December 2, 2011
Washington D.C., USA 
Verizon Center
Washington, DC: Just Another Concert?
At some point, any fan who has followed Andrea Bocelli for a length of time might question the necessity (and expense) of seeing yet another live concert. The venues are vast, the acoustics less than perfect, the repertoire seems somewhat predictable, people mill about annoyingly with overstuffed bags of popcorn or gooey trays of nachos, and ballcap-clad vendors hawk their wares with bellowing shouts of (I swear) “Five minutes to get your cold wine here!” What’s the point? Yet, somehow we seem incapable of resisting still another opportunity to hear this man reach out to us with a tangible presence, and at that inevitable ultimate moment of glory when Andrea sings the last victorious note of his final encore, the roar of applause is making your ears ring, and you glow with the electric exuberance of knowing him through the singular power and beauty of his voice LIVE—all doubts about why you came—yet again—melt away. 
With the exception of Central Park, the audience for the December 2 concert in Washington, DC, was as diverse as I have ever seen—young and old; singles, couples, families; many nationalities and races. Hey, even my Italian teacher Vanna, born in Napoli was there, along with two of my classmates with their spouses. The moment he appeared, the throng greeted Andrea with warmth and enthusiasm, and throughout the performance the men grinned and applauded madly as often as the women. Andrea seemed to feel the affection and responded frequently with beaming smiles.
The concert was a triumph from beginning to end. As usual, the first half showcased Andrea’s classical side. Eugene Kohn, the conductor for this tour, has formed a solid and amicable musical partnership with Andrea. He kept the pace of the Washington Festival Orchestra and the Choral Arts Society of Washington sharp, disciplined, and crisp throughout. The triumphal march from Aida set the celebratory tone of the evening, and the  William Tell “Overture finale” was a playful interlude that I think kept the guys in the audience happy. 
A new entry to Andrea’s classical concert repertoire this time was Verdi’s “La mia letizia infondere,” remembered from his CD of Verdi’s opera arias. The tried and true arias that form the classical staple of his concerts are a bellwether of Andrea’s vocal growth and well-being, and both “La donna è mobile” and “Di quella pira,” challenging arias that hardly seemed taxing to him in the least, revealed an easy agility and level of mastery (e.g., wonderfully executed trills) that were a pleasure to hear. He was in fine form. In fact, I’m convinced the tenor keeps spare impressive high notes in the pocket of his tux—that exceptionally classy and perfectly tailored one he debuted on this tour, with the elegant and fashionably daring frog closure and just a touch of satin at the cuffs. Said notes were liberally sprinkled throughout the evening’s classical offerings and had the appropriately intended thrilling effect.
Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette obviously looms large on Andrea’s horizon, and if the duet he sang with Ana Maria Martinez is any indication, this will be an opera performance to be treasured. “Nuit d’hymenée” communicates the emotional intensity of young lovers and the despair of their parting. Even before the final dramatic high notes of the aria faded, they had ignited an ardent reaction from the audience. Ana Maria is a vocal partner of long standing with Andrea and one with obvious affection for him. The tenderness between them during the duet “O soave fanciulla” was a delight to see, and the sweet and close blend of their voices was an outright gift to us. She shone in her solos—a wonderful “Bolero ‘Siciliana’ ” from Verdi’s I Lombardi, filled with graceful trills that seemed effortless to her, and a dramatic Spanish tango “El dia que me quieras” that she delivered with flair. Moreover, my vote for best partner for that inescapable encore “Con te partiro” is Ana Maria.
This December 2011 tour covers five cities and partly reprises a taste of the singular sensation of the Concert at Central Park. No fewer than six of the songs in the program were drawn from this repertoire, solidifying Andrea’s growing effort to communicate in English to his American audiences. A particularly dynamic element of this tour was the newly configured video backdrop crafted by Ivano Berti and Paolo Marchetti. The giant screen that hangs above the stage behind the performers is a new sort of see-through technology that gives a dimensional quality to the film sequences. Though it can sometimes cause momentary schizophrenia to make the decision of whether to watch the backdrop or the real deal, for me, it enhanced both the meaning and the entertainment factor of the songs being performed. For example, who could resist the appeal of seeing clips of the shaggy young Andrea in la Bohème while the currently suave 53-year-old duets with Ana Maria in “O soave fanciulla”?! Other successful moments—the flames that licked at the margins of mood-setting castle images during “Di quella pira,” a collage of clips from the classic Zeffirelli production of the movie of the famous star-crossed lovers that enlivened the duet from Romeo and Juliet, charming vintage black-and-white street scenes from old Napoli that brought “Funiculì, funiculà” to life, highlights of AB in New York and that now historic star-studded Central Park concert, and the shimmering rainbow colors that brought extra magic to Heather Headley’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” But most spectacular was the sequence of images accompanying “Volare” (Italian for “to fly” in case anyone in the audience missed the obvious connection to the filmed backdrop) that ranged from John F. Kennedy’s announcement to begin the race to the moon, to the first steps of a man on said lunar landscape, to old-time stunt flying, and a grand finale of the stupefying, death-defying escapade of that handsome daredevil from Lajatico himself, Andrea’s sky-dive!  
