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Andrea Bocelli: Singing with the warmth and passion of amore

Written By | Jan 18, 2014

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2013 – The wind was cruel and the air was frigid  on the streets outside the Verizon Center last Thursday evening. But that seemed not to matter to the excited throngs of Andrea Bocelli fans scurrying inside the building to bask in the Mediterranean warmth of their favorite romantic tenor, here for a one-night-only concert appearance in part to promote his latest CD/DVD releases “Love in Portofino” and “Passione”.

Appearing onstage with the popular singer were soprano Svetla Vassileva, guest vocalist Heather Hadley and Italian soprano quartet Le DIV4S, all accompanied by a full orchestra and chorus under the baton of Eugene Kohn.

This was as diverse a crowd as one will ever encounter in a large venue like the Verizon Center, ranging from plenty of parents with youngsters in tow, a surprisingly sizeable representation of young couples, and plenty of opera fans, too, with many of the adults clad in tuxes and formal gowns, even on a work night.

Andrea Bocelli / Jacquie Kubin (click to enlarge)

Andrea Bocelli / Jacquie Kubin (click to enlarge)

Mr. Bocelli is indeed a true crossover artist. His universal appeal straddles the sometimes-disparate genres of operatic masterpieces and popular song, while primarily focusing on the ground common to both—the music of love.

Drawing what appeared to be a sellout crowd, his concert here seemed to offer ample proof that even in our noisy, frantic, cynical and morally confused age, songs of hope, of friendship, and of love still appeal.

The last time this reviewer heard Mr. Bocelli here was a few seasons back when then-Washington National Opera general director Placido Domingo invited him to appear along with him in one of that company’s special concerts. During that event, Mr. Bocelli seemed a bit ill at ease and not quite at his best, particularly during his duet with Mr. Domingo, “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s opera “The Pearl Fishers” (“Le pêcheurs de perles”).

Mr. Bocelli’s own concert appearance at the Verizon Center, however, was something completely different. Trim, relaxed, affable and clearly in the holiday spirit, the tenor, a youthful 54, headlined a comfortable, heartfelt, romantic program mixing popular opera arias and duets with traditional, contemporary and very Italian love songs featured on a pair of recordings—his “Passione” CD and his recent DVD “Love in Portofino”—both released this year.

The first half of the evening’s program was devoted to opera favorites, opening with Mr. Bocelli’s passionate rendition of “O paradis,” the Act IV aria from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s neglected masterpiece “L’africaine,” during which the opera’s primary character, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, praises the beauty of a tropical isle.

He followed with the famous “La donna e mobile” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” and then alternated selections with Ms. Vassileva that included other Verdi operas including “I Lombardi,” “Sicilian Vespers,” “Don Pasquale,” and “La Traviata”—no doubt at least in part to help celebrate 2013, the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Also on tap were two beautifully sung duets, the opening love scene between Rodolfo and Mimi from Puccini’s “La Bohème” and the ravishing final duet, “Nuit d’hyménée” (“O marriage night”) from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” both featuring Mr. Bocelli and Ms. Vassileva.

Devoted more to the popular side of the repertoire, the second half of the concert opened with a surprise—an appearance by the soprano ensemble Le DIV4S. Attired in slinky, black faux mobster-moll garb, singing a sexy rendition of “Speak softly love,” the vocal version of the “The Godfather” theme song, which Ms. Vassileva eventually joined.

The remainder of the program’s second half consisted primarily of songs from Mr. Bocelli’s recent recordings, and also included a lovely version of Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” featuring Mr. Bocelli not only as vocal soloist, but as a surprisingly good flutist as well. Later in the evening, he added in yet another surprise, an amazingly affecting interpretation of that old Elvis classic, “Love Me Tender,” complete with a letter-perfect American accent.

A notable highlight in this concert’s second half was the appearance of Heather Hadley. She’s a formidable talent, and she put that talent to superb use here, particularly in her stunning interpretation of that old favorite, “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow,” the signature tune from “The Wizard of Oz.”

To put things in a Christmas mood, orchestra and chorus joined Mr. Bocelli in full, High-Church mode for a stirring “Adeste Fidelis” (“O Come, All Ye Faithful”).

When the program concluded, the audience signaled it still hadn’t had enough with a prolonged cheering, standing ovation. Mr. Bocelli responded perfectly, returning to sing the closing reprise of “Nessum dorma,” complete with chorus, from Puccini’s final 1926 opera. “Turandot,” eliciting another appreciative standing ovation.  

Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17