February 8, 2010
My Andrea Bocelli Story  #no 10
submitted by Winifred Hayek, USA
First Concert – Philadelphia 1998

On Tuesday, July 21, 1998, I arrived home from work in plenty of time to feed the neighbor’s cat and to shower and dress in my blue linen jacket and silk skirt. Fortunately, as events developed, I decided to wear pumps with thick heels. The night before, I’d packed my purse with the tickets, which I’d checked countless times in the weeks since they’d arrived, and two pairs of opera glasses.

I sat down at the piano to pass the time and channel my stress. I played and played, and my “Maple Leaf Rag” got faster and louder each time through. About three-quarters of an hour after I’d expected him, Martin—the young friend who’d accepted my concert invitation—called to say he’d been delayed at his doctor’s appointment. When he finally arrived—looking handsome in his dark suit and driving a fancy little black Mercedes I’d never seen before—I wanted to go right to the arena in South Philadelphia, or at least to the immediate vicinity, but I didn’t make my case forcefully enough. Martin was sure we had time for a quick bite farther uptown.

We got off I-95 at Broad Street because traffic appeared to be stopped just ahead, a portent of trouble to come. We drove up Broad to South Street, down South—the heavy traffic inflaming my tension—and then to a lot near a small Italian restaurant. I ordered a salad and tea but spent the time flipping the onions over and back. I was wild with anticipation and worry over the time. Hoping no doubt to calm me down, Martin suggested a drink I should try, but I declined.

He then made a point of telling me he would be the voice of calm and reason (in the face of my state of near levitation), so I forced myself to wait for him to say when it was time to go. A few more moments of agony passed while he visited the men’s room. Outside we felt a few drops of rain in the still-sunny and humid early evening—rainbow weather, but with no rainbow in sight.

Broad Street went from bad—roadwork—to total gridlock. A truck had jackknifed on I-95, and all interstate traffic was being routed off farther down Broad. I just barely kept from crying or yelling. Instead, I compulsively opened and closed my map, trying to see how many blocks were left. At one point I did holler at Martin to change lanes because the other lane seemed to hold slightly more promise. He said mildly, “Do you mean you want me to be over there?” and made the adjustment, which didn’t help.

At 7:45, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I gave Martin his ticket and jumped out of the car. He told me later that a man in an adjacent car had glared at him, evidently thinking that Martin must have done something terrible to cause me to jump out and start running.

I ran all the way, except for slipping in a couple short periods of fast walking to regain some control of my breathing. Praying to arrive on time, I thought, “If I’m going to collapse, just let it be after the concert.” I couldn’t believe what was happening, that I had a real chance of being late and missing my hero’s entrance.

The run started at Oregon Avenue. I didn’t know how many blocks I had to cover, but the stadiums weren’t in sight when I began. I ran by neat row houses and small, well-kept lawns. People out in their yards after supper for a little puttering didn’t look up. First Veteran Stadium and then the Spectrum loomed beside me before I began to close in on the entrance to my goal, the huge CoreStates Center, as it was known at that time. I passed other people walking fast but didn’t see anyone else running.

When I arrived just at eight, a ticket taker told me to take a deep breath. My face and neck were wet from sweat, and my skirt and jacket limp and crumpled. There was a blister on my toe. But I’d made it. I was there—though not quite in the style for which I had hoped.

Hurrying down the steep steps inside the arena, I was still impatient. The people in front of me moved too slowly. Yet once I found my seat on the floor—about 30 rows back, but directly in line with where Andrea would stand—I relaxed and let the evening carry me away. Concert attendees who had been caught in the traffic jam continued to stream down the arena stairs long after the concert began.

The Pittsburgh Symphony musicians, dressed in summer whites, took their places, and Steven Mercurio launched them into the overture to La forza del destino. I had no idea where Martin was, but I was content.

The cheering for Andrea began before I could see him, and then there he was, smiling his shy smile as he walked to his place with the sprightly conductor. The 16,000-member audience stood, ecstatic.

Our tenor nervously wiped his hands down the front of his tuxedo jacket and was ready. After “La donna è mobile,” he sang the melancholy aria “Il lamento di Federico,” which will forever carry me to a perfect warm summer night. Although we were inside an arena, I felt I was hearing these sounds, which outshine all others for me, out under the stars.

He was singing his third aria by the time Martin entered the arena. Soprano Ana María Martínez had come on stage and was into “Un bel dÌ,” her second piece, by the time he made it to his seat next to me. Many times in the weeks before the concert, I’d called up an image of Martin and me sitting in the audience listening to Andrea up on the stage. In the middle of the concert, I giggled, realizing we were finally all in our places.

Now when I open my souvenir program, the faint odor of the ink still carries with it the perfection of the evening, the humid night, and Martin’s bass voice humming the "Merry Widow Waltz”—the last encore—all the way home.
by Winifred Hayek
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