December 2, 2010
New York - Madison Square Garden
A Glorious Christmas 2010 at MSG


It was not the ceremony at New York’s Rockefeller Center to light the grand Christmas tree that ushered in the Christmas season this year, but the soul-light of Andrea’s voice that set the Christmas candles in our hearts aglow at Madison Square Garden.
From the festive and regal splendor of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah that opened the first U.S. concert of his 2010 My Christmas Tour, the tone was set. Andrea began with vocal strength and confidence and never once wavered through the challenging arias and duets of the classical offerings of the concert’s first half. Smiling at the warm welcome that greeted his first appearance on stage, he settled right into one of several arias that he had never before offered live in concert here in the United States. For Handel’s Where e’er you walk from the opera Semele, Andrea’s tone was graceful and noble, yet wrapped in the warmth of the lover’s reverent admiration for the beloved that is expressed in the lyric. Each note of this aria progresses with beautiful simplicity, the long passages underscoring Andrea’s impressive breath control. This is our first live introduction to a piece that will be included in the program for Andrea’s long-awaited debut at the Metropolitan Opera. But what made this presentation extraordinary was the projected backdrop of spectacular images of Andrea astride his striking Friesian stallion Tieske in the rolling hills surrounding Lajatico. Certainly the images confirmed that “where e’er you walk” in that incomparably beautiful countryside, your soul will be nurtured. Paired with Andrea’s voice and a series of exquisite photos of him with Veronica strolling cedar-lined country lanes hand in hand, pausing to bask in the love-light they so obviously share…well, the effect was emotionally charged to say the least.
Andrea’s voice has aged like fine wine, and this was particularly apparent in his rendition of Ah, la paterna mano, MacDuff’s aria from Verdi’s Macbeth. The aria was from Andrea’s first live staged opera and is familiar from his early recording Viaggio Italiano; his treatment of it now is commanding and masterful, charged with emotion and rich coloring of the words that tell of the unspeakable loss of children and wife. At one point, as a stunning image of the tenor in profile flashed on the big screen, it was impossible to resist a slight intake of breath at this handsomely noble man who could easily be mistaken for a medieval prince of the Italian realm.


La donna è mobile, from Verdi’s Rigoletto, rounded out the first set of arias (all accompanied by the projected scenes from opera productions of classic vintage with notable singers of the past that Andrea no doubt knows by heart). The familiar opening notes never fail to elicit an enthusiastic audience response, which Andrea smilingly acknowledges and then rewards with his commanding interpretation, finished off with the decorative vocal flourish of the final unwritten coda and an easy (for him) high B.
Young Anna Tifu took the stage next, wearing a fiery red dress that matched her spirit and technique. Playing the Fantasy from Carmen by Bizet, she cast a spell on the audience with her virtuoso fingering and masterful shading of the intoxicating melodies from this opera that is familiar to nearly everyone. We hardly had time to miss Andrea, who then returned with another live debut of the heart-melting M’appari, tutto amor from the opera Marta. The compelling beauty of some melodies inevitably leaves you with a lump in your throat—this is one of them. It is a perfect match for Andrea’s soulful and richly romantic tones. 


But we were jolted from our reverie by the bold opening notes that introduced Di quella pira from Il Trovatore. Andrea firmly held the vocal reins of this headstrong aria with perfect trills and a final high C that couldn’t possibly have been more solid in his seemingly effortless delivery. But then, Andrea does it every time he offers this dramatic aria.
Ah, je ris from Gounod’s Faust brought our first glimpse of Alexia Voulgaridou, the Greek soprano who, had fate not intervened with the disastrous strike, would have stood at Andrea’s side onstage as Marguerite to perform this wonderful opera in Palermo, Italy. (Hearing these Faust arias on the program for the first time since that major disappointment brought a tear to my eye in mourning for what might have been.) Alexia is a dark-haired beauty, vibrant and animated in her performance, with a lyric coloratura voice that she wields with powerful ease in this aria also known as “The Jewel Song.” Her lively offering was quickly followed by the Kermesse Waltz, also from Faust. Effervescent and heady, like the effects of champagne, this intoxicating music sweeps you into the celebratory mood of the evening. In the midst of the piece, tenor and soprano returned to the stage together for a tiny gem of a duet wherein Faust begs Marguerite to let him escort her home, but she refuses. They left the stage, and the enchanting waltz played to its end. Andrea then continued in the lyrical vein with Tra voi belle from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut


This being the first of the six concerts on the tour and with a schedule that allowed little time for rehearsal, there were bound to be a few glitches. Mostly these involved missed entry cues. At one point, Andrea stood alone on stage obviously waiting for his partner to appear and the delay extended to an uncomfortable silence, whereupon he calmly noted, “We lost the soprano,” a deadpan no-nonsense explanation that obviously tickled the audience. 


When she finally appeared, Alexia’s arrival was worth the wait. She and Andrea were wonderfully matched for the love duet from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Viene la sera and Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia—certainly among the most achingly beautiful in the repertoire. From the languorous opening, Andrea crafted the arias to a crescendo of yearning that swept you in and left the psyche limp with its emotional intensity. Throughout, he was ably supported by Alexia’s seemingly effortless outpouring of melody and her gentle, endearing gestures of affection toward him. This dramatic offering was presented against the powerful backdrop of scenes from Andrea’s 2002 performance of Madama Butterfly at Torre del Lago. It was a tour de force that closed the first half of the concert to thunderous applause.


