May 15, 18 2013
Berlin, Germany Philharmonie, Prague, Czech Republic, O2 Arena
Roméo et Juliette: “Le Rêve Était Trop Beau…”

Journeying With Andrea: Berlin and Prague, May 2013

For us, as for so many, Andrea Bocelli has inspired countless journeys over the years. Most recently, we traveled to Germany and the Czech Republic for two very different kinds of concert experiences that represented quite well the two musical worlds Andrea inhabits so comfortably. In Berlin, one of the finest concert halls of the world, he gave us a classical recital that surveyed the best of opera; in the vast arena of Prague before a sold-out audience, it was a vintage combination of classical and pop music that is the unique signature of this unique tenor.

Any successful journey requires careful planning. For this purpose, Jack and I have discovered a useful tool—a series of tour books focused on individual cities called Top Ten from DK Eyewitness Travel. Each one identifies the top ten city highlights in many categories—for example, top ten major sights, great walks, loveliest parks, markets, hidden treasures, old courtyards, most exciting museums, things to avoid, and the “best of the rest.” You get the idea. As I contemplated how to review these two concerts of Andrea’s, I realized this type of format would work well to convey the memories of this most recent journey with our tenor!

Top Ten Concert Highlights

·        The crescendo of applause that greeted Andrea’s first moments onstage in Berlin and the pure joy of seeing his beaming response of pleasure. It isn’t often that we get to see Andrea in the elegant, sartorial splendor of black tie and tails, but this was his respectful tribute to the honor and privilege of taking the stage in this hallowed home of the Berlin Philarmoniker and Symphoniker.

·        We were enthralled from the first captivating notes of “Viene la sera,” the heart-melting yearning duet from Madama Butterfly. The emphasis on each dramatic moment was perfect, summoned by the emotional power of this music—the way Andrea turned to his soprano, Paola Sanguinetti, with a sweet smile and tender glances, the darling way he went on tiptoe when Butterfly sings that she loved him from the first moment she saw him so “tall and strong,” and the finale of an exquisite, tender embrace. We have all made many musical journeys with Andrea. For me, this familiar duet evokes the memory of a full moon magically ascending over Lake Massaciuccoli behind the stage when we watched Andrea perform this opera at Torre del Lago in 2002.

·        Andrea’s interpretation of Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” sung in Italian, never fails to create an intimate connection with his listeners. This time, Andrea offered the benediction of an exceptionally long and prayerfully sweet final note.

·        In Berlin, we had two selections from Manon Lescaut, Andrea’s next opera recording. The captivating solo, “Donna non vidi mai” was dramatically strong, followed by the emotional fireworks of the duet “Tu, tu, amore tu” with the soaring lyric lines that Puccini does so masterfully. There is no resisting the stirring deep tones of Andrea’s low range when he sings “O tentatrice” (“O, temptress”) over and over during the ill-fated lovers’ confrontation.  When he gets to “nel occhio tuo profondo, io leggo il mio destin” (“in the depths of your eyes, I read my destiny”) well, I’d say we’re definitely conquered.

·        With Andrea’s two encores of the German songs at the Philharmonie, “Ich liebe dich” (“I love you”) by Beethoven and “Zueignung” (“Dedication”) by Richard Strauss, he paid special tribute to his predominantly German audience, and their beaming smiles of affection and appreciation sprouted all over the great hall. With this gesture, he won them over entirely, prompting a final standing ovation (a rarity for Europeans). 

·        Spectacular Il Trovatore selections were a highlight in Prague. We were given nearly all of Scene 6 from Act III. In “Ah si ben mio,” with Andrea’s voice secure and compellingly lovely, Manrico comforts Leonora as enemy trumpets sound the call to battle in the distance. Then moving directly into “L’onda de’ suoni mistici,” the lovers sing hopefully, in thrilling close harmony, of a happy future. But their dreams are immediately dashed as Manrico learns of his mother’s capture and Andrea plunges into the musical fireworks of “Di quella pira,” like sparks flung from the tip of his vocal sorcerer’s wand!

·        Paola Sanguinetti gets my nomination for most endearing soprano partner with winning gestures like her little curtsy to Andrea after they waltzed to the La Traviata “Brindisi” and the flirtatious flash of her eyes at the moment in “O soave fanciulla” from La Bohème when she sings the teasing word “curioso?” during the musical dialogue when Andrea’s Rodolfo expectantly questions what might transpire between them “al ritorno” to the casa! Throughout both concerts she was considerate to him, animated, and responsive, coaxing expressive gestures from him that brought life to each duet.

