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Arena at Harbor Yard
November 12, 2004

Recollections by Laura Griffin

It has taken a few days to gather my thoughts after seeing Andrea perform at the Tribute on Ice in Bridgeport, CT on November 12th. I still don’t remember all of the details of every skater, what they wore, every song, or what they skated to, but it doesn’t matter, because it was the whole collection of experiences that made this one of the most outstanding events I’ve attended.

The adventure began with an easy 150-mile drive from Southern Massachusetts to Bridgeport, with a good friend who had flown in from Ohio. We met up with two other pals at the Holiday Inn, just a third of a mile from the Arena at Harbor Yard. Right away, I knew this was going to be a special day, as we spotted young Holly Stell sitting in the lobby, wearing a pink hat pulled down low.

I approached her, asking "Are you Holly?". She leapt to her feet and said "Yes!". I introduced myself, and my friend, saying that we had come there to see her perform with Andrea Bocelli. We asked her if she would be performing the song live that evening (since the song on the CD had been recorded with Andrea and Holly in different locations). The 12-year old answered: "In my WHOLE life, I have never lip synched!". We chatted for a few more minutes, then went to check in at the front desk.

We had a quick lunch in the hotel restaurant, noticing a lot of other women who looked like they might also be Bocelli fans. At the salad bar, I queried the ladies, "So, are you here for the ice show?". They answered very excitedly, "Yes, we can’t wait!". I grinned and said "Me, neither! I can’t wait to see Andrea perform…" and one woman said "Oh, we’re actually SKATING fans… but we do like Bocelli an awful lot, too!". I laughed, a little embarrassed but realizing that we all have our interests… and that’s just fine.

As the time for the performance came closer, my pals headed down to the lobby and were lucky to have some encounters of their own, with the gracious Carlo Bernini and Mario Reyes, to name a few. Then it was time to head to the arena. Due to the rain and cold, we opted for taxis. I remember thinking that Andrea wasn’t going to let his woolen scarf get too far away from him, in this weather!

The minutes crawled before the performance. It is always exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time, and this was no exception. Sitting in my seat, on center ice, about 18 rows up, I surveyed the stage where Andrea would soon be appearing. It was bigger than I thought it would be, swathed in black cloth. A grand piano stood there, waiting to be played, and I could only hope that Andrea would the be one to do it. Seats were in place for other musicians.

My anticipation grew as a short delay was announced. About 20 minutes late, the announcers came out and kicked off the show. I do not remember the gentleman’s name, but he was accompanied by Olympic silver medalist Roslyn Sumners. They introduced the event, and when they first mentioned "Andrea Bocelli", the crowd went absolutely wild! Clapping, stomping, hooting, whistling and cheering… it was just superb, and I hoped that Andrea would hear it backstage.

The format of the show was to be very special: Andrea was to sing six songs throughout the evening, live, and the rest of the music would be from his many CD’s. Before each skater began their performance, a voiceover was heard, providing a translation of two or three lines from the song that they were about to skate to. It was really fun, and challenging at times, to try to figure out what song it was, before the music started and gave it away!

Let me say now, that the skating was world-class, with costumes that were simple yet elegant, and well-matched to the song. Each skater did a terrific job in interpreting Andrea’s songs, and the short "translations" beforehand helped to set the tone and the scene. But that is all that I can honestly say about the skating, for I have to admit that most of my attention was directed towards the stage when Andrea was singing. While the recorded songs were playing, I mostly sat and soaked up the voice and music booming throughout the arena. I am used to a similar feeling from the traditional classical concerts, but it was a little different, having Andrea’s pop music fill the air in this way. The quality of the sound system was so good that you could hear many small details in the music; it was not quality being sacrificed for quantity. So, my apologies to the fantastic skaters, but the rest of this review will be all about Andrea!

I don’t remember the exact order, nor the whole list, of songs. But I do remember vividly that the six songs that Andrea performed live were Sogno, Melodramma, Go Where Love Goes (with Holly Stell), Sin tuamor (with Mario Reyes), Con te partirò, and Dell’amore non si sa. No, I do not have the order mixed up – Con te partirò was not last, and let me tell you, it felt strange to not get up and leave after that song was done!

