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US concerts 1998


Washington DC
April 19
Kennedy Center

by Mickie

This was Andrea's "official" US debut, and it couldn't have been more elegant or more important. It took place at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Everyone in black tie. Some of the guests for the gala dinner included Sandra Day O'Connor, US senators, and ambassadors from many countries. The dinner was a stylish affair, as you would expect, with a lovely Italian red and California white wine at each table. But nothing could prepare me for what was to come... 

The concert hall isn't vast - good sized, but not too large at all. I believe it seats 2400. Itís sold out, and I read that Andreaís performance has raised millions for the Kennedy Center.

I can't believe I'm actually going to see Andrea live for the first time. The houselights dim and Leonard Slatkin, the conductor, enters and the orchestra plays the overture to Candide. Then the moment arrives. Slatkin leaves and returns with Andrea on his arm. He stands to sing, and I'm rather surprised to see no microphone and no scarf! He's wearing a very cool tux with asymmetrical lapels and one button. He looks beautiful. His hair is not blown back, but forward, although his bangs are parted in the middle to reveal his brow. He kind of tugs at himself before he begins to sing. He looks very nervous to me, and very tired. He starts with "La donna e mobile." Although itís true his voice is not huge, itís clear and beautiful. He receives much applause and "Bravos." Now he sings "Pourquoi me reveiller." Also well recieved. Carlo Bernini comes out and stands behind him and waits for the applause to die down a little, touches Andrea, and Andrea takes his arm, smiles and turns to the audience to wave on the way out of course! His stride is long and purposeful walking on and off the stage - not hesitant at all. His smile is big, but quick. He's still nervous. Several times during the performance, you could see him reach for The Scarf That Is Not There, and he seemed not to know what to do with his hands. Another thing I noticed is that he kind of leans over to sing certain notes. This must just be habit, as there is no microphone.

The orchestra plays the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. Bernini leads Andrea back on stage. He sings "E lucevan le stelle." Beautiful. The sob at the end somewhat subdued, as on Aria. Lots of "Bravos" and applause. Bernini escorts him off. The smile, the wave.

Now the soprano comes out. She is a last minute replacement for the scheduled soprano, Cecilia Gasdia, who is ill. Her name is Hei-Kyung Hong. Sheís Korean, and she is lovely. She sings "Vilia" from the Merry Widow, and itís clear that the audience loves her. She leaves and brings Andrea back with her to sing "O soave fanciulla." Itís really, really nice. He puts his arm around her, and they are very flirtatious. She is a coy Mimi. When he sings "Nel bacio freme amor," he bends his face down to hers and she lifts her face up to his and they get very close. Then when he sings "E al ritorno?" and she replies "Curioso!" they're almost laughing - flirting with each other. They sing a lot with her hand in his, placed on his chest. They look like lovers, and as if they reallly enjoy each other.They're wonderful, and the audience goes crazy! We love this one! Many bows. They leave and we bring both of them back for more bows. Now heís smiling and maybe a little less nervous?

Then a Verdi overture from the orchestra, and Andrea is led back out by Bernini and he sings four Neapolitan songs by Tosti: "Non tíamo piu," "Sogno," "Malia," and "La serenata." The only one Iím familiar with is "Sogno." Again, I think itís beatiful. But I think heís tiring. And again, a little fidgeting with the hands. Bernini leads him off again.

The orchestra and choir now do the Polovitsian Dances by Borodin. Very dramatic. The soprano comes back out and sings "O, mio babbino caro" very nicely. She leaves and brings Andrea back with her to sing "Brindisi." It's received very well. Itís over. But no! An immediate standing ovation, and thunderous applause. They come out and bow again, leave, come out and bow again, and leave.

He's teasing us! The applause never stops. Andrea returns for an encore. His first encore is Schubertís "Ave Maria," in Italian. Itís very beautiful and haunting, and just before he begins to sing it, he folds his hands in front of him as if in prayer for a moment. Ah, that was so charming. Then, more applause, and another encore. He then sings "Panis Angelicus." Now another standing ovation, applause, applause, applause. We bring him back again and again. The orchestra is waiting. He speaks with the conductor. It looks as if the conductor wants him to sing again, but Andreaís body language and gestures indicate that he is totally spent and exhausted, and just doesnít have another song in him this night. We donít give up, though. We continue to stand and applaud, but as he leaves for the last time, we say, "Nooooo!" But now the orchestra gets up. There will be no more music tonight.

