Bocelli and Domingo protagonists at the Arena of Verona Chronicle of the “Centenary Opera Gala”.
Andrea Bocelli is alone, in the middle of the stage, his tunic stained with blood; the conductor’s baton is ready to cut the humid air of a summer yet to come. A beam of light is concentrating behind his shoulders.
It is the phrase of the clarinet; it is that phrase, full of languid, poignant beauty to silence the twenty thousand breaths in the Arena. The melody of the wind instrument meticulously anticipates the tenor’s voice blazing on the verses we will soon hear, (strong words, like encircling arms, quivering words that describe a night of love). Then, his voice: a few words, and the passionate, sensual, memory through the evocation of the senses: first the sight (“e lucevan le stelle”), then the smell (“ed olezzava la terra”), the hearing (“stridea l’uscio dell'orto”).Overwhelming in the end the touch“Oh dolci baci oh languide carezze”!
Thus the stars have really shone on the biggest open theater in the world, so has opened the festival last 1st June, and the senses and the emotions of this crowded arena, that for two thousand years has simulated the circle of the world, have celebrated Opera in one of the shows richest in authoritative voices and in stage and dancing splendors ever conceived in the third millennium.
After the silence that best can express the inexpressible, perhaps only an Aria - be it by Puccini, Verdi o Bellini – can tell us what words cannot say (that is why Opera is an epidemic that has been spreading out for more than four hundred years, and that it is no use trying to stop). An “Aria” even better if from a voice we recognize since the very first notes: voices like signatures, just like music bodies that can be recognized at first glance, as witnesses and guardians of an ancient and contemporary tradition, voices like the ones of Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli.
Civilization flourishes around rivers, Verona is a bright example. This fortified center around a double bend of the Adige (a water line that neatly cuts the North East part of Italy) has achieved such evidence as to make each visit, a journey through time, a journey that expresses itself through the stone. The Scaliger town is a Florence in front of the Alps, just as beautiful, just as mysteriously remote. Here the concept of love has shaped two profiles that take everywhere their very sweet, painful odyssey:
Romeo and Juliet, and that fictitious balcony wich is the symbol of a sigh that makes us all equal in every part of the world.
Verona, the city of love, the city of bel canto. In Verona, Andrea has arrived the day before the Gala, undergoing a long session of rehearsals in the Arena, given the complex logistics of a show, captured by state television which will be broadcast in prime time. For “Maestro Domingo” whom he has already had the opportunity to work with in the Unites States (among other things a “Petite messe solennelle” by Rossini), Bocelli has thought of a small present a gesture of friendship in the form of a “Panama” straw hat, a cult object of a famous Italian hat factory. He will give it to him directly on stage, two hours before remembering, while singing, the stars and the night of love with Tosca.
A hundred years ago the first Opera festival in the Arena, with an Aida conceived to celebrate, at that time the centenary of Verdi. An event that saw, sitting like spectators, on the same worn out steps, Mascagni and Puccini. Today one hundred years later, the good reasons to celebrate are multiplied: one century of posters, for the elderly, welcoming limestone lady, one century of Arena, a distillate of history and consecrated stars (Maria Callas, more than anyone else), of memorable performances, of wondering neophytes, and more or less poisoned criticism, adventures and misadventures, triumphs. And brothers and sisters come from afar, who raise their faces of every color looking for the “Casta Diva” in the spectacle of the sky that is silvering Verona. In the golden album of the theater even a “Requiem” by Verdi, in the Arena at the beginning of the new millennium, where Bocelli was performing under the conduction of Lorin Maazel ( a performance Bocelli often remembers, because the death he was singing he had in his heart, having lost his father short before).
Two hundred years is Verdi’s Anniversary, the star of Busseto who with his genius, calm and unattainable, has shaken conventions speaking of love, but of power too, the torments of conscience, and the vertigo of sacrifice. Twenty years the time that Andrea has spent, so far on stage in front of the world; two thousand those who have seen inside the open heart of the Venetian city, gladiators and martyrs, merchants and warehousemen, and finally singers.
On this imposing Opera Gala that has the responsibility to celebrate so many anniversaries, weighs the unforeseen absence of Jose Carreras, who has been unable to come because of serious family problems. So, it is Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli, without that precious piece of a reconstituted trio, to celebrate the work and to pay homage to the memory of the great absentee who remains in everybody’s heart, Luciano Pavarotti.
Among the facets of this evening, of this sparkling jewel that illuminates the strength of Opera (intact power, provided you know how to explain it, provided you know how to spread it), one side is shining entirely for him. The tribute to Pavarotti, whose voice the stones of the Arena have so many times perceived, starts with the memory of his widow Nicoletta Mantovani. Then it goes on with the famous Romanza “Non ti scordar di me” which saw the light in 1935, the year when the great tenor was born, and with the duet from Les Pêcheurs de perles by Bizet. In both cases, the voices of Andrea and Placido alternate and mingle, in a moving commemoration.
In the afternoon beyond the wooden door of the dressing room n. 53 (an over elevated narrow and rickety passage which makes its way in the stone, charming and noisy), reluctantly breaking the silence he, usually, strictly observes before singing, Bocelli himself, in the course of an interview, remembers the Maestro and friend Pavarotti. And to those who suggest a comparison answers:
“Any comparison would be meaningless…A singer becomes famous also because his/her voice is recognizable and different from all the others. Pavarotti among his very many talents also had this feature, which I seem to have too. And two voices which are recognizable are necessarily different. His career is, anyway, unique unrepeatable. I have cherished memories of our relationship, he has always been very kind to me, has trusted me showing he appreciated my voice. So much that not only did he invite me to sing at the “Pavarotti International”, but to his wedding too. During our meetings we have always talked about singing, interpretations and vocal technique. His have beenvaluable advice.
