Andrea Bocelli is the Master
Marbella's Starlite Festival closer gives exquisite performance
Andrea Bocelli just gave me multiple eargasms.
A month of traveling in Morocco, Spain and Canada has yielded many memorable moments. However, nothing could possibly top last night's bit of musical self-indulgence. I was one of only 2,200 people to attend the intimate, closing night concert for the Starlite Festival in Marbella.
In doing so, I have checked off a major milestone on my bucket list: to see Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli perform live. And, to say the least, the Master did not disappoint.
The Starlite Festival is relatively new to the European music scene, with 2015 being only its third consecutive year running. Yet what it lacks in experience it makes up in uniqueness. Starlite is set in an unusual outdoor venue, an old stone quarry high in the mountains above the coastal Spanish city. The quarry's crescent shape offers perfect natural acoustics, and the small stadium erected there for the month-long festival allows the guests – even those in the cheap seats at the back – to feel like they're right in the action.
I arrived about 90 minutes early to experience the Starlite Lounge, a spectator staging area complete with multiple bars, restaurants, tapas cafés, and even a small art gallery. The paparazzi were out in full force last night, following the local celebrities in attendance. I was grateful to fly under the radar, sip on a strong mojito and do some people watching.
I felt a bit underdressed in my crocheted blouse, slim suit trousers and well-worn, black sandals as I eyed men wearing tuxedos and ladies in ball gowns and sky-high stilettos. Then again, their attire shouldn't have been surprising. The road up the mountain could be aptly named Millionaires Row, and the price of the tickets could easily break the bank (I paid €150 for a single ticket in the "cheap seats" section). However, once I spotted one man sporting a baseball cap and another wearing a golf shirt and Birkenstocks, I felt a bit better about my casual-but-still-classy outfit.
After a while, though, I had to escape the crowd. There were so many big egos in the place that I started to feel claustrophobic. I left the lounge, walked out through the entrance, and watched the end of the sunset from the steps near the VIP parking area. Finally, at a quarter to ten, I rejoined the throng as we slowly made our way to our seats in the darkness. (Dear Starlite organizers: perhaps you should invest in glow-in-the-dark row and seat numbers, or at least install more lights to aid your patrons.)
The concert started about 30 minutes late, but it didn't wrap until one in the morning. The two-hour performance was split into two acts with a 20-minute intermission. Master Bocelli focused on well-known opera songs in the first set, followed by more modern classics in the second half. He was supported by the Vallès Symphony Orchestra and conductor Marcello Rota, and was accompanied by two female guest vocalists throughout the evening.
To say that the Master delivered a perfect performance doesn't even do the night justice. There was something magical, pure, and seemingly effortless in Bocelli's delivery, while the intensity of his talent left me breathless in one moment and then in tears the next. I observed proof of his vocal magnitude before he even took the stage. As the orchestra players warmed up their instruments, my ears caught the sound of Bocelli's own vocal warm-up for a moment. Even without a microphone and while hidden away backstage, the Master's instrument was more powerful than all those on stage playing together.
The first hour's performances of "La Donna E Mobile" and "Mattinata," among others, were superbly executed, earning Bocelli multiple standing ovations. The gracious Master also turned the stage over to featured soprano Paola Sanguinetti for her solo recital of Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro," and their duet of "Brindisi" from Verdi's La Traviata was a crowd favourite.
I've made my living as a writer, but I honestly don't think describing Bocelli's brilliance in words is enough. At least, not in English words. If only I could speak and write in his native Italian…
Bellissimo! Magnifico! Perfetto! Nope, still not good enough.
However, in the opening minutes of this set, I observed two considerable problems, which were produced not by the performers but by some audience members and the venue itself.
Opera is traditionally a very classy affair, reserved for the well-bred elite members of society. Bocelli has managed to break barriers with this art form and connect with people more familiar with popular culture. But some of these individuals don't seem to know how to properly respect Bocelli's talent or enjoy his performance. Some people filling the cheap seats around me demonstrated a cheap appreciation for the spectacle before them.
