By: Kevin Rolfe
We really classed things up over here at Utah Concert Review last night. Vivint Smart Home Arena was transformed into an opera house, and we attended Andrea Bocelli’s first ever concert in Utah. He has such a strong fan base here in Utah that it was surprising that he had never played here before. Well, it was well worth the wait. Bocelli’s fans were out in full force packing the arena for their favorite tenor’s debut in Utah.
Before I get into the concert itself, I have to mention some things about the audience and the venue. While I enjoy attending concerts at Vivint Smart Home Arena the sound isn’t always the best. It’s just the way the venue was built. Some tours come through and the sound techs can’t figure out how to mix this venue. Other times it’s passable and the show is so good no one cares. And other times the sound is good. I was concerned because of the type of show Andrea Bocelli puts on. It’s opera. It’s the type of music that is usually performed in halls created with the greatest acoustics you’ll find anywhere. But I have to hand it to whoever did the sound at this show. As far as shows go at Vivint Arena, this was one of the best I’ve heard.
Now, with opera being performed, this show is an upscale event. A certain decorum and style are expected as such events. But it’s difficult because we’re all walking into a venue where basketball is played, and Metallica is performing the next night. If you’re going to the Capitol Theater to see The Magic Flute, I think you know it’s the type of show where you throw on your best suit or dress. But I think this audience got the idea. People were dressed to the nines! I saw slick suits and fancy gowns all throughout the arena. I saw furs (hopefully synthetic, or really really old!) and ascots. This audience was gussied up! And for whatever reason, that made me really happy.
The other pat on the back I have to give the audience is how well behaved most people were about the strict “No photos or videos” policy. About ten minutes before the show there was an announcement that there would be no taking of photos or videos at this concert. I don’t think this was heard by everyone, because when the concert started, a lot of phones were out. But as security made their rounds informing them of the evening’s guidelines, most of the phones stayed put away. Of course, there were a few here and there that just couldn’t help themselves, and had to be rebuked by security a number of times, but I’d say for how many were in attendance, most people just got it and enjoyed a phone free evening.
Here’s a little tip for those who just have to pull their phone out and take a picture. First of all, don’t. You can go to one concert and spend that night without taking a low-quality video. But, second, if you’re going to take that video, don’t hold your phone up in the air as you do at a regular concert where have the venue has the phone out. Try being more discreet, and you may just get away with taking that video you so desperately need. Just a thought. Ok, now on to Andrea Bocelli.
When it comes to tenors, everyone has their favorite. The reason why the Three Tenors concerts in the ’90s were so successful is due to the fact that those tenors were the favorites of many. So bringing those three forces together made for a powerful and historical event. My favorite was Luciano Pavoratti. I know, he was a lot of people’s favorite. I get it, I’m unoriginal. I never had the opportunity to see Pavoratti in concert or any of the other great tenors for that matter. So seeing the undisputed favorite tenor of this generation was really important to me. I believe Bocelli is the favorite today because of his immense talent. I also think Bocelli has done a brilliant job of bringing the time-honored traditions of operatic music to the masses. He’s teamed with mega-producer David Foster, and dueted with the likes of Sarah Brightman and Céline Dion, and that’s helped him appeal to a wider audience, and in my opinion, brought a great genre of music, and it’s stylings to the masses.
The adjective that comes to mind when I think of this concert is Big. Everything was big. The digital screen was big, the choir was big, there was a really big orchestra, the talent that joined Andrea on stage throughout the night was big, and Bocelli’s voice is booming, soaring, and yes, big. This was a big show, in the most intimate of ways. Andrea Bocelli’s big voice filled the massive arena, and yet there were times I felt like I was the only one there.
It’s easy to wonder what it might be like to sit and listen to someone stand in the same place and sing in mostly Italian. But as I looked around the area, everyone was fixated on the stage. There was so much more going on than just an amazing tenor standing and singing to us. The beauty of a large orchestra is they have a certain choreography with the music. The bows move up and down on the stringed instruments, the percussionists are in constant movement with the beat and the woodwinds move with every new breath. I loved watching the conductor move as he led his orchestra, pulling every bit of emotion that was needed in each piece. There was so much to see on that stage when you looked.
For many, it was enough just to hear Andrea Bocelli sing in person for the first time. His voice truly is an instrument. If you watch him, or other classically trained singers look at their shoulders and neck. They’re totally relaxed. Look at a rock star or a pop singer and see the strain in their neck. I was mildly classicly vocally trained once upon a time. I wasn’t that great so, relax. I’m not bragging. The reason I bring it up is, my instructors were always telling me to relax my neck. I’d try and try, but when it came to singing out the high notes I found that impossible. Then I looked at Andrea and watched him sing perfectly each and every high note of the night and his neck and shoulders were totally relaxed. He makes it look effortless. I still can’t get over it. There’s no way it’s not challenging for a sixty-year-old man to sing a b flat. But because he’s singing correctly, he can do it with relative confidence.