On the day when the most outstanding voices of today converge on the Arena stage to celebrate Opera - the only form of art in which muses give up grandstanding joining, the forces – the crisis of the opera houses is the subject of one of the questions of the interview. The answer of Bocelli catches the journalist unprepared, while from the loudspeaker a chorus of children (from Carmen) bursts out supported by a miked, disturbing piano:
“No, Opera knows no crisis, and the proof is the fact that theaters are always full, when serious, high level productions are carried out. I think that the only problem is to square accounts, and to do it there are rules that must be respected (even more when the state no longer has means to support culture and swell the coffers of the theaters): spend less than what you earn, here is a precept to be observed one way or the other. Another problem is the lack of promotion and popularization of Opera among the younger generation…We should make young people approach the theater, invite them to the rehearsals, we have to spread it just as we do with sport. In a word, Opera needs to be supported by an adequate marketing operation. For the rest it is more than alive and enjoys good health”.
The twenty thousand spectators who have been patiently waiting in the Piazza Bra to earn a place, the millions who will relive the blockbuster Opera show through the television, support the thesis of Andrea, indeed they espouse it with passion. And collective passion bursts out in a white heat when Bocelli opens the show and the tiers welcome the tenor before the clarinet proposes the puccinian languor of Cavaradossi’s last night. The whole Arena will jump up when he sings the “Nessun dorma in the unusual exclusive and desperately beautiful edition with Andrea in the role of “Calaf” and Maestro Domingo on the Podium. Domingo, who just with Turandot, had made his debut at the Arena, for his Italian Operatic baptism at the end of the sixties. A standing ovation for Bocelli equaled perhaps by the enthusiasm shown when the Madrilenian interpreter has infused his overwhelming musicality in the baritone “Dio di Giuda” from Nabucco.
A step back: Late afternoon…Beyond the sweet roundness of the stones of the Arena the sun is setting on the Veronese liston, as is called in this part of Italy, the walk that identifies the public heart where the people of the city meet. While the patron Giancarlo Mazzi, Bocelli and Domingo (the latter holding his never missing bottle of water) are perfecting the timing of the play list together with other fellow singers (a long list of professionals of the highest rank ready to compete in the summer season at the arena) little Virginia, daughter of Veronica and Andrea, continues unabated to get on and off the limelight along the walkway connecting the proscenium to the audience.
Fourteen months, a listening experience like an inveterate music lover, Virginia moves around at ease as if it were the most normal thing that might happen, she is walking besides an orchestra with a hundred elements that is playing the hottest moments of Carmen or the triumphal march of Aida. While she is enjoying Domingo’s caresses, while she is running around holding the hand of her grandmothers, or of her siblings, or of Veronica herself, while she is quiet because everywhere in the air the voice of her father is there to reassure her, she seems to perfectly embody a refreshing metaphor of the state of health of Opera: daughter of our civilization, simple and irrepressible, a concentrate of life and energy, together the result of the values of those who have conceived her, and yet an autonomous creature with an endless horizon in front of her, and new things, every time, to do and say.
In the evening, while watching the show resplendent by itself in an Arena crowded with people, the television presenter (Antonella Clerici), will show in her own way an assonance with the object of the joyful celebration, well representing that flourishing intimacy, that friendly and extrovert simplicity which also connotes the lyric show, popular representation par excellence, a workshop of values, a melting pot of feelings, art ready to be absorbed by common people, a show thanks to which Italy is known, respected, and admired worldwide.
And in the final part of this historic marathon, to Italy (the land where Opera was born and raised, where it had the best exegetes) Verona devotes the last notes. Together Bocelli, Domingo, the many colleagues singers, the artists of the choir, the many dancers involved and any mastery at the Arena, but also the whole Audience have started to sing the anthem, the “Song of the Italians” that starts by calling everybody “brother”. It is the family of a whole country that makes itself heard. Moreover it is the great family of Opera which has expressed a bright burst of pride. It is the universal family that welcomes anyone, anywhere in the globe who has known this mysterious “paradise of music” (Andrea’s words) which is at hand.
It is one o’clock in the morning, the cameras are turned off, and people slowly start to leave the Arena. In front of the dressing room n. 53 whose only quality is to be close to the stage entrance, colleagues, friends, relatives, admirers are around the wooden door. There is also Laura Biancalani, the President of the “Andrea Bocelli Foundation”, who also on this occasion has woven the web of solidarity and philanthropy raising public awareness about the international projects that ABF is pursuing. There is Sergio, the friend, and then Mariella the “genius loci” of the Bocelli family.There are Andrea’s sons and their friends. Thus even in Verona as in New York, and in every other place around Andrea is recreated that atmosphere of frankness and friendliness that dissolves tension in any context, even the most delicate and the most exclusive. Veronica does not give in to fatigue and does not stop planning: the evening is not yet over, there is the post concert, the dinner, (which if we go on waiting will run the risk to become breakfast), and the guests and the colleagues to invite, sort, greet.
Andrea says he is” quite happy” with the concert, and when he claims he “is quite happy” (adding: I could have done much better”) it means that the evening has been undoubtedly brilliant, and that his voice was in great shape. Luckily the cameras (roughly fifteen) are still swollen with music and with the sumptuous scenes of this evening of celebration. The protagonist, the Arena; Opera, Music, and all those who heroically spend their lives in its service. Luckily the show will return to dazzle through television. Just the same as every time an opera house, be it small or big, with lavish scenes or with a papier mâché scenery will raise its curtain. Because in case tomorrow were expected to be the end of the world, tonight it would be definitely worthwhile going to the theater.
Giorgio De Martino