·        The excellent Prague Chamber Choir is probably the best I have ever heard, and their “Va, pensiero,” from Verdi’s Nabucco was exceptional. Having just spent time touring and exploring the history of Cologne, Berlin, and the Old Jewish Quarter of Prague, and having seen the frequent plaques that mark the places where Jewish citizens had once lived and were then taken away to oblivion, this aria, sung by the enslaved Hebrews in exile in Egypt, took on an entirely new poignancy that I had never experienced before. The sudden tears in my eyes took me completely by surprise.

·        All of us who come to a concert with Andrea love him already. But we long for a way to touch him more closely, to feel that human connection more deeply. It sometimes happens with the smallest things—the little waltzing turn with Paola, the little wave of the hand over his head, a few words of thanks into the microphone, the particular smile of gratitude or amusement. In Prague, the impact of “Era già tutto previsto” from the CD Passione was impressive. The minute Andrea sat at the piano, he seemed to forge a closer bond with the audience, and they responded. You could feel the emotion raised to a new level as his voice expressed an emotional urgency singularly inspired by this song.

·        Lately, the final encore of “Nessun dorma” from Turandot has become a familiar conclusion for ABs concerts. Where does that energy come from at the end of an evening’s worth of exhaustive vocal giving? Proud and victorious, Andrea reaches deep within for the final glory of that triumphant “vincerò”! Prague was no exception. The applause must have lasted several minutes. How we yearned to have him back on stage. You could feel the pleading. But, he had given all he had for this night. Still, the splendor of his “vincerò” echoes in our memories as we leave.

Top Ten Loveliest Moments

·        The heady feeling as we sat in the third row center of Philharmonie Berlin, in the historic German capital, knowing that in a few moments the “world’s most beloved tenor” would step on stage to be greeted by an eagerly expectant audience in one of the premier concert halls of the world.

·        Andrea’s most yearning and softest sung “sei mia” (“be mine”) ever in the “Viene la sera” Madama Butterfly duet in Berlin.

·        “La donna è mobile” is always beloved by the crowd. But this night we had the gift of a particularly sweet and long-held note on the phrase “d’accento” and a beautifully ornamented coda that always makes Andrea smile with the satisfaction of this vocal accomplishment when he takes his bow at the end. If possible, it seemed he crafted this aria even more masterfully in Prague!

·        The audience reaction of pure joy just to see his face when Andrea finally turned to the crowd sitting behind him in the strange Berlin “theater-in-the-round.”

·        The sweet little waltzing twirl Andrea shared with Paola for the “Brindisi” from La Traviata touched the fans, who responded gratefully with warm applause.

·        Just to hear Andrea sing “farfalle” (“butterfly”) from the Madama Butterfly duet makes me collapse with pleasure every time. Would it make him smile to think one could conquer women with the singing of only one little word from an entire Puccini duet?!

·        Perfectly blended harmony between Andrea and Paola of “Ange adorable” from Roméo et Juliette in Prague, both so remarkably relaxed for such a challenging aria.

·        The easy warmth and beauty of ABs voice singing the haunting “La vie en rose”…the graceful way his voice seems to launch the first notes of the iconic voice of Edith Piaf. Magic. (By the way, this song was released as a single the year I was born, 1947, and sold 1 million copies in the U.S. In 1948, it was the biggest selling single in Italy.)

·        I sometimes think it is the final, climactic concert moment—when the last note of “Nessun Dorma” is flung into the air—that is the loveliest of all, because I cherish the privilege of being there to see and to feel the force of how much Andrea is loved! The affection washes over everyone in wave after wave, and you just hope that he absorbs this amazing energy to recharge his spirit and soul.

·        Seeing Andrea's brother Alberto emerge from backstage to bask in the love poured out for his brother during the long, long standing ovation at end of the concert at O2 Arena.

Top Ten Familiar Sights

·        AB nearly always searches out a small anchor amid the vastness of the stage, sometimes the microphone stand, sometimes a small raised marker on the floor. Throughout the challenge of the unmiked Berlin performance, it was the sturdy iron-pipe guardrail behind the conductor that became the tenor’s security blanket.

·        Andrea vigilantly keeping the downbeat with his right hand for nearly every piece.

·        Andrea finding it impossible to resist silently mouthing the soprano’s part of the duets.

·        Those secret whispers in his partner’s ear…what IS he saying to her?! How we long to know, and how we wish (well, some of us anyway) we were feeling the soft caress of that intimate whisper ourselves!

·        The standard little tenor-conductor handshake of solidarity and encouragement after most of Andrea's arias and songs that says, “we did it!” Guaranteed to recharge the tenorial battery for that next high C.

·        Have you ever noticed in all the walking on and off stage that Andrea does in the course of his concerts that there is an extraordinary easy grace in his stride? For some reason, during this concert in Prague, I was particularly transfixed by the relaxed, rhythmic beauty of it.