Andrea was joined on stage throughout the night with three of the most talented women I’ve ever seen. The first to grace the stage was soprano Larisa Martinez. From the first note on the audience was enthralled. My favorite duet between Martinez and Bocelli was “Liambo né lieti calici” from the Verdi opera, La Traviata. It’s a very familiar piece, look it up. It’s upbeat, and it’s a popular performance piece for many opera singers. The translation of the chorus is “Ah! Let’s drink, my love: the love among chalices will have warmer kisses.” So you could say it’s an 1800’s party song. She was perfect the entire evening, and I have a feeling I’ll talk more about her later.
Andrea was next joined on stage by violinist, Caroline Campbell. Now, this was the first night of Andrea Bocelli’s winter 2018 tour, so I had no idea who was joining him. I was pleasantly surprised to see Caroline perform. I’ve seen her perform in concert on TV, and have heard an album or two of hers, so I was excited when they announced her name. It’s amazing what a violin can do. It’s almost like it sings to you when it’s played this well. I was so drawn in by the emotion of this instrument and the way it was being played. My favorite performance between her and Andrea was their moving rendition of “Ave Maria”. To hear the Andreas vocals blending with Caroline’s playing is a sound I don’t ever want to forget.
A twenty-minute intermission was followed by the holiday segment of the show. This is where Andrea sang “Ave Maria” as well as “Adeste Fidelis” (Oh Come All Ye Faithful), and the choir sang a rousing version of the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Andrea left the stage and Pia Toscano took the stage.
Pia Toscano is known for being one of the most shocking eliminations in American Idol history. I personally know of her from singing the National Anthem many many times at Los Angeles Kings hockey games. I have no idea why I know that. But I do. Anyway, she walked on stage and sang “All By Myself”. A song made famous by Eric Carmen, and then made way more famous by Céline Dion. I have to admit, it’s never been a favorite song of mine. But I have to say, Pia killed it on this song. She’s a pop singer, and I didn’t know how it would flow with the rest of the stylings of this concert. But she was amazing. She made me enjoy a song I don’t love.
With other concerts or recitals, the artist will speak to the audience, mention what song they’re playing, and maybe tell a story. But that is not the case with a concert like this. Andrea sang his songs, bowed to an applauding audience, and then go into the next song. No one seemed to mind, as each song became more incredible as the night went along. He did address the audience once. That is when he shared with us how much he enjoyed performing with the then-named Mormon Tabernacle Choir on his recording of “The Lord’s Prayer”. He stated, “I will never forget your affection.” He thanked us for being his loyal fans and introduced his next song as his first number one hit in the USA. He proceeded to sing “If Only”, and again looking around the audience, I could see so many excited faces. We were hitting the home stretch and I knew the remaining songs were going to completely blow everyone away.
Bocelli left the stage to a standing ovation. The crowd roared and he, of course, returned to the stage. He brought Pia Toscano with him. As the orchestra began the audience immediately recognized the melody of “The Prayer”, a duet Andrea initially recorded with Céline Dion. Pia opened with the first verse, and when Andrea Bocelli began the second verse the audience applauded vigorously. They were just so excited to hear this song live. The second the song ended, and the entire arena rose to their feet. Pia and Andrea walked to leave the stage, and the crowd kept cheering. Andrea gestured as if he was hesitating to walk off stage. With each hesitation, the crowd volume grew. The man to my left looked at me and said, “He has to sing Goodbye. He Just has to!” Referring of course to “Con Te Partiro (Time To Say Goodbye)”.
Right then Bocelli walked back to the center of the stage, this time with Larisa Martinez. The music began, and I looked back to the man and said, “Looks like you’re going to get your wish!” He was immediately emotional. Obviously not by what I said. Perhaps the song held special meaning to him. Or perhaps he just loved the song. Either way, the man was clearly moved. Andrea originally recorded this song as a solo piece, then followed it by recording it as a duet with Sarah Brightman. The version I heard on Thursday night between Andrea and Larisa will always be my favorite. Their voices blended so well together. I saw many tear-filled eyes at this point. Once again, Andrea bowed at the completion of what I would guess is his biggest and most famous song. He then walked to the end of the stage and gestured back to the standing audience. Thunderous applause grew as if to beckon him back for one more aria. And we got it. A third encore!
Now, for me and many others, the song of songs for tenors is, “Nessun Dorma” from the Puccini opera, Turandot. I kept thinking ‘He better play that song!’. Obviously, if he didn’t the concert would have been incredible and I would have returned home happy. But when the orchestra struck their first note, I knew, he was doing it. I’m not ashamed to say that when Andrea began singing this famous aria it was my turn to get emotional. I was totally surprised. But for lack of a better word, it was simply beautiful. It was so, so, beautifully performed. The orchestra soared, the choir added amazing weight to the piece, and the big note at the end rang throughout Vivint Arena and pierced me in a way that no other note ever has. Wow, just wow.
A final standing ovation began as “Nessun Dorma” came to a close. Bocelli bowed and waved to his adoring fans as he exited the stage for the final time. As the lights came up, it seemed like the audience collectively exhaled. While Andrea Bocelli might not forget our affection, we in the audience will never forget his performance. Being a witness to talent like this does not happen all the time. I for one am so honored to have been there to cover this concert.