bitter cold and overwhelming emotion at Ground Zero, the unique excitement of multiple sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden, a Valentine’s Day gift of the XM interview and performance from the studio of Jazz at Lincoln Center dramatically overlooking a snowy Central Park, the overwhelming ovations at Avery Fisher Hall, Andrea’s voice resounding in the storied space of Carnegie, and his first steps taken on the grand stage of the Metropolitan Opera.

Somewhere on the road home between New York and Washington, DC, a call from my brother jolted me from reveries with the news that my 93-year-old mom, who was recovering from a broken hip, had suffered a setback. Such news, the kind that changes everything, abruptly banished all thoughts of the most recent New York triumph of “the world’s most beloved tenor.” Life’s realities have a swift way of putting things in their proper perspective. And yet, and yet…isn’t it precisely the balm of Andrea’s voice that, for so many, somehow nourishes the strength of heart to face a world of unexpected trials and sometimes cruel turns? Somewhere, every day, he fills the heartbreaking spaces of countless disappointments with the magic of his music, a magic born precisely at that point where Andrea has met and mastered deep challenges of his own.

A touching lyric from the concert rose in my mind—that haunting melody, new to me, of Ennio Morricone from Once Upon a Time in the West:

Your strength has made me strong,
Though life tore us apart.
And now when the night seems long,
your love shines in my heart...
Your love shines in my heart.

For your gift, Andrea, we are grateful.

—Cami McNamee


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