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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND# 21 (article first published : 2006-09-11)

What an unexpected pleasure on National Women’s Day this year (August 9) to switch on the TV in the early afternoon and discover that SABC3 were broadcasting a marvellous live concert by Andrea Bocelli from Lake Las Vegas in the US; and an even greater thrill to note that it was co-produced by the talented music impresario David Foster (he who discovered Josh Groban), a man I find EVER so attractive.

As it happens, it was the emergence of Josh Groban onto the music scene that first set me on my own musical journey of discovery, prior to that having thought I was not at all into opera, but discovering, to my great joy, that the slightly less highbrow variety presented by Josh appealed to me ENORMOUSLY. This led me to my next find, namely Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis, shortly after that to discover Italian soprano, Filippa Giordano (who’s not very well known in this country), and then on to British tenor, Russell Watson, both of whom are right up there on my personal top of the pops chart just under my hero-worship of the delectable Mario.

The name Andrea was familiar but it was not until I’d learned to love the music of the aforementioned that I began to explore the bountifully blessed Bocelli. His blindness came about at the age of 12 due to glaucoma but he counts among life’s simple pleasures a love of riding horses and playing chess!

I’ve added quite a number of his albums to my music collection, though I have to say it’s his most recent, AMORE, that I’m most fond of, comprising mainly somewhat lighter numbers in the Italian love song tradition, some of them extremely pleasant duets with artists one would normally associate more with the pop scene, such as Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Christina Aguilera, and then also the young New Zealand lass, Hayley Westenra, who’s becoming increasingly well known on the light classics scene.(The very first track of my first Andrea Bocelli album, Dell’ Amore non si sa, is given a fabulous update when Hayley duets with Andrea on his latest CD.)

On the AMORE album he’s joined by Stevie Wonder on harmonica in the track titled Canzoni Stonate but in this live concert it’s not the (also sight-impaired) Stevie who joins him on stage but someone named Tollak Ollestad, who evidently flew out from Italy the night before at the request of David Foster, who’d heard him play in Italy and was simply stunned. And, judging by the applause at the end of that number, the audience was totally in agreement!

In another pretty stunning number Andrea’s vocal talent was enhanced by the appearance of two dramatic Spanish dancers but it was the final piece in the show which had ME gasping in excitement, where four marvellously muscled males, with flame torches held in each hand, performed superb swallow dives from some extremely high turrets into the dark lake below.

Another highlight was when Andrea was persuaded to take a seat at the piano instead of David Foster, where he gave a brief rendition of the Neil Diamond composition, September Morn. After teasing Andrea about his incessant stops to consume dishes of pasta during rehearsal, David later invited him to come up with something appropriate to the geographical location, i.e. L.A., and Andrea launched into the number performed in that city so often by Elvis Presley, namely Fools Rush In. (By the way, the length of the final high note he managed to sustain in this piece was quite mind-boggling!)

The number I enjoyed most was The Prayer, a piece first recorded by Celine Dion duetting with Andrea Bocelli, but this time he was joined by rhythm & blues singer, Heather Headley, a name I’d not come across before - but, after this performance, I shall be looking into her talents, as she acquitted herself just as well as did blues singer, Angie Stone, when she joined Josh Groban to sing that piece in his concert promoting his first album. (From all the many recordings I’ve heard since, I have to voice a personal preference for the one where Josh duets with Charlotte Church – also on his first album – before the young Welsh lass decided to explore other musical genres and, in my humble opinion, kind of lost the plot!)

Special mention must be made of flamenco guitarist Humberto Gatica who seems to be invited to work with many great orchestras, and whose lead-in to Mario Frangoulis duetting with Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues in a re-make of Nights in White Satin (on Mario’s first album, the simply superb Sometimes I Dream) is nothing short of spine-tingling. In one number in the concert under discussion, he’s accompanied by three stunningly slinky female back-up singers, providing additional colour, as well as vocals, for the audience to soak up - not to mention eye candy for the males.

music right across the spectrum, I never really considered myself an opera fan, but I read a review on the Internet by a young male after attending his first Bocelli concert, and found that some of the sentiments he expressed kind of gelled with my own. This is what that young music lover had to say…

As Bocelli began to sing, one beautiful ability replaced another. The words – though foreign to me – were sung with a passion and energy that gave ME passion and energy in return. I closed my eyes as I visited memories I had kept hidden away that emerged with the music. By intermission I was bewitched by this variety of music. No longer would I brush aside opera. It was not horned Viking women chasing vulnerable men around stage – and it was not boring. At least, Andrea Bocelli’s wasn’t. He writes further…I left the show that evening in a sea of perfumed women in black dresses and distinguished men wearing Armani and expensive cologne. I felt a part of a culture I had been missing out on. I was glad I had finally come around to see (with the assistance of Bocelli) that things are not always what they seem.

Opera, however, represents only one side of this Bocelli’s musical persona. He’s been equally successful as a pop ballad singer, having recorded duets in the past with Celine Dion, Sarah Brightman and Eros Ramazotti. Bocelli’s voice is tailor-made for sensual romantic balladry, and the concept of this most recent album of his (AMORE) came from famed producers and long-time Bocelli fans David Foster and Humberto Gatico as well as co-producer Tony Renis, who posed the question: Why not take the most beautiful love songs in the world and pair them with the most romantic voice in the world? The result is a beautiful album of pop standards. And let us hope the concert screened by SABC3 is soon available on DVD, as I for one could enjoy it over and over again. - Bev Pulé




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