December 5, 2012
Brooklyn, NY
Barclays Center

Brooklyn Dodgers, Brooklyn Nets, Brooklyn Bocelli!

Because we have been coming for so long and so often to share the gifts Andrea offers in concert, we forget that there are always those who are new to this experience. In our seats at Brooklyn’s brand new Barclay’s Center arena December 5, we were surrounded by first-timers. To our right were a father and daughter from Houston, Texas. Wait, hadn’t Andrea just sung in Houston November 28? Right, but this doting dad (raised in Brooklyn) wanted to spoil his “little” girl (a beautiful 18-year-old and Bocelli fan) with a special New York experience highlighted by Andrea’s concert. So they had skipped Houston and flew in. Behind us were four older women (sisters, judging by the family resemblance; Brooklyn born, judging by the recognizable accent) eagerly chattering about their hopes for favorite songs and the feverish anticipation to see The Man (big sigh) in person! To our left, a young couple from the Brooklyn area smiled, patiently listening to Jack’s coaching on what to expect from the program and how to coax the maximum number of encores from the tenor at the finale. She had majored in opera at school and it was her first Andrea concert. A very diverse crowd—couples, families, best friends, young and old—slowly filled the arena, now just a few months old, while a very intimate video played on the stage backdrop showing Andrea explaining the hoped-for goals of his new ABF charitable foundation.

Andrea Classical

Under the capable baton of Maestro Eugene Kohn, the New York City Opera Orchestra’s performance of the Zampa Overture was a fantastically exciting opening piece to set the tone for the evening. If you haven’t heard it, do a search online and give yourself a treat. Throughout the concert, Maestro Kohn was his dependably reliable self, for which Andrea frequently extended a grateful hand to him. Can you imagine rehearsing a new orchestra and chorus in each of six cities during less than two weeks?

Without a doubt, Andrea has cornered the market on “ravishingly beautiful.” The arias chosen for the classical first half of the program fit his romantic heart and voice like a glove. Hearing the lush yearning he infuses into Puccini’s “Donna non vidi mai” from Manon Lescaut places it high on my list of operas I’d love to hear him sing next. To celebrate the November debut of his CD Roméo e Juliette, Andrea and his guest soprano, the fiery Cuban Maria Aleida, gave us a musical tour of selected highlights, lavishly illustrated by a video backdrop of scenes from Andrea’s staged production of this opera in Genoa, Italy, last February. These arias and duets shimmer with the yearning intensity of young love that Andrea translates so perfectly with his signature vocal warmth and beauty—so familiar, so fatally enchanting every time we hear him. A welcome delight was the two duets from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, “Verranno a te sull’aure” and “Sulla tomba che rinserra.” If memory serves me right, Andrea has not done these selections in concert on tour since partnering with Sumi Jo in Japan in 2000. They are a thrilling and welcome reprise, tenor and soprano rising to the vocal challenges of these duets, intensely dramatic and rich in close harmonies.

Andrea Light

Several familiar Neapolitan songs opened the evening’s traditionally more casual second half. “‘O surdato ‘nnamurato” is a poignant reminder that soldiers from time immemorial to the present day have returned to loving arms from the horrors of war. Andrea seems intent on recognizing their sacrifice with this frequently included song. Earlier in the evening, before the concert began, I had watched more than a few gentleman of middle-age, each slowly and lovingly escorting a dignified, older, white-haired lady to her seat. One might safely assume this was a special dream-come-true evening bestowed by grateful sons to cherished mammas. Andrea’s heart-melting version of “Mamma” surely brought tears of appreciation throughout that arena from mothers and sons alike. Scenes of famous and not-so-famous mammas embracing sons and daughters joyfully filled the giant backdrop. Of course, these included Edi and her darling Andrea, and predictably concluded with a lovely close-up of Veronica cuddling sweet baby Virginia, born last March. Several other surprises filled this part of the evening. Andrea called on his friend and compatriot, Marcello Giordani—currently in rehearsal for Les Troyens at the Metropolitan Opera—to join him onstage in a masterful but playful romp through “Funiculì, Funiculà.” Nice to see this lighthearted moment shared and obviously enjoyed by the two operatic icons. Next, Katherine Jenkins, who had most recently entertained US TV audiences on the popular Dancing with the Stars, put her newly perfected skills to use by taking a whirl around the stage with that Tuscan prince of our hearts to the enchanting strains of “Tace il labbro” from Lehar’s Merry Widow.

