Andrea Bocelli• featuring Isabel Leonard• Edward Parks• Brittany O’Connor• Paul Barris• & Amy Manford• May 17, 2023• Vivint Arena
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
It is always a big deal when Andrea Bocelli comes to Salt Lake City. This is his third stop at Vivint Arena, his first in 2018. Bocelli has expressed that there is something special about coming here. He’s not wrong. To hear one of the most renowned tenors right here in Utah is something that should never be taken lightly or for granted. As in his past stops, Andrea Bocelli brought some extremely talented guests with him. Vivint Arena was packed. People were in tuxedos and ball gowns. Some had their opera binoculars ready to go. A venue made primarily for basketball felt much different than a Jazz game or other concerts. There was a dignified air to the night. It was a beautiful night of music that I’m excited to share with you. So let’s get into it.
At 8:10 PM there was an announcement that the show would begin in ten minutes. Within that ten minutes people rushed to their seats, the orchestra and choir filled in and took their seats, and I got myself into position to take photos. In the announcements, we were told that there would be no photography or video and that phones would not be permitted. I have to hand it to the Vivint Arena crowd, they did a pretty good job of adhering to that rule. There were definitely times a phone would pop up here and there, and during the big songs, more phones than I would have liked to see were being used to record the song. But I get it.
I had to laugh when, throughout the evening, audience members would think they were sneaking a photo only to have their flash on, and would quickly try to hide the phone in their jacket or under their chair. We’ve all been there, but it’s funny when it’s not us. Right? Or am I just the worst? Either way, I laughed.
This concert did not begin with a whimper. Before Andrea Bocelli made his appearance, we were treated to a performance of “O Fortuna” by the orchestra and choir. I was told that the choir and orchestra were all from Utah. If that’s the case I took great pride in the talent that resides in this valley. The piece explodes at the start and then continues to build to a massive crescendo. There was an excited tension within th audience. As the song built, the anticipation in the crowd grew. The ovation of the audience relayed their love of that performance. It was a great way for things to get started. The applause only grew as Andrea Bocelli was escorted to center stage.
As Andrea Bocelli walked on stage, the audience rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation. If the opening piece didn’t get the crowd into this concert, the second song did the trick. Bocelli was smart to open with the beloved “La donna é mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto. This aria is recognized by opera lovers and opera amateurs alike. As the orchestra began, there was an audible expression of excitement. It’s one of those songs that people want to sing along to. And some did. While they didn’t sound quite as good as Bocelli, I understood the desire. This concert was off to a great start.
Andrea Bocelli would soon exit the stage and welcome his first guest. Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard took the stage. It was only just before the concert that I realized Leonard was a part of this tour. I had the opportunity to see her when she made her Utah debut back in January 2020 with the Utah Symphony. I’ve been eagerly anticipating her return to Utah, so this was a very pleasant surprise. It didn’t take long for the Vivint Arena crowd to join me in my excitement. Her voice is simply spectacular. It looks effortless to do what she’s doing with her voice. But obviously, if it was easy we’d all sound like that.
This well-crafted concert continued with Isabel Leonard performing “Habanera” from Bizet’s opera Carmen. When I heard the initial notes of this classic, my first thought was “Perfect”. It was the perfect song for Leonard’s voice and a perfect song for this concert. Isabel was able to really perform the song with attitude and flair. The back and forth between the orchestra and Leonard was enjoyable to watch. Isabel would return to the stage a number of times to perform with Bocelli. Every time she walked on stage there was an excitement to hear her sing again. She just about stole the show. She was that good. I think it’s time the Utah Symphony has her back.
Andrea Bocelli returned to the stage and performed with Baritone, Edward Parks. They performed “Si pel ciel (da “Taylor vedeste”)” from Verdi’s Othello. I felt a little bad for Parks following Isabel Leonard. The chemistry she had with Bocelli was going to be difficult to beat. But Parks did an amazing job in the attempt.
The first half of the show concluded with another crowd favorite. Verdi’s infectious “Brindisi” from Verdi’s La traviata. By the way, if you think you don’t know these songs, I guarantee you do. These are the pieces that we’ve heard many times without knowing their names. But “Brindisi” was a perfect conclusion. The crowd was invited by the conductor to clap along as Bocelli, Leonard, and the Choir belted out the chorus.
Following a Harry Potter medley by the choir and orchestra, Andrea Bocelli returned to the stage for a stretch of solo performances. I’d say my favorite in the bunch was “Granada”. It’s such a passionate song and a piece where Bocelli could show his vocal versatility.
One of the biggest highlights of the night didn’t come from the orchestra or any of the vocalists. It came from the dancers. Brittany O’Connor and Paul Barris blew me and the entire audience away when they danced to the orchestra’s performance of “Mambo” from West Side Story. They appeared a few times within the second half and each performance wowed the audience. The art of dance is very underrated and I was so happy that Andrea Bocelli included it in this concert.
The West Side Story songs continued with Andrea signing “Maria” and then being joined on stage by extremely talented vocalist, Amy Manford to sing “Tonight”. Manford remained on stage and sang an impressive cover of ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All”. I really like that song and enjoyed her more symphonic take on the song. Bocelli returned to perform with Amy Manford. When he began the lyrics of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” the audience again made their approval audibly known with gasps and applause. It was a beautiful performance of an oft-performed song. I have never heard it performed quite like this. It was a special moment in the show.
The night ended with not one, but three encores! Andrea Bocelli would start to walk off and before he went down the stairs, he’d stop and turn to the audience. The audience would roar and he’d then make his way back to the microphone much to his fan’s delight. His first encore was “O Sole mio”. I mean who doesn’t know that song? Even if you first heard it in a cartoon, you know this song. But no matter when or where you first heard it, I know you haven’t heard it until you’ve heard it performed live. Bocelli’s rich tenor rang throughout the venue and the familiar tune brought a smile to young and old fans alike.
Bocelli’s second encore was the expected closer. He was joined on stage by Isabel Leonard as they performed the massive hit, “Con te partiro”. This is possibly where many people first heard Andrea Bocelli. Although some might argue that the first time they heard this song it was performed by Prestige Worldwide (If you know you know). What was for sure was just how excited this audience was for this song. As the orchestra began the familiar melody, they cheered out almost like they were at a pop concert. It was a huge moment in the night and the audience was beyond thrilled. Needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, Bocelli and Leonard crushed it.
At this point, many in the audience figured that was it. But Andrea Bocelli was not done. Much to my delight. The reason I wanted to cover this concert was for one song. And in his final aria of the night, Andrea Bocelli performed my favorite, “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s opera, Turandot. I must admit as the song went on the more my anticipation grew for the end of the song. Sure enough, the moment came when Bocelli hit high C at the conclusion of the number. I must admit this song gets me emotional almost every time I hear it. I’m sure you can only imagine how my emotions were hearing it live. What a closer.
This is Andrea Bocelli’s third time performing at Vivint Arena. My hope is it isn’t his last. He clearly has a massive fanbase here. Each time he comes he brings a roster full of the world’s best talent. I’d be perfectly happy if these artists returned with him. If not, I know he’ll bring an amazing show with him. I challenge anyone who likes Andrea Bocelli to try attending the Utah Opera. We listen to these songs in concert form from an amazing tenor, but we have a great Opera Company here in town. And who knows, maybe Mr. Bocelli will make an appearance there one day.