One of the only disappointing moments of Andrea Bocelli’s sold-out concert at Spectrum Center came early, when – just a few minutes after an announcement was made that photography was not permitted during the show – five or six people near me started snapping away as he stepped to the mic at center stage.
But other than that, it was a pretty perfect night to enjoy a big batch of operatic love songs without having to crane or contort to look over or around the harsh lights of a bunch of cellphone screens.
For nearly two hours (not including a brief intermission) on Friday night, the world-famous Italian tenor and a few equal-to-the-task guests took turns putting their robust talents into a selection of more than two dozen songs that comprised “A Concert for Valentines,” which marked the first Charlotte performance of a career that dates back to 1982.
Those songs included romantic picks from operas like Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” and Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” as well as a couple of tastes of Broadway, a little Neapolitan flavor, and even the main love theme from “The Godfather.”
Those equal-to-the-task guests, meanwhile, included sexy dance partners Paul Barris (a world champion Latin dancer) and Brittany O’Connor (a professional ballerina); classical-pop-rock violinist Caroline Campbell (who has all the elan of Lindsey Stirling minus the gimmicks); 29-year-old soprano Nadine Sierra (if she isn’t a major opera star within the next few years, something is seriously wrong with the world); and Tony Award-winning Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth.
The latter, it must be said, has such an easy and instant rapport with any audience she steps in front of that she came dangerously close to stealing the show from Bocelli.
While his style is straightforward – he in fact is the first arena headliner in recent memory to not utter a single word to the crowd outside of his singing – Chenoweth provided the night with its flashiest flashes of personality.
As the diminutive performer shimmied onstage during the second half of the show, in a black dress adorned with a big poof of tulle on her right hip (almost as if a tutu was attached to her side), she had an OMG look in her eyes and a giddy grin on her mouth that made her appear less than half of her 49 years.
“I am so, so honored to be a guest of Mr. Bocelli’s tonight. I can’t believe I have to go after him!” Chenoweth practically squealed. Then she regarded her outfit and said, “I had a different dress I was going to wear tonight, but I went to Bojangles’, and now it doesn’t fit.”
The joke gave way to a shout-out to the 2003 TV adaptation of “The Music Man” that she starred in with Matthew Broderick, which was the set-up for a knockout solo rendition of “Till There Was You.”
She followed that with another nod to Bo’ Time – “Oh, the chicken and the biscuits, the chicken and the biscuits,” she said while rubbing her tummy – and another solo: the dramatic gospel hymn “Upon This Rock,” which she introduced by saying, “For you non-believers, this’ll be over in four minutes.” She then proceeded to double over in laughter before falling into the lap of the first violin.
(The orchestra and the large chorus – both quite fine – were put together under the Opera Carolina name. This job normally would have gone to the Charlotte Symphony, except they were busy with a dress rehearsal of Opera Carolina’s “Rigoletto” across town. Explaining how Opera Carolina could be in two places at once is rather complicated. So just don’t worry about it.)
Chenoweth also showed off her Italian skills in teaming with Bocelli on his 1999 single “Canto della terra,” and subbed admirably for Celine Dion on their celebrated duet “The Prayer.”
Yet still, the night belonged to Mr. Bocelli.
Sure, it’d be easy to say there’s a sameness from song to song, in that he just stands there and sings, arms to his side, fists ever-so-lightly clenched. But look closer. Although his eyes are permanently fixed shut due to his blindness, he emotes beautifully with his dancing eyebrows and the various crinkles in his 59-year-old forehead, which are now more numerous and deeper than ever.
It’s also a joy to see the tender relationship he shares with his music director, Eugene Kohn. After finishing each song, Bocelli put out his hand, and Kohn grabbed it and shook it, as an ear-to-ear smile blossomed onto Bocelli’s face.
And from the hypnotic first verse of Puccini’s “Rocondita armonia” at the top of the show to his take on “West Side Story’s” “Maria” to the soaring, standing-ovation-getting, 15-second-long note that punctuated the finale (Puccini’s “Nessun dorma”), Bocelli was in total command.
Pitch-wise, time-wise, tonality, melody – it was all spot-on, all night long.
There were certainly arena-appropriate artistic flourishes, most notably the giant screen to the rear of the stage that displayed knights preparing for battle in a misty forest (during “La mia letizia infondere”); the Eiffel Tower during a winter storm (“O, soave fanciulla,” with Nadine Sierra); colorful landscapes from the Amalfi Coast (“O sole mio”); and majestic canyons from the American Southwest (the equally majestic “Con te partirò,” with Sierra at the top of her game).
But ultimately, you really don’t need those visuals – and you certainly don’t need some blurry cellphone video – to reinforce what is abundantly clear: Andrea Bocelli is a gem of a vocalist in a live setting, and we were incredibly lucky to finally have him in Charlotte.
Andrea Bocelli’s setlist
1. Orchestral medley
2. “Rocondita armonia”
3. “La donna é mobile”
4. “Sempre libera”
5. “La mia letizia infondere”
6. “Lucia, perdona”
7. Choral medley
8. “Ch’ella mi creda”
9. “O, soave fanciulla”
10. “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici”
11. American medley
12. “Be My Love”
15. “Love Theme from The Godfather”
16. “O, surdato ‘nnammurato”
17. “O sole mio”
18. “Till There Was You”
19. “Upon This Rock”
22. “Canto della terra”
23. “The Prayer”
24. “Bésame Mucho”
25. “Con te partirò”
26. “Nessun dorma”