Only moments after appearing on the stage of San Jose’s HP Pavilion, international superstar Andrea Bocelli did what many might deem impossible: he transformed a sports arena into an opera house. Though he’s sold some 60 million albums, collaborated with a superstar list of pop and opera singers, performed at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, and had the, perhaps more dubious, honor of giving direction to American Idol finalists, Bocelli is not above rolling up his (well-tailored) sleeves and taking things on the road. Performing as part of a December tour to promote his first greatest hits album The Best of Andrea Bocelli: Vivire, Bocelli was accompanied by the brilliant soprano Daniela Bruera, baritone Luis Ledesma, singer Heather Headley, and the New West Symphony as conducted by visionary Maestro Steven Mercurio. Together, Bocelli and company transfixed the audience in a two-and-a-half hour performance focused on operatic arias, mainly classical Verdi and Puccini masterpieces.
The evening commenced with the overture to Verdi’s “I vespri siciliani”, which was followed by Bocelli’s arrival on stage—a moment met with a euphoric ovation from the audience—to sing “La Donna e Mobile” from Rigoletto. The first half of the set was devoted to classics from La Boheme (performed as a duet with Ledesma), La Traviata (performed with the talented Bruera), Manon Lescaut, and Tosca (performed solo by Ledesma). During this last performance, Ledesma sang so forcefully that the audience awarded him with rapturous applause.
Bocelli returned to the sounds of “E Luceran le Stelle” from Tosca. This was followed by a dazzlingly poignant duet, with Bruera, of “Viene la Sera” from Madame Butterfly. Bocelli dedicated his next performance to Luciano Pavarotti, saying, “Recently, we lost a friend—a big friend. But I like to think he’s still with us. I think the best way to remember him is to sing the most famous piece that he sung for you.” This signaled the beginning of Puccini’s beloved “Nessun Dorma”.
Though it commenced with Glinka’s “Overture” from Ruslan and Ludmilla, the second half of the show did not hit its stride until Bocelli began Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, at which point the crowd went wild. Bocelli followed this popular piece with Franck’s “Panis Angelicus”, another duet with Bruera from Giuditta, and a solo set composed of Gastaldon’s “Musica Proibita”, De Falla’s “Aranjuez”, and Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata”. Maestro then commenced with one of his originals, “Intermezzo”.
Other highlights included Bocelli’s performance of “The Prayer” with Heather Headley, a duet that was originally recorded with superstar Celine Dion. After a brief pause, Bocelli returned with his flute to sing “Melodramma”, a new song from his Vivire best-of collection. The audience went hysterical when Bocelli was joined by Bruera to perform the final song of the evening, perhaps the best-known Bocelli classical-pop song, “(Con Te Partiro) Time to Say Goodbye”.
Bocelli displays a zealous bravura. Not only does he consistently sell out huge sports arenas, he sings with such emotion that you fail to remember that you are, in fact, in an arena. You are instead transported to a place in time where you can focus on the heartbreakingly exquisite orchestral arrangements and the timbre of his voice. With each song, he latched on to the hearts of the listeners and bridged the gap between audience and performer. It’s as if this tenor believes that music is fundamental, as fundamental as love. Opera is very much alive, and there is no better proof than that. Indeed, to see Andrea Bocelli perform is an unforgettable experience, one that is completely transforming.