July 19
Hartford Civic Center
 by Mickie

The concert was wonderful! Andrea wore the same tux that he wore in Washington, and it was a little big on him. Heís lost some weight since Washington. He looked like a little boy in his papa's tuxedo. Who cared, because he looked fabulous, and I have never heard him sing so beautifully. Such passion, such emotion. The crowd was wild, and gave him standing ovations after a lot of the songs. Steven Mercurio, the conductor, was very serious during the first half - the arias.
 But during the second half, when Andrea sang the Neapolitan songs, Mercurio was a big goof! During "O Sole Mio" he poked Andrea in the ribs with the baton. Andrea stayed focused, and didn't crack a smile. But between songs he and Mercurio would laugh together, and goof around. When Andrea would try to leave, Mercurio would turn him around and push him out there to take more bows and Andrea couldn't help but laugh! During "O Sole Mio" Mercurio got the audience to sing along, and Andrea would wait just a little to give the audience a chance to start singing. It was fun! During "Brindisi" Mercurio made the audience clap along. He's pretty great. My pet peeve was that the audience would begin to clap before the songs were over. For example, when Andrea sang the last "dormire" in "Romanza" you couldn't even hear it for the applause.

The soprano , Ana Maria Martinez, was unbelievably good. Young, pretty, and a voice that was VERY beautiful. She just glowed when she sang, and they were great together. Of course, when it was over, everyone wanted more, the applause never stopped, and everyone was stamping their feet. But it was over. He was so fabulous this evening. I thought he could never be better. But oh, then there was Philadelphia...


July 21
Corestates Arena
by Mickie

I thought nothing would ever top Hartford, but Philadelphia was magic! Maybe because we were in the front row, and so close, but also because I've never heard anything so wonderful. Andrea gave the performance of his life! He was a little nervous at first, fiddling always with his foot marker, but he loosened up (and he also wore a tux that fit). He sang every note with an emotion I've never seen before. He brought tears to my eyes.

When he sang "Core 'ngrato" his left fist was closed so tight, like he really was feeling the pain of the song, and then at one point he hit himself in the thigh with his right hand, while he was singing. It was really something to see and hear. And when Martinez sang "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" he kept edging closer and closer to her, and touching her. She sang this song beautifully, and he was obviously totally mesmerized by her. After she sang it, before they sang "O soave fanciulla," he kissed her on the forehead. She was so great! And they were wonderful together, always smiling. She beamed at him every time she sang with him. It was so lovely to see.

Andrea and Mercurio were so good together once again, laughing and shaking hands after every single song. Mercurio kept turning him around and pushing him in the back to take his bows, and Andrea would just do it and laugh. Finally, at one point, Andrea grabbed Mercurio, and pushed him out there to take a bow! Everybody laughed. And then Andrea hugged him around the waist, and Mercurio ruffled up Andrea's hair. I just can't tell you how relaxed and happy AB looked during this concert!

And his voice - just incredible!! I've never seen him sing with such passion. The whole evening was truly glorious. Once again the audience clapped before Andrea could finish his last beautiful notes, and when he sang "Vi piaccia dir" at the end of "Che gelida manina," since no one could hear the last beautiful soft note, Andrea just cut it short.

I had the wonderful fortune to be able to speak to him the previous day, and I told him that Iíd love to hear him sing "La Vedova Allegra" in encore. He hadnít sung this in Pittsburgh or Hartford. He looked dismayed, and told me, "We have not rehearsed. We have not rehearsed."

Then the magic moment. The last encore. The orchestra struck up the beginning strains of..."La Vedova Allegra." I couldn't believe my ears. Allow me my fantasy...I'll always think he sang it for me ;-)

Then, at the very end of the concert he spoke to us. He said (big smile) "I want to say, in my bad English, that you have been very kind. The reception that I have received here makes me feel very warm, and I feel very much like I am at home in Italy."


Washington DC
October 18
MCI Center


by Eileen

It is a beautiful cool October night in Washington, DC. This evening could not be any more different from the hot and sultry one in Philadelphia this past July, my first concert experience with Andrea. That night my seat was as far away from the stage as it could possibly be. The impact of his performance was greatly diminished by such a distance, and I have felt bereft from the experience ever since. This time I am truly blessed as my seat is on the floor, front and center. I have the most incredible feeling about tonight, that it will prove to be an extraordinary moment in my life.

