December 12, 2013
concert at the Verizon Center – Washington, DC, USA
Ancora Una Volta, Washington, DC, 2013
Over the years of our Andrea Bocelli concert-going—and there have been many—some things have changed: singing partners, conductors, repertoire, new slickly coordinated video backdrops, complex kaleidoscope lighting, more sophisticated amplification, Andrea's ability to sing in English, the number of distinguished gray hairs crowning his noble head. But at the core of these concerts, Andrea still stands, simply and powerfully singing his soul into the arias and songs that are his unwavering gift to our heart. In a world increasingly besieged by instantaneously transmitted images of tragedy and need, his voice pierces the darkness, however briefly, with a calm and steady light.
The program for this year's 2013 concert tour was not unfamiliar. We’ve heard “O Soave Fanciulla” (Puccini) countless times, and even the wedding night duet from Romeo et Juliette is nearly an oldie-but-goodie. Bulgarian soprano Svetla Vassileva was an able partner. But honestly, I don't think I care what he sings at this point. Any choice Andrea makes will carry with it all his desire to make it the best he can summon from his being at that moment, while, in the audience, we celebrate the privilege of just having him physically present. I'll focus on a few highlights from this December night in Washington, DC.
“La donna è mobile” (Verdi) is a familiar lead-in to the first-half classical offerings; “O, paradiso!” (Meyerbeer) and “La mia letizia infondere” (Verdi) are less so. But Andrea began the evening on comfortable automatic-pilot, and Maestro Eugene Kohn capably shepherded the Washington Festival Orchestra and Choral Arts Society of Washington to make it all look easy.
However, it is a rare treat to hear Andrea test his mettle with the notoriously challenging "Ah mes amis," Donizetti's famous aria of the infamous nine high Cs. Our tenor’s effortless capacity to deliver them—all nine—is a sure indicator of his current state of vocal well-being. Truly, throughout the evening, he looked and sounded quite fit.
After the intermission is the traditional time for Andrea to relax. Old standards “Mamma” and “Funiculì, Funiculà” reflected his obviously energetic mood, with video backdrops bursting with images of motherly joy and pride in adorable offspring (including both little Andrea and Virginia) and the teeming celebratory spirit of life in old Napoli. These songs raised the spirits of the audience with their festive air.
Heather Headley is no stranger to these concerts. She soundly claimed the spotlight with a heart-stopping and uniquely soulful version of “Over the Rainbow” that brought down the house. Afterward, the smooth Latin rhythm of Andrea’s “Love in Portofino” was an easy-listening counterpoint. Then Heather stepped back into the picture for an intimate duet with Andrea. “When I Fall in Love” revealed a relaxed interaction between the two—Heather playfully tapping Andrea's shoulder to punctuate the words "with you" and Andrea responding at the climax with an improvised stratospheric high note (to Heather's surprised delight, as well as that of the audience) and a beaming smile of satisfaction. His good-natured but soundly impressive musical message seemed to say "two can play at this showmanship game!"
A nod to the Christmas holiday remained in the sacred rather than the secular realm. The audience applauded in recognition after the first few notes of a prayerful and devout "Ave Maria” (Schubert), and when this tribute to the young mother at the heart of the Christmas story was completed by the final, beautifully held, pianissimo high note, Andrea softly wished us a heartfelt "Merry Christmas." If it is possible to be exuberantly reverent, "Adeste Fideles" Andrea-style is the best example. His triumphant energy infused in this 17th century hymn flooded the vast, fully packed arena with all the benevolence and awe of the season.
Along again on this tour, little Virginia Bocelli is a marvel of steadiness. Toward the concert's end, the tot was carried onstage to her "Babbo" by one of those four Divas. She calmly surveyed the clamoring audience from the safe haven of her father's arms as if stage and arena were her private realm. But Daddy had encores to deliver, so off she went, although she didn't really seem to approve of such a rapid departure. "Love Me Tender" was Andrea’s first encore, and the eager and responsive wide-eyed face of his lovely daughter projected on the big screen from offstage gave this love song from her dad a whole new context.
Andrea returned next with "New York, New York," clearly relishing the pure American flavor of this show-stopping classic. About this time, when the audience inevitably realizes that time with the tenor is growing short, they rebel against letting him go. The waves of applause are unleashed in increasing crescendos. The reward was what some had been waiting for all night. How does Andrea manage a fresh take on the requisite "Con te partiro"—long his signature song? Maybe it is because he knows that he still has one more miracle up his vocal sleeve—that triumphant final glory of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma"! For me, at this moment, it is impossible to preserve any shred of dignity. I become as giddy and worshipful as the very first time I heard that incomparable voice in 1998 in this very same venue of Washington, DC. Fortunately, I was in good company.
As Jack and I slowly made our way home through the significantly snarled traffic caused by the simultaneous release of nearly 15,000 concert goers, I pondered the reality that so much seems broken here in our nation's capital and, indeed, in so many countries of the world. Even his most ardent fans know, of course, that Andrea obviously can't put it all back together. But he sure can make us forget about it for a brief while, grateful that he still wants to share his gift with us—directly and honestly—as he always has—and in the process, make the world a little brighter.
Tante grazie, Andrea…ancora una volta!
—by Cami McNamee


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