Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 September 2003
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Amal Choucri Catta revels in uniqueness

Andrea Bocelli Andrea Bocelli concert at the Giza Pyramids, Sound and Light Theatre, 27 August

Andrea Bocelli's night at Giza's Sound and Light Theatre was long, melodious and full of surprises, with an audience of 3,500 held captive by the Italian marvel.

When this concert was announced towards the end of July, no one expected Bocelli to attract so many listeners on such short notice, especially not at LE600 to LE2000 a ticket, with the best seats reserved for VIPs. But nothing could discourage music lovers from seeking out this remarkable hero of theirs.

Described as an invitation for the soul and a gesture of hope for peace, the concert, organised by the Ministry of Tourism, was held in the framework of the Ninth Cairo International Song Festival. It featured the Cairo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marcello Rota, with Italian soprano Maria Luigia Borsi and British violinist Ruth Rogers.

Scheduled to start at 10.30pm, audience members had to arrive an hour earlier; those who were there early enough had the rare opportunity of seeing the final rehearsal on stage.

A very debonair Bocelli appeared in white shirt and dark trousers. Visibly uncomfortable in the heat, he had one of his sons at his side. He took on his duets with Borsi with the same powerful ease as his world famous solos. The first aria, which was supposed to be from the first act of Verdi's Otello, was replaced by a duet from the third act of Verdi's Aida, "in honour of the proximity of the Pyramids", as he announced at the start.

Answers to the audience's questions about Bocelli's life, his family, his age and why his critics had branded him "lightweight" could not be found in the elaborately printed programme placed on each viewer's seat that night. The murmurs came to an end as he started to sing. The voice had a beautiful timbre, sweetly melancholy, tender and passionate.

Born on 22 September, 1958 in Lajatico, Tuscany, Bocelli was blinded in a football accident in May 1970, at the age of 12. The misfortune did not hinder his education, however, and he graduated as a law student from the University of Pisa in 1958; before and after his graduation he also played the piano at nightclubs. Bocelli met his future wife, Enrica Cenzatti, in 1987 and married her on 27 June 1992. They had two sons together, then they separated in March 2002.

Bocelli made his first break at an audition attended by Pavarotti in 1992. In 1993 he took singing lessons with the legendary tenor Franco Corelli and went on tour with Zucchero that same year. His albums went platinum within weeks of their release. After several stage debuts in opera, he made a guest appearance in Arena di Verona in 1999, in Lehar's Merry Widow, conducted by Anton Guadagno.

In October 2001 Bocelli made his United States debut in Detroit, in Massenet's Werther, and in 2002 he appeared as Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly at the Puccini Festival. From then on, the legend has grown, due to his enormous success on stage and as a recording artist. He sang with some of the most celebrated conductors: Zubin Mehta, Seiji Osawa, Valery Gergiev, and the young Marcello Rota with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He went platinum twice in Italy, four times in Germany and Holland and six times in Belgium.

The orchestra began with the lovely Sinfonia, the overture to Vincenzo Bellini's two-act opera Norma, and it was then that the maestro's brilliance became apparent. Marcello Rota studied frenchhorn at the Antonio Vivaldi Conservatoire and conducting at the Chigiana Academy. He has performed at Milan's Scala and at prestigious venues in European cities.

Repeatedly awarded, he was invited to conduct several important orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonic of Munich, Berlin, Baden-Baden, Moscow, Prague, Gran Canaria and the RAI Symphonic Orchestra. He has performed with renowned soloists Mstislav Rosrtropovich, Katia Ricciarelli, Renato Bruson among others, conducting over 30 operas with an emphasis on Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini.

This time he offered excerpts from different operas, starting with the duet of Act III from Verdi's Aida: here Bocelli was joined by Maria Luigia Borsi, a fabulous young soprano making a name for herself. She gave a stunning performance -- warm, unaffected, irresistible.

Marvellously helpless as Aida addressing Radamese, hoping for a miracle, asking him to "fly away" with her. And she was just as tender singing "O mio bambino caro" from Puccini's one-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi. She was to appear once more, singing Musetta's waltz from the second act of Puccini's La Bohème, as well as the part of Mimi in the duet of Act I with Bocelli as Rodolfo.

In the first part of the concert, Bocelli offered songs from his fabulous repertoire: Rodrigo's "En Aranjuez con tu amor", followed by Danza's "Occhi di fata" and "Ah la paterna mano", from the last act of Verdi's four- act opera Macbeth, as well as the sad and beautiful "E lucevan le stelle" from the last act of Puccini's Tosca. And that is not to mention the overture to Georges Bizet's four-act opera Carmen, brilliantly interpreted by the orchestra.

It was Lorin Maazel who had told Bocelli about the old tradition of tenor, violin and piano, a custom Bocelli has tried to recreate, replacing the piano with the orchestra. Thus the solo sequences by the young violinist Ruth Rogers, a dynamic, sparkling performer: these proved profoundly satisfying.

Real opera was conspicuously absent from the second part of the concert, however, which was on the lighter side, with "Farandole" from Bizet-Tosti's L'Arlesienne, and the intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. "Tu che m'hai preso il cuor", from Franz Lehar's operetta Land of Smiles, was sung by Borsi. And from the same author's Merry Widow, "Tace il labbro" united the latter with Bocelli yet again.

The two were to return in the end to sing the famous "Brindisi" from Verdi's La Traviata and Di Capua's "O sole mio". But there was too much sun and sound in this last song which brought together soprano, tenor and violin with the orchestra -- all screaming. Even the microphones started screeching:, unhappy with such an overdose of decibels. Yet the crowd seemed to love the second part more than the first; they finally got what they expected from Bocelli: songs sung with relish, including Tosti's "Serenata" and "Marechiare", De Curtis' "Torna a Sorriento" and Cannio's "O surdato nammurato", Leoncavallo's "Mattinata" and Gastaldon's "Musica proibita".

Bocelli never really started out as a professional opera singer, making his name with romantic numbers like "Il mare calma della sera" and "Con te partiro," with which he excelled at the San Remo Festival in 1994 and 1995, respectively. One of last year's CDs, "Sentimento", for example, is firmly grounded in the ballad tradition of which he so fond, mixing melancholy undertones with an overabundance of schmalz to make young and old swoon in rapture. On stage, without the help of a microphone, however, his vocal deficiencies have been subject to harsh criticism, but with a mike he delves eloquently into all kinds of vocal acrobatics, smoothly zooming in and out of high registers.

Three encores at the Pyramids testify to the success of the concert, with the entire audience screaming their applause.

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