Where is Providence? Well actually it is the capitol of the smallest state
of the Union and no one was more surprised than me to hear that Andrea
Bocelli was playing Providence. Not the more likely Boston in MA. Must have
been a bit much for the local paper the Providence Journal because clearly
the Pro-Jo reviewer didn't think much of him and even preferred the
The problem - as with all concrete civic venues - is that something designed
for the intimacy of an opera theatre doesn't always translate well to the
cavernous space of an ice hockey style arena!
Poised in block 229 high above stage right before the concert even started
it was hard to see the far side obscured by the hot oil haze of pop-corn
concession stands. Let's face it - opera and mass market burger and pop-corn
stands do NOT mix.
But the sound system was decent, the lighting atmospheric without being
overpowering and the TV big screen gave a good well produced view of the
As to the music (that was why we were there - right?): Maestro Steven
Mercurio made the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (Hartford has a symphony
orchestra? Yep - in their 60th season!) rise above themselves. Clearly they
thought so too - the small brass section who patiently sat out many quiet
passages marked their big night out with an impromptu photo shoot on the
stage during the intermission. The orchestra's accompaniments were light,
delicate and underscored the singers well. Their second half outing with the
William Tell Overture was played with a suspense and understated accuracy
that brought new life to the piece for me.
Soprano Kallen Esperian did not - perhaps - have her best night and her
first half was a little strained. But by the second half she had warmed up
and had some beautiful duets with Andrea. The only real mistake being
allowing her "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in more populist second half. It
was just a shade too pop for the half and didn't really fit.
As for Andrea - Providence was hosting too many items that night ("The Moody
Blues" and a big theatre night at Trinity Rep both within blocks of the
Civic Center), parking was an overpriced nightmare and many in the audience
were late. Andrea's voice was not strained but it was having a fight with
the pop-corn oil haze and the discrete but distinct rustle of late arrivals.
The signature Ave Maria (Bach) was good but not his best. But damn! In these
days of perfect recording - we expect so much perfection live. There was
nothing wrong with it either.
The price of a near perfect second half was the subterranean rumble of the
HVAC which cleared the oily air and perhaps voices had had a chance to warm
up and if there had been any first song nerves they had been driven away by
a sympathetic and now settled crowd. The to and fro between Andrea and Lisa
Rautenberg the first violin in Occhi di Fata was beautiful - and if there
was a slight hair of a bowing error - betrayed on the screen by a look of
mortification from Lisa - Andrea's encouraging and forgiving smile kept the
piece together to a triumphant conclusion. No mega-star tantrum here! The
soaring, sustained and powerful conclusions of Torna a Surriento and
O'Surdato 'Nnammurato gave lie to the Pro-Jo reporter and the final
programmed duet of Brindisi had Kallen Espiran relaxed and in confident
The three carefully staged encores were rapturously received - though
personally - while I think it is brave to re-interpret "My Way" - it was
perhaps a bit of a leap with the Providence American Italian audience for
whom Old Blue Eyes probably always will have the definitive interpretation.
The Prayer was carefully re-arranged to give Andrea the lead and Con Te
Partiro was wildly but sadly received by the crowd to round the evening off.
Worth the price of admission? - Absolutely - He IS world class and it was a
world class staging that transformed a rather average concrete box for the
Concert event of my life? - Not quite but nearly - there is always the great
possibility of disappointment after eagerly awaiting something so momentous
and I was NOT disappointed.
Worth the 40 min wait in the parking garage afterwards to get out? - Yes
Did my girlfriend love it? Well she had never heard of Andrea till I played
her some of his CD's last month as a trial to see if I should invest in the
tickets. She didn't know most of the pieces but left in love with the whole
It was a GREAT night out.
Graeme J.W.Smith MRIN