By BRUCE DENNILL
Andrea Bocelli / Johannesburg Festival Orchestra / Ticketpro Dome, Randburg, Johannesburg
Stage set-ups for big tours are usually extravagant regardless of the size of the band. For Andrea Bocelli, the stage is enormous – because, happily, there needs to be sufficient room for the full Johannesburg Festival Orchestra and the Symphony Choir of Johannesburg to file on and take their places before the star of the show arrives.
Even that enormous assembly is dwarfed by a huge curved screen, three or four storeys high and as wide as the stage. That surface is used throughout the concert to project images of Naples, Rome and other gorgeous locales tied in some way to the compositions being played and sung, as well as images from stagings of the operas many of the pieces are taken from, adding a degree of pageantry and scale that’s in line with the history and significance of much of the setlist.
Marshalling the orchestra and choir is Carlo Bernini – artistic director, piano teacher and long-time close friend to Bocelli – who is a wonderful conductor; expressive, supportive and with a great line in subtle winks and grins. He also functions as Bocelli’s guide to and from the set of stairs that lead up to the stage, positioning the tenor in front of his mic and, at the completion of each song, shaking Bocelli’s hand and murmuring a reassuring or congratulatory aside.
At the microphone, Bocelli’s focus is firmly on the music, with little or no banter or other interaction with the crowd. Charmingly, the one exception to this pattern follows a slightly awkward pause when Bernini has gone to the head of the stairs only to see that … the singer is not there as planned. When Bocelli does make it to the microphone, he smiles, saying, “Sorry. They lost me.”
Obviously, Bocelli’s vocals are the centrepiece of the concert, and the music – classical standards and a couple of contemporary originals – are arranged to best showcase the phenomenal power and technique that has made him a household name for a couple of decades now, with the arrangements more often than not culminating in a soaring crescendo. But he’s a generous host as well, with a number of guest artists adding to the variety of both the music and the tone of the show.
Cuban soprano Maria Aleida features in several numbers in the first half of the concert (which is split by a 20-minute interval), including her interpretation of Les Oiseaux Dans La Charmille from Les Contes d’Hoffmann/The Tales Of Hoffmann, in which she displays impeccable vocal control to go with the eye-catching movements the performance requires.
Ukranian violinist Anastasiya Petryshak fills the bulk of the guest slots in the second half, sometimes accompanying Bocelli and once or twice being given a solo, in which she displays near-perfect, quick-fingered technique, drawing sublime tone from her instrument.
English R&B artist Beverley Knight brings extra musical diversity to the otherwise classical (bar a version of Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling In Love in the encore) line-up, contributing her own catchy hit Shoulda Woulda Coulda.
The contributor receiving the biggest cheer, however, is Bocelli’s son – and now collaborator – Matteo, who combined his own hugely impressive voice with his father’s on their song Fall On Me, from the elder Bocelli’s latest album Si. As charming as his father, Matteo also has a model’s good looks and an easy graciousness, displayed to a tee when a possibly infatuated female fan unexpectedly stops him on his way offstage to present him with a bouquet of flowers.
Unsurprisingly, it is a version of Time To Say Goodbye – Bocelli duetting with Aleida, with Knight adding a boost in the upper register – that really raises the roof as part of the encore. Bocelli, in his own right and as the main focus, is a treat and the embodiment of a type and style of classical entertainment that is often, bizarrely, under-appreciated locally. And with his talented guests and the top-notch work of the Johannesburg orchestra and choir, he delivers a potent, memorable spectacle.