Opening the program’s second half was the lively orchestral interlude of Von Suppé’s “Poet and Peasant Overture.” But when Andrea took center stage once more, the orchestra sounded a single note to accompany the clarion ring of his powerfully simple opening melodic line: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…” Andrea and this song are a match made in heaven. Hearing from him the words “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see,” somehow clarifies what sight truly means. He sings what he believes, and the urgency of his faith infused in that simple and compelling melody washed over us like a blessing. The emotional power of his voice triggered an irresistible response in the more than 12,000 listeners who instantly surged as one to their feet in grateful applause when he had finished. It was a moment for keeping.
At Andrea’s concerts, it isn’t surprising to hear the crowd respond to the first familiar strains of a beloved melody with gusto, but it did seem a bit odd this time when that song was Schubert’s sacred aria “Ave Maria,” which I somehow never thought of as an oldie but goodie. This piece and “Adeste fidelis” were the tenor’s nod to the Christmas season. When Andrea offers this sacred music, his reverently erect stance reflects the ardent fervor he seals within the gift of his song. No matter that we have heard him sing them before—each time we feel and benefit from the honesty of his prayerful offering, this time underscored by the added treat of his own flute accompaniment.
Midway through the evening’s second half, Andrea took the mike to note, first, that he was shy and then to add that he didn’t have enough words in his English vocabulary to thank his audiences in the U.S. for all the affection that they gave to him and that if he tried to do it in Italian, it would then be difficult for us (impish smile).  But, he said, he could sing, and would do his best. His gesture to communicate was warmly acknowledged by the audience. 
We learned at this concert that Andrea has been holding out on us. It turns out he could have been a contender in the hallowed annals of the “spaghetti westerns”! Picture this. The set is dark. Enter Andrea, stage right. Slowly, step by step, he dramatically makes his way, alone, to a rendezvous with destiny at center stage . . . showdown at the Verizon corral. Behind him on the big screen, the same action is mirrored in iconic scenes with Charles Bronson from the movie Once Upon a Time in the West, while the orchestra plays the first haunting notes of Ennio Morricone’s score that introduce one of the most melting love songs I have ever heard. It is an inspired and irresistible Bocelli moment! Clearly, the tenor’s heart is in the tender lyric of “Your Love”: “Your strength has made me strong, Though life tore us apart. And now when the night seems long, your love shines in my heart”—and his voice shines in ours. 
Heather Headley is a two-time Tony Award winner, and her charismatic presence coupled with a powerful and broad vocal range and extraordinary improvisational gift tell you why. For this concert, her duets with Andrea were “Canto della terra” and “Vivo per lei” (as an encore). Between these two, there is a symbiotic energy that conveys directly to the audience. I still marvel that the master of “Di quella pira” can belt out a pop jewel like “Vivo per lei” with such ease and command of the style, but I think Heather contributes a share of inspiration to the chemistry. Undeniably one of the high points of the show was her distinctive signature rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” Though it has been sung by countless voices for decades, I guarantee you have never heard it sung with both the passion and the unique improvisational vocal flourishes she summons while maintaining the true heart of this classic. She justly earned a decidedly enthusiastic ovation for her performance.
Toward the evening’s end, Maestro Kohn orchestrated a unique Washington, DC, surprise for Andrea. He was given the pleasant task of reading a declaration proposed by Congressman Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania from the floor of the House of Representatives to honor Andrea’s artistic accomplishments and contributions to Italian–American relations. The reading brought a broad smile to Andrea’s face but also a predictable gesture of humble protest for something that seemed to him too much of a boast on his behalf. Leave it to our tenor to manage to inspire our woefully gridlocked legislative branch to achieve one of the rare instances of positive action for the year!
Wonderful big band arrangements of “More” and “Volare” showcased Andrea’s growing mastery of English lyrics and increasing claim to the title “showman.” The entire ensemble seemed to enjoy the relaxing pace of these standard tunes. The sunny “O sole mio” always makes me feel as if I am basking in the warm embrace of Italian heritage. I never tire of hearing Andrea’s beautiful tenor voice warp itself around this traditional melody. Too soon, “Canto della terra” signaled the evening’s “official” final song. But no one was even close to being ready to say good-bye, including Andrea. There were four encores: the true oldie but goodie “Vivo per lei,” the raucously joyful “Funiculì, funiculà,”  an exuberant “New York, New York” (which Andrea claims more certainly for his own every time he sings it!), and the essential “Time to say good-bye.” And then? Only God knows—seriously—from what mysterious well of reserves Andrea summoned the energy to sing the challenging “Nessun Dorma” after the vocal pyrotechnics he had already shot into the stratosphere in the course of the evening. But he reserved this last brilliantly shimmering burst of tenorial glory for last. After the steadily increasing volume of each succeeding ovation from the audience begging for just one more parting gift from Andrea, it would seem impossible to open the floodgates any louder, but the response to his final victorious “vincero” was deafening, our ears were ringing, the persistent whoops and hollers and whistles were ear-splitting, and the gratitude for having this brilliant moment to share was written on the thousands of grinning faces surrounding us.
So, another concert was over. Since that very first one, at this same arena in 1998, we have stopped counting the times we have shared with Andrea. Do we really need to go again? … Does the heart need music? Does the soul need beauty? For as long as you are singing, Maestro, we hope we will have the singular joy of being there to hear you.
by Cami McNamee
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