Sogno was beautifully done… a very emotional rendition. I will never be able to hear that song without thinking back to the Statue of Liberty concert. Melodramma (senza flute) was touching, and made me realize how much Andrea has accomplished in the time since Cieli di Toscana came out. The duet with Holly was very special; the crowd went completely nuts when it was announced that this "unknown girl from California, just 12 years old" was going to be singing with Andrea. They performed beautifully together, voices blending almost better than on the CD, in my opinion. Holly held her last note like a trooper, over the cheers and clapping of the appreciative audience.

A short intermission came next, and thank goodness, for the emotions were racing all over the place at this point. I had completely shocked myself by bursting into tears during Sogno, so I needed this time to recover and prepare for the second half of the show (and wipe away my mascara!).

The second half began by another appearance by Andrea, this time with Mario Reyes, for Sin tu amor. Mario sat on a stool at center stage, with his guitar, while Andrea sat by the piano. They gave an electrifying performance, with Mario showing much skill in his guitar playing and the tricky vocals. Andrea was powerful and emotional in his singing, and I could not believe how fast he was playing the intricate piano score – his hands were flying over the keyboard while he sang his heart out. Hearing the raw cry of "Padre…" was even more touching than on the CD! There was a special ending to this song, as the three male, black-clad skaters ended their performance by lining up in front of the stage, at an angle, half facing the singers. It is difficult to describe, and will make more sense in the televised show in December, but it was clear that they were portraying respect and honor for the two singers.

Beautiful skating performances took place before, between and after this. Some of the songs that were played from CD were Plaisir D’Amour, Le parole che non ti ho detto, The Prayer, Ave Maria,  Caruso,  Nessun Dorma, O mare e tu, Il mare calmo della sera, L'incontro, Silent Night, and Romanza. You can see that the variety is immense; I loved that it was such a deep retrospective, because it was wonderful for the fans as well as a terrific way for the rest of the people to see the incredible breadth of Andrea’s skill and repertoire. (The new CD was being sold in the lobby, and I was told that they completely sold out, despite the $20 price tag!). I can say that there wasn’t one song that didn’t elicit a huge reaction from the audience, while some of the more well-known songs like The Prayer, Il mare calmo, and Romanza simply blew the roof off the arena.

Andrea returned for his 5th song, and as I mentioned before, I was a little surprised to hear the opening notes of Con te partirò at that time. But for once, I didn’t have to feel the sadness that meant that the concert was over; believe me, I was keeping count, and I knew that there was one more live song to come! So I actually sat and really listened to this song, and was glad to see that Andrea really seemed to be enjoying himself, too. I am sure that the tremendous roar from the crowd, when the music started, had something to do with it!

Heading back to the piano, Andrea then gave us a third song from his new CD, Dell’amore non si sa. Considering that this was the first time that most of the audience had heard this, he received a wonderful ovation. Carlo came to lead him offstage at the end, and Andrea was beaming, giving a trademark wave to the crowd before exiting towards Veronica, who had been standing between the stage and the seats each time that Andrea performed.

At this point, the details begin to blur; Andrea may have come out again, to our thundering applause, but other fans will have to step in here to say for sure. All I know is that I had just experienced one of the most innovative pieces of entertainment I had ever seen, and surely the most unique Bocelli performance. This does not take away from any of his amazing performances, whether in concerts, operas, or recitals; it was just that the format and the mix were so unusual, and unexpected, that it made a big impression on me (and everyone else, from the look and sound of it!). I am sure that seeing Andrea wearing casual attire (I believe it was the same outfit as the CD presentation on 27 October – the jeans, black T, and black striped Armani blazer) also set this apart from other times that I have seen him.