Much too soon, we came to the final offerings on the program. But the evening’s surprises were far from over. Andrea brought out his shiny golden flute to accompany his reverently touching rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” To do it justice, this deceptively simple classic melody demands vocal control and a natural beauty and resonance, to which Andrea adds all the strength of his heart’s faith and personal devotion. Then, he followed with the spellbinding power he brings to “Amazing Grace.” Andrea’s music is always a blessing—intensely and gratefully felt in this area of the country that is still struggling to heal the wounds of Hurricane Sandy and will have a long journey of recovery to follow. The audience was clearly held in thrall by the force of each note’s purity, drawn from deep within the tenor’s strength of spirit and forthright heart, so freely offered in the simple beauty of his voice.

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Babbo!

But the appreciative flood of applause for “Amazing Grace” was about to be surpassed. Andrea returned to the spotlight to make a modest announcement introducing his “newest and youngest fan”—“my daughter Virginia!” As Veronica entered from stage left carrying the adorable principessa, clad in a stylish gray smock and tights and sporting very baby-chic red shoes, the audience quickly realized the rare privilege of this debut, and you could hear the collective, smitten “Awwwwwww” sweeping across the vast arena! It was love at first sight as the tenor gently took his small daughter in his arms and the orchestra struck what now seemed an alarmingly loud (for tiny ears) introduction to “Adeste Fideles.” As you might imagine, the close-up camera was glued to that beaming cherubic face—the baby’s that is. Nestled comfortably, that little girl remained steadfastly calm in the capable grip of her daddy, whose voice now boomed powerfully into her little ears. Astonishingly, she barely blinked at the full volume of the symphonic orchestra blaring from behind her, though there was the slightest little knitting of her baby brow when the decibels reached the full crescendo for the final verse…at which point daddy, who now seemed a bit challenged by the drawn-out effort of bearing a very sturdy Virginia’s full weight in one arm, blithely hoisted her high up and behind his head to straddle his neck (I could hear muffled gasps of concern around me). But this new perch atop trusty shoulders seemed to particularly delight Virginia and, with little red-clad feet pumping merrily, she gazed round in queenly satisfaction as Babbo’s concert reached its glorious denouement. Need it be said that father and daughter brought the proverbial house down?!

This joyful response extended unabated to coax Andrea through four energetic encores: “The Prayer,” “New York New York,” the essential “Con te partirò,” and, by now nearly equally requisite, “Nessun Dorma.” Predictably, the Brooklyn crowd was particularly primed to revel in “New York, New York,” which, in turn, channeled Andrea’s latent Broadway-baby tendencies for a knock-em dead finish, all reinforced by filmed scenes of the tenor taking in the legendary sights of a fabled city. By now, the adrenaline was flowing, and Andrea’s dependably thrilling final notes of “Nessun Dorma” were a fitting climax for an exuberant Brooklyn debut and triumphant US tour.

We’re home again, now, in Virginia (our Virginia). Here in the shadow of the nation’s capital, there are unrelenting dire reports about a certain fiscal cliff. Indeed, there is plenty of unrest to go around in all this weary world. But for now, we’re listening to the season’s peaceful carols (guess whose?). No matter what comes, we feel the power of music—born of human communication, heart to heart, spirit to spirit, steeped in tradition, inspired by the full range of human emotions. It is a nourishing experience that kindles hope, bolsters hearts, fills the soul, and brings us again and again to hear Andrea, who has a singular ability to channel this grace to us.

Merry Christmas, Andrea, to you and all your family. We thank you for your giving spirit. God bless us, every one!

by Cami McNamee
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