·        The instant, magical metamorphosis from classical tenor to piano man that takes place the moment Andrea sits down at a piano.

·        Both in Berlin and in Prague, so many—single men, women, and couples young and old—were taking photos of themselves in the concert hall to capture the magic of attending a concert by the “world’s most beloved tenor.” It has become a tradition. And they know if they applaud like mad at the concert’s end, if Andrea has the energy, the reward will be enchanting encores.

·        “Con te partirò,” a quintessential element of Bocelli concert encores. It is the song that launched the journey! We may hear it over and over, but the groundswell of applause at its recognition and the tide of appreciation when it is completed, never fails.

·        The charmingly familiar final wave of Andrea’s hand high above his head that tells us it really is time to say good-bye…until the next journey together.

Best of the Rest

·        The excited energy generated by the initial rush of the crowd into the sold-out hall of the Philharmonie Berlin. The theater has a bewildering configuration of zig-zagging, seemingly randomly positioned levels. It was a bit disorienting to look around the grand room during the performance and see faces looking down from so many unexpected angles.

·        Paola’s beautiful “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi was tender and winning, particularly with her gracious acknowledgment of the audience behind her as she slowly turned to them and they responded to her gesture with appreciative applause. Later in the program, when she and Andrea sang the intimate and gently romantic duet “Ange Adorable” from Roméo et Juliette, she artfully directed Andrea, with admirable subtlety, to do the same, thus again winning the hearts of the grateful fans who had clearly been yearning for even the tiniest glimpse of that handsomely sun-burnished Tuscan face.

·        Stirring orchestral solos of both the Berliner Symphoniker and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra: the clarity and power of La Forza del Destino “Sinfonia,” an energetically spirited Carmen “Preludio,” and the peaceful grace and reverence of the “Intermezzo” from Cavalleria rusticana.

·        For the Prague concert, Andrea was joined by the Div4s. These four beautiful young women achieve an amazingly close vocal harmony that is lovely and powerful. I could see as I watched the reactions on the faces of the crowd that their unique sound was captivating. They soloed with the themes from the movie Romeo and Juliet and The Godfather and accompanied Andrea for a potent “Canto della terra,” a very playful “Funiculi, funiculà, and a sexy encore “Quizàs, quizàs, quizàs.”

·        A quintessential projected camera moment…the close-up of Conductor Marcello Rota’s hand—thumb and fingers held apart as the chorus held the final note of “Va, pensiero,” and the breathtaking precision with which their voices stopped when he rapidly closed those fingers together. It brought goose bumps.

·        The playful Big Band sound of the orchestral interlude in Prague at the O2. Maestro Marcello and crew were really swinging and swaying!

·        The sweeping beauty of the airborne video images for “Con te partirò,” as if we were flying over ocean and mountain, noticeably created a romantic, hand-holding moment for many young couples in the audience.

·        I had forgotten how rewarding the songs from Andrea’s Incanto CD are. The Prague concert included five of them. The sunny optimism in Andrea’s interpretation of “Voglio vivere così,” “Mamma,” and “Funiculi, Funiculà” is infectious. And because I married a sailor boy, his charming “Vieni sul mar” is irresistible. These songs incorporate a cultural heritage that Andrea is proud to share with us.

On the way home from the concert in Prague, our driver had a special surprise for us. Suddenly on his CD player I was hearing the very earliest version of Andrea singing “Con te partirò,” and I was surprised by the contrast between this version and the one we had just heard live as an encore. This “boy” on the CD seemed a world away from Andrea’s mature and controlled voice of the concert. Now there is a richness and secure confidence that has mellowed the urgent searching of that earlier voice. Without question, both had their charm, but Andrea’s journey has brought him to a place in life now that is reflected in his current voice—father of two fine young men, master of two musical worlds, founder of a significant charitable foundation, beloved in the world, cherished in the heart of an extraordinary young woman, tender parent to a little princess whose heart and soul respond already to the singular tone of her babbo’s treasured voice.

As our plane took off from Prague airport, I was relieved to begin the journey home. But then I thought that for Andrea, the journeying is never really over. He is compelled by our eagerness, seemingly insatiable, to hear and to see him over and over, everywhere in the world. It is a life of constant journeying.

Journeying encompasses so many worlds—journeys of the heart, of the spirit; journeys in friendship, in learning, beyond new horizons. For many of these journeys, Andrea has led the way: to opera, a new language, new places, new friendships. We all follow our own paths, grateful for his inspiration and the riches we have gathered along the way…and ready for the next departure.

Buon viaggi, Maestro! Ci vediamo presto…

By Cami McNamee, Leesburg, Virginia

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