Andrea Bocelli has taken his rightful place as the world’s premier tenor.
It’s too bad he chooses to play in a venue that has all the charm of a giant slaughterhouse. More on the MGM Grand, a junction of chaos and confusion towards the end of this review.
With Luciano Pavarotti’s passing six years ago, and Placido Domingo now in the twilight of his years as a stage performer, befittingly the torch has since been passed to the next operatic maestro in line, the unquestionable equal of his two highly-revered predecessors, both in charisma and global transcendence.
Now at age 55, Bocelli is in his prime. Accordingly, he’s a virtuoso who takes his responsibilities seriously as a master (some might say — protector) of the classics. Undeniably, he’s become the world’s vocal gold standard, the next tenor in an exemplary lineage of maestros which initially began with Enrico Caruso nearly a century ago as the first modern-age performer, crooning many of the same arias which continue to mesmerize multiple generations across borders in so many different languages. Music is the universal language — something Bocelli seems to not only to know, but cherish as fact.
Now the well-deserving beneficiary, the one born with and bearing the voice, Bocelli can now pretty much perform when and where he wishes. He can sing what he wants, and perform with whoever he likes. No matter what, when, where, or who — Andrea Bocelli concert tickets are virtually a guaranteed sell out, rivaling the popular demands of music legends — from Garth Brooks to Jay-Z to Paul McCartney.
Indeed, Bocelli is an international rock star of a very different sort. Just like his contemporaries, he tours the United States only every couple of years. Las Vegas is almost always included among his tour stops, where he stages only a single performance each time he’s in town — which is probably by design. No doubt, Bocelli could sell a lot more tickets, make far more money, and please a lot more listeners were he to simply do more shows. But some things in life are meant to be savored as rare treasures. That’s what makes a Bocelli show special.
Then again, it’s unfortunate he chose to play this one show at the MGM Grand, which is akin to painting The Last Supper on a moving subway train. As I said, more on that later.
Bocelli played the MGM Garden Arena this past Saturday night. His concert performance was largely predictable, but also wonderfully surprising at times. Naturally, the classics were expected to dominate Bocelli’s extensive song list, which are far too abundant to please every expectation. And so, the compromise must be his own, as his set choices make it abundantly clear he’s a steward of old traditions. From the three-piece black and white tuxedo he wore that could have been lifted from the 1950s — to his gentle smile and calm mannerisms — from his commanding stage presence to the booming delivery of every perfectly-pitched note from his voice, Bocelli seems intent to — what we would call in baseball — “throw the perfect game” every time he steps in front of a microphone.
If Saturday night wasn’t the perfect game, it surely wasn’t a no-hitter either. By hits, I mean the greatest hits of the 1840s. In fact, Bocelli rattled off a one familiar Tuscan chestnut after another, with a heavy emphasis on the traditional old world music of his native Italy. O sole mio, Mamma, La Donna e Mobile, and Brindisi highlighted this varied but concise list of joyful crowd pleasers. Bocelli also performed two Christmas songs during his set, including the quintessential holiday favorite for all tenors, Ave Maria.
However, Bocelli was at his very best when performing a number of duets, with a mix of invited musical guests. Among these, none quite matched Bocelli’s voice or towering stage presence like American soprano and soul singer Heather Headley (who was actually born in Trinidad). She’s a stunning woman who not only held her own standing at his side, but also (in my humble opinion) outshined the great one at various points during his own show, certainly no small undertaking. The audience seemed to agree, judging by the standing ovation she received. Headley performed three songs, once as a solo artist and two with Bocelli. I would have liked to see more of her. Remember Heather Headley’s name, if you don’t already know it.
The highlight of the evening was the second set’s closer (not to be confused with the encore), which included a duet between Bocelli and Headley. They sang Canto Della Terra, a pop aria not the usual closer for most shows, making this moment even more memorable for those who were there. While the actual performance from Saturday night isn’t available, click the link below to watch a similar performance of the same song with Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, from a recent show in Tuscany. Headphones are suggested to appreciate the full effect. LINK HERE
The concert was divided into two parts. The first segment included many of the classics and lasted close to an hour. Following a 20-minute intermission, presumably necessary to ensure the consistent quality of Bocelli’s voice, the famous tenor played another hour and 15 minutes, giving the audience their full money’s worth.