The Master's concerts aren't just meant to be watched; they should be listened to intently and felt deeply. It's a full-body emotional experience, but this available trifecta of sensory stimulation was lost on many audience members. They insisted on disobeying the venue's rule against mobile devices in order to film and photograph Bocelli's performance. This included the man sitting next to me, the woman directly behind me, and the glammed-up geriatrics two rows back. In doing so, they distracted themselves from their own pleasure. Similarly, these ill-behaved individuals also insisted on whispering to each other or outright chatting during the show.
The other problem occurred when some guests, who'd been knocking back cocktail after cocktail, had to vacate their seats in order to vacate their bladders. Many of them didn't bother waiting for the short breaks in between songs. They clamored down the steps in the dark and several even tripped on their way, which created a terrible racket that echoed throughout the quarry.
All of this unnecessary noise must have been distracting and sounded deafening to Bocelli, but the Master never showed it.
(Dear Starlite organizers: I suggest you invest in some padding or carpet for your stadium stairs, since the sound of a woman in stilettos stumbling on steel steps doesn't suit an opera venue. Also, you should look into employing technology similar to that in Dolmio's Pepper Hacker to force audience members to respect the anti-cell phone rule and actually watch your concerts.)
After the intermission, we witnessed a slew of stellar presentations of modern classics. These included "Nelle Tue Mani," which was made famous as part of the soundtrack for Gladiator; the cheerful "Funiculì, Funiculà"; and the sentimental "Momma," a song that made me think of my own mother and how grateful I am that she introduced me to opera. Bocelli also paid tribute to his Spanish hosts with renditions of "Amapola," "Granada," and "Bésame Mucho."
It must be noted that extra points should be awarded to Rota, who proved himself a skilled conductor as well as a cheeky entertainer. He's easily the least stiff maestro I've ever watched. He possessed such great fluidity of movement, as if his whole body was dancing as he led the orchestra. His arms and hands exhibited great flair as they wiggled and flew about with each note. Toward the end of the show, Rota was even jumping up and down and twirling in circles!
The crowd was whipped into further frenzy during two more Bocelli duets featuring pop powerhouse Ilaria Della Bidia. Tears flowed from my eyes as I was overwhelmed by their voices in "Canto Della Terra" and "Vivo Per Lei."
It wasn't until the last songs of the encore when I became completely undone. As the Master flawlessly sang Puccini's famed aria "Nessun Dorma" and his own crowning jewel, "Con Te Partirò," I kind of lost it. I have no shame in admitting I was basically weeping. It felt as if the Master had reached into my soul and taken control, forcing an outpouring of emotion I should have expected but for which I was unprepared.
People less connected to music could never understand this, but I believe my whole existence has somehow been building to last night's experience. As a former music journalist, I've attended thousands of live performances in the latter half of my life. Sarah McLachlan has been my favourite singer since I was 10 years old. I've attended three of her concerts and have enjoyed an intense emotional connection to her music for two decades. Meanwhile, I've maintained that the best live show I've ever seen was Robert Plant & The Band of Joy's set at the 2011 Jazz Festival in Ottawa.
I can now say with certainty that the Master has left these two legends of popular music in the dust. There really is no comparison. Perhaps my love for last night's concert is rooted even deeper in me, thanks to my mother.
I've always regretted never seeing Luciano Pavarotti in concert before he died. While I've been most attracted to rock 'n' roll music through my life, something about Pavarotti's voice has always struck a deep chord in me. A couple of years ago, my mother offered an explanation. While pregnant with me, she used to listen to Pavarotti's music, which seemed to excite me. Then, when I was about a year old, she'd sat me down on the carpet to play. She was watching a PBS music special. When Pavarotti took to the stage and started singing, apparently I dropped my toy and stared at the TV. My mom thinks I recognized his voice from when I was in the womb.
And so you see, perhaps I was always meant to connect with a powerful tenor. When my parents first bought Bocelli's Romanza and Sogno albums, his singing awakened something in me, as if I was possessed by a voice before I'd ever heard it. In many ways, Bocelli is the Pavarotti of the next generation and represents the next wave in opera's evolution.
Thus, by seeing and hearing the Master sing in person for the first time, to feel each note as they soared through the air to penetrate my soul, I have reached a rather unexpected conundrum: Should I hang up my concert-goer hat for good? Because, let's face it, I doubt anything will ever top last night's show.
Dear Master Bocelli, thank you for giving me the most exquisite experience of my life.