Apparently because the evening had started a bit late as traffic-challenged fans struggled to reach the Garden, the musical interlude that had been planned to begin the concert’s second half was cut. Instead, Andrea launched right into Mamma to commence the more relaxed vocal offerings of the night, appropriately paired with film clips of a varied range of doting mammas and their irresistible darlings, of course including a couple of Mamma Edi and her sweet Andrea. From my earliest experiences of hearing Andrea, Tosti’s sweetly melodic La Serenata has been a favorite. It seems imbued with the warmth and sunniness of Italy’s climes and is irresistible when the liquid gold of Andrea’s voice evokes its simple, romantic charm. In this case, Anna Tifu used her violin with entrancing effect, embroidering a lovely counterpart to Andrea’s amiable vocal interpretation. The jaunty Funiculì, Funiculà seems our tenor’s plaything, an enjoyably lighthearted canzone that coaxes an inevitable smile from listeners, particularly when accompanied by the vintage filmed scenes of Neapolitan life that aptly capture the essence of the exciting ride to the top of Vesuvius in the funicular cable car.


With the Little Nutcracker Suite orchestral interlude, shepherded by the able and enthusiastic conducting of Maestro Eugene Kohn, the holiday season was officially ushered in. Andrea came out donned in impeccably tailored white and offered his first verbal greeting of the evening to the crowd—explaining that, as we could see, he had changed his jacket. Not because this new one was better (because it wasn’t, he added), but because now the mood of the evening would change and he wished to offer us a Merry Christmas. You can feel the audience melt when Andrea says something, anything, to them. There is a nearly tangible wish to somehow communicate with Andrea, to be nearer to him than the vast arenas of these concerts will allow. But somehow the sheer power of his voice, filled as it is with all that lies in his heart, manages to bridge the gap.
At this point, Heather Headley joined Andrea for Blue Christmas. How astonishing that Andrea is equally at home musically with this blues-tinged melody as he is with the technically challenging Di quella pira. Heather truly won our hearts by coaxing our tenor to take a little waltzing turn around the stage, always a winning moment in his concerts on the rare occasions when it occurs. Then, the mood shifted.


By my calculations, it is quite possible that in my lifetime I have heard Silent Night well over 4,000 times. I’m sure others could say the same. But the way Andrea sang it at this concert was like no other rendition I have ever heard, even from him. Somehow, as only he can, he created a universe of sacred stillness with his ethereal voice that wrapped us round. For those precious moments, more than 17,000 of us were held in thrall as Andrea became the angel of God himself describing with simple urgency an unparalleled moment when a small babe changed the course of history. All is calm, all is bright.


However, we were jolted back to more profane reality when the lively poppets of the Adderley School Choir spilled out onto the stage dressed in brightly colored winter togs to sing Santa Claus Is Coming to Town with that jolly old tenor from Tuscany. What a delight. There doesn’t seem to be a child alive that Andrea couldn’t love on sight, and he is at his winsome best when surrounded by their innocent smiles and brightly infectious voices. The lively beat of this arrangement had the audience bobbing their collective heads in time. And when Andrea hit the cue with his query “Who’s comin’?” he sends the needle of the cute-meter off the measurement range. It just cracks me up! 


Then, the wistful beauty of the beloved classic White Christmas once more lulled us into a pensive mood. Despite the countless celebrated voices like Crosby, Sinatra, Cole, or Como that have claimed this Christmas favorite, Andrea manages to make it his own, instilling all the cozy warmth of a crackling fire and the close-knit love of family gathered together, whether it be in the heart of Tuscany or a Manhattan high-rise. 


The yearning to make the spell of this Christmas magic last forever is profound indeed. But there is always that point in Andrea’s concert where a glance at the program reveals the harsh reality that there are only a few songs left. Now, we were there. Andrea reaches deep into himself when he offers these classics with their sacred history for which he has the utmost respect. They have been steeped in the heart of this man of faith, and his reverence communicates itself to us. When Andrea, the New York Choral Society, and the New York City Opera Orchestra combined in full throttle to sing the final glorious carols Angels We Have Heard on High and Adeste Fidelis, it was like the finale of a magnificent fireworks display! The effect was overflowing with the warmth of every happy ending memory of every warm-hearted Christmas movie classic you have ever seen—Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and Dickens’s A Christmas Carol—all rolled into one. God bless us every one!! 


Just as the crescendo of applause for this finale was building to an encore-commanding peak, a man in a suit made his way to the center of the stage holding a rather large frame. As the applause slowly diminished in puzzlement, he introduced himself and announced that he had a presentation to make on behalf of Decca in recognition of Andrea Bocelli’s CD My Christmas going double platinum in the United States. Andrea was clearly a happy tenor, and the crowd shared his moment of obvious pride. 


But what about our encores? No worries. No one ever wants to part with Andrea, and the applause quickly rebuilt to a pitch respectful enough to call him back with Heather Headley for The Prayer, always a crowd pleaser. The big screen close-ups, however, revealed a somewhat jet-lagged Andrea and when Con te partiro came next, I presumed it would be the usual signature good-bye. Still, there is always hope. We clapped our hardest, and from the depths of some untapped reserve that only our lion-hearted tenor understands, he offered one last magnificent Christmas gift—a Nessun Dorma of rare splendor, powerful and sure, and ringing with the pride of a man who does not know the meaning of surrender. This aria’s jubilant final notes are written in his heart: “Vincero, vincero!” We clapped ourselves to exhaustion, though we knew he had given all that was left. Once more, he came to the stage and waved a final farewell, tired but satisfied.


New York has given us so many Bocelli memories: Andrea’s one and only performance of the iconic New York, New York, the challenge of Avery Fisher Hall, the historic concerts at Carnegie, the record snowfall that greeted XM radio’s St. Valentine’s interview, an enchanted evening in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty when the twin towers still stood tall, a shaken but staunch Andrea at Ground Zero as he mourned with us an unimaginable loss. Now another concert at the famed Garden is committed to memory. But, we look ahead to another milestone—see you at the Met, Maestro!
by Cami McNamee
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