The evening wrapped up, back at the hotel, with a lovely gathering of excited fans who were not ready to head back home or upstairs to their rooms yet. We compared notes, talked about our favorite parts, and quizzed each other on what songs had been performed ("Did Andrea sing 6, or 7 songs??"). We were treated to the appearance of a dozen skaters, who congregated in the bar/lounge for some drinks and laughs. For the most part, they were left alone to celebrate their success, although I admit sneaking an autograph from Todd Eldredge (who had skated to Il mare calmo) when he went up to the bar. Mario Reyes joined that group, and several fans took the opportunity to congratulate him and get autographs. Holly Stell came into the restaurant with some members of her family, and graciously and endearingly posed for photos, answered questions like a pro, and gave out lots of autographs as if she had been doing it her whole life. Jack Lenz, the writer of Go Where Love Goes, came in and joined Holly’s group a bit later, causing a small commotion as well, among the fans.

It was wonderful and perfect, and I did not want to evening to end. But since it was now almost 1:00AM, and people had to drive or fly the next day, we called it a night. My last thoughts as I drifted to sleep were "Please, don’t let me ever forget this night… and thank you, Andrea!"


Tenore on Ice . . . .Quite Nice

by Cami McNamee

Frankly there isn’t much to do for diversion in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a small industrial city on Long Island Sound with a proud history of Yankee inventiveness and one very famous native son…P.T. Barnum. In another century, this master impresario was the first to have the brilliant idea of bringing a famous classically trained voice to America and promoting her as a popular singer. She was the "Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind. The country went mad for her. The comparisons are tempting…another famous voice, another masterful promotion. But no, not exactly. Bridgeport is a working city...for a working tenore.

Andrea Bocelli, Tribute on Ice is as close as Andrea has ever come to doing a "pop" concert. I have to be honest, I had my doubts about this event. It is surely no burden to listen to Andrea sing anything, but my preference is Andrea’s opera voice. Bocelli singing backup for figure skaters?? But I should know better by now. No matter the task, Andrea inevitably imparts his cachet of gentle elegance, and his unswerving faith in the power of music to forge bonds among seemingly disparate elements always seems to triumph.

Although very different from the classic pageantry of opera, this show created an experience with a power all its own. Eleven luminaries of the skating world—all national, world, and Olympic champions—skated to an awesome selection of Andrea’s pop recordings, many of which were oldies but goodies. Hearing them on the arena’s glorious sound system released the power and nuances of Andrea’s performances on these tracks in a way that just doesn’t come through on any home or car system. They sounded HUGE!! I fell in love with them all over again. ("Sir, may I borrow your arena for the rest of my life so I can play my Bocelli CDs here?")

But, of course, Andrea was also there singing six of his songs live. The tall profile, visible only in shadow, was unmistakable the moment he stepped out on the still-darkened stage with a charming starlit backdrop. The crowd’s recognition and immediate enthusiastic response was palpably expressed in wave after wave of applause that never really abated throughout the evening. From the start, it was apparent that the intimate, embracing ease of Andrea’s pop voice—firmly grounded in the classically trained and controlled opera voice—is a perfect accompaniment to the fused grace, passion, and physical power of figure skating. It was clear that these athletes were touched and inspired by Andrea’s voice. In some enchanting alchemy, the athletes transformed his sound into visible, physical being. It was…irresistible. From the first row, center ice, you could see their physical abandonment to the sheer force of it. Brian Boitano expressed it at the end of the show when he said, with convincing emphasis, that it had been a privilege for them all to skate to the enormous talent of this man.

I had been told that the skaters themselves had chosen the songs they would skate to. Each performance was introduced by a brief description of the song’s meaning recorded in the skater’s own voice. There was no printed program of the songs and the order of the performers, so I’m depending on memory and providing just a random summary of some highlights here. (I am sure I left something out, for which I apologize, and hope that others, elsewhere, will fill in the gaps.)

The show opened with "Gloria a te" majestic, classic, powerful. I never would have thought of choosing it, but it was perfect to allow the whole group of skaters to take the ice in coordinated interweaving patterns and set a triumphant and festive tone.