If there’s any disappointment to a Bocelli performance, it’s that he rarely engages with his audience. He spoke only a few words during the show, leaving the task of making introductions and background information to the orchestra conductor. I think most sitting in the audience would have preferred for Bocelli to speak a little more. But then again, he may simply be more comfortable letting his musical selections do all the talking. That’s fine, too.
Bocelli was backed by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, which was given several opportunities to shine on a stage absolutely loaded with talent. No recording, no matter how high quality can quite match the thunderous sound of a live full 60-piece orchestra captured within the zone, performing as one. A dozen violins all in unison building to an ear-splitting crescendo must be heard live. It’s the same with Bocelli’s vocals, a marvel of excellence unmatched, unequaled, pristine, and perfect.
Among the surprises were as follows:
(1) When a singer of Bocelli’s magnitude covers an entire range of what’s vocally possible, oddly enough the softer notes, at much lower decibels, stand out. Think of a soft whisper in a giant room. Sure, a series of high-Cs is inspiring. But try and imagine a much softer note, heard above over thousands of still people, all hushed together in silence. It’s like the audience is afraid to breath for fear of ruining the moment. Yes, moments like this were literally ”breathtaking.”
(2) Most stunning was how effortless this all seemed for Bocelli. Not once did he wince or show any signs of struggling. He never even broke a sweat. Performing just seemed so easy for him, which is probably what made the performance even more spectacular for those who could see him clearly. Contrast this with Pavarotti’s old performances, when he often showed actual discomfort on his face and often sweated profusely during his performances.
(3) Bocelli made two disappointing song choices during his encore. First, he performed Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” presumably as a tribute to “the King’s” reign here in Las Vegas many years ago. That song just didn’t work for me, particularly as one of the closing numbers which needed more power (think Nessun Dorma). Worse, he followed that up with “New York, New York,” surely a great standard, but just entirely inappropriate for this venue and audience, not to mention it’s more of the Sinatra baritone songbook, not written for a tenor. Very bad choice.
(4) The stage was a massive sea of bodies, which included a full orchestra, Bocelli and the other headliners, plus about 70 members of a choir. The choir might have been a nice touch, but we could barely hear them during most of the evening. Situated behind all the instruments, the singers barely elicited a reaction. It was a massive waste of talent and opportunity. Moreover, they weren’t even introduced to the audience.
(5) Bocelli entered and then departed the stage quite often, usually following each song. By my count, he returned to the stage more than a dozen times during the evening. Naturally, Bocelli needs several breaks to rest his vocal chords. So, he rarely performs more than two songs in a row. This tends to break the show’s momentum, at times. Right after Bocelli (who is blind) blows the audience away with a spectacular whiplash of a finish, he then takes the arm of the conductor and is led offstage and down some stairs (must there be stairs, really?). Then, the next performer comes out, and so forth. The ritual of this repeated procession tends to be somewhat distracting, and unnecessary.
Finally, this concert review wouldn’t be entirely complete without a few comments about the horrific MGM Garden Arena, a place entirely unsuitable for major concerts, and arguably the worst venue where I have ever seen a show. Admittedly, this is a full-time sporting arena which typically hosts big prizefights. But the sound system left much to be desired. The music simply wasn’t loud enough. But what was far worse was the in and out of the venue, presumably designed by someone who must be mentally deranged or sadistic. Every single ticket holder who enters and exits is forced to stream through a relatively small but long hallway littered with shops and restaurants, which ultimately ends up back in the casino with all the gambling tables and slot machines. This layout might be acceptable for a 500-seat auditorium. But for a major arena that seats 8,000-10,000, this is ABSOLUTELY CRIMINAL.
I have never seen a more poorly-designed events center. It should probably be shut down. It’s a fire hazard and a stampede ready to happen. Of course, none of this is surprising. The MGM Grand’s parking is already the worst in Las Vegas. Now, add this hellhole of an arena to the list of places to avoid at all costs.
Sure, someone with as much power and pull as Andrea Bocelli could do a lot better were he to play his shows elsewhere. As wonderful as his performance was for the most part, I would not go again if it were held at the MGM Garden Arena.
If you think I’m exaggerating, take a closer look. Here’s some pictures of the crowd I took as we were forced to filter down a single hallway through the only entrance and exit to the arena.
So, for those who want the short version:
Bocelli’s Performance — A
Heather Headley’s Performance — A+
Set List/Songs — B
Other Supporting Acts — B
Technical Merits (Light and Sound) — D+
Venue — F-