The demographic of the crowd surrounding me is simply amazing: young, old, male, female, affluent, middle-class... Andrea attracts them all. The synergy among us is almost palatable as we await the start of the concert. During this prelude, I am dismayed to realize that I am actually thinking about Andrea's haircut! I have adamantly professed, both privately and publicly, not to care in the least about his appearance. But now I fear that I am not so sure and I brace myself for disappointment, feeling ashamed of my shallowness. But then he appears. There is without doubt an audible gasp from some in the crowd who, clutching glossy Aria programs in their hands, were not prepared for this sight. With minor assistance from Rota, he strides purposefully to the microphone and then stands so still for our review. How could I have considered for a moment that I would feel differently? When beautiful wrapping paper is removed from a beautiful gift, do we ever long for its return? Without the diffusion of dark hair, his face is now so clearly revealed. With each raised eyebrow, with each tentative smile, every nuance of emotion has a full canvas for display. He is just beautiful. Period.

Rota raises his baton, and so it begins. Starting with the haunting "E lucevan le stelle" the arias drift out into the arena and it just does not seems possible that it was only three short months ago that I had been disappointed by this repertoire. Then I had come for "Romanza," but Andrea had a higher purpose. Gently, resolutely, he has led me to his beloved opera and now I welcome each of these songs as old friends, so grateful for this second chance to receive them as he intended.

At first this Andrea seems different from the one in Philadelphia. He is fighting his demons again and appears to be uncomfortable. As accomplished as Rota is, perhaps the impish Mercurio is Andrea's better counterpoint, capable of dissipating his nervousness. My heart goes out to him and I am struck by this disparity of emotions, marked by a mere chasm of only a few feet. On the one side, singular suffering; on the other, collective euphoria. I wish him release from the anxiety he must constantly face, but in my selfishness I am glad that he continues to heed destiny's call.

Paola Sanguinetti is now on the stage. She is very lovely and Andrea seems to relax in her presence. As with each of his partners before, I am divided by feelings of shameless jealousy and vicarious joy. And as always, the former quickly fades, the latter prevails as both their voices entwine and I imagine just how right that must feel, to be in complete concert with another. With Paola I know that the Boheme sequence is drawing near, and my pulse quickens. Each of us has our Andrea song, the one that speaks to our soul. Mine is "Che Gelida Manina". At last the orchestra strikes the lone, introductory chord. Andrea begins his beautiful tale of cold hands, of poems and castles in the air, of love's first blush, and I know it's coming. I know it's coming and I close my eyes, like a lover awaiting a familiar kiss. His high C soars over the crowd... "Speranza" ... Hope! It enters my heart and, like each time before, renews all that is good within me and affirms that better still is yet to come.

He is so at ease now and the transformation is really quite incredible. I know that opera is his first love, but he brings a natural expansiveness to the Neapolitan songs that seems to transcend his usual reserve. The crowd instinctively responds to this openness, emanating back the love and appreciation that further serve to relax him. We have entered into a partnership with this give-and-take, a role we savor and willingly assume.

All sense of time and place has been suspended as the concert continues on, drawing too quickly to its inevitable close. In encore, Andrea lovingly presents his gifts: "O Sole Mio," "La Vedova Allegra" and, of course, "Time To Say Goodbye". The crowd roars its approval after each, applauding until we can no longer feel our hands. We have become of one mind, an incredible cohesion that brings tears to my eyes. When it is finally over, everyone leaves as if in a trance, feeling momentarily replete, but knowing deep in our hearts that we will never be fully satisfied.

It is a long ride home. In the dark I struggle, like many before, to encapsulate what it is that sets Andrea apart, and an image comes to me. A jeweler, wishing to display a flawless diamond, simply places it on a piece of black velvet. In contrast to that darkness, its perfect brilliance shines forth. And this is Andrea's magic. With his stillness of spirit, with his composure of body and countenance, there is nothing to vie for our attention, and so we receive the power of his song, full strength, straight into our hearts. And once having experienced such undiluted passion, we find ourselves simply incapable of settling for anything less, ever again.

And so my intuition about this evening has proven to be true. For tonight has been a crescendo to the ongoing symphony within my soul, whose first melody was composed many months ago, as if by magic, on a distant Tuscan stage. And the enormity of what I am feeling overwhelms me. For with all my secret pride in my ability to use language to paint a picture or to evoke emotion, I am humbled by this realization. This time my words cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel for this gift he has given me. And because my words fail me, I can say only this: "Grazie, Andrea. Grazie e addio"... until we meet again
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