"Sogno"—Andrea’s irresistible, plaintive strains and Brian Boitano’s liquid grace—a memorable combination for the first live offering of the evening from Andrea. It was clear that he was in fabulous form, his voice stronger than ever and the interpretation secure and commanding. He looked fabulous as well in a black velvet jacket and sleek charcoal "jeans."

Taking the ice, Todd Eldrege chose "Il mare calmo della sera." Many have probably seen this competition-level performance before. I’m not Dick Button ("No kidding," you’re saying!), but if I’m not mistaken, Todd nailed three "quads" in the course of the performance. Todd was one with this song; he was electrifying. It was undoubtedly a high point of the evening, and the audience went wild, jumping to their feet.

Michael Weiss is a superb athlete and a natural showman. His "La donna è mobile" was a showstopper, incorporating bold, flirtatious nuances. Another operatic offering from Andrea, chosen by Brian Boitano, was "Nessun dorma." Andrea’s powerful, dramatic interpretation, intertwined with the visible, physical translation by Boitano, was so forceful, one enhancing the other. By god, opera on ice is very compelling!

Many were completely taken with both the sound and image of the strong and tall Andrea with the petite, poised, golden-haired, 11-year-old Holly Stelle, blending their voices in the touching "Go Where Love Goes." Ekaterina Gordeeva completed this entrancing offering with her heartfelt jumps, spirals, and spins. There was a standing ovation for this as well.

Somewhere in here Andrea sang "Melodramma" live—but by this time I had simply given up trying to decide whether to watch our tenore or the skaters. Honestly, I have no memory of who skated to this one!

"Caruso" with Ekaterina Gordeeva, captured the haunting nostalgia of this song. Silvia Fontana, the Italian skater, was passionate and sensual in rendering "O mare e tu." Later her tenderhearted spirit easily translated itself into the fluid grace of her movements, perfectly suited to the sweetly simple "l’incontro." Nicole Bobek chose a track from the new CD "Le parole che non ti ho detto" and also interpreted, with extraordinary grace, the classic "Plaisir d’amour."

Shae Lynn Bourne demonstrated incredible versatility, first, with the emotionally dramatic "Romanza" and, later, with a very touching portrayal of the pure and tender strains of "Silent Night." I don’t know what you call those low sweeps of the ice in impossible positions without falling over, but they defy gravity and must require incredible physical strength and control. This is Shae Lynn’s forte.

Brian Orser claimed "Sin tu amor" with a Spanish flourish to his skating, then was joined by Michael Weiss and Brian Boitano to fan the flames a bit higher for this piece. Andrea and Mario Reyes performed this live, and the driving rhythmic power and forceful blending of their voices, the mesmerizing guitar solos, coupled with the superb skating of the men, really hit a responsive chord with the crowd.

"Con te partirò was done by the pair, Rene Roca and Gorsha Sur. The audience never seems to tire of this song, and Andrea never disappoints. But you can hear the murmured regret around you, because it inevitably signals the evening coming to a close. Finally, the new song "Dell amore non si sa," again live from Andrea, lent itself well to a grand finale, with all the skaters on the ice. Dramatic lifts and combinations in trios and serpentine lines underscored the exuberant feel of this melody.

Then it was over. Really, I have never seen such a concentration of beatifically beaming faces leaving an event. We heard comments all around that were variations of "That was the best show I have ever seen!" All of Andrea’s CDs were sold out. I have to admit it—Tribute on Ice really worked and succeeded in wrapping us in another kind of experience for a blessed time. I so hope it translates to the NBC TV broadcast December 18.

Our world, of late, has jolted us with too many stark moments, bereft of love. Andrea is a natural optimist who believes in the compelling, humanizing power of love in all its manifestations—tender, passionate, playful, fickle, redeeming, inspiring, heartbreaking, desperate, calming, comforting, protecting, embracing, exhilarating, peacemaking. With the unmistakable timbre of his voice, Andrea captures and commands this whole range of meaning through his varied music and translates it to the heart. For a time this night, Andrea and friends had softened the world’s harshness with this potent message…reminding us that that there is more than one reality.

Grazie ancora, maestro!

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