I must confess to going to see Andrea Bocelli with zero preconceptions. I knew he was an opera singer of international standing but was otherwise ignorant of his works. I didn’t even realise he was blind until reading the program. I did, however, know he was incredibly popular by dint of his filling the National Indoor Arena to its 10,000 capacity with not inexpensive tickets so it was fair to say everyone else in the building knew his work intimately.
The accompanying British Symphony Orchestra and Crouch End Festival Chorus warmed up the crowd before the conductor went off to accompany Bocelli onto the stage to quite rapturous applause coupled with relief that, unlike his last minute cancellation in September, he was well enough to perform tonight. He sang a couple of pieces and then was off the stage again to be replaced by one his his guest soloists. This set the pattern for the evening – a bit of Bocelli then a bit of a guest then a bit of both of them. Presumably this allowed him to rest but it also gave the audience something else – an evening not just with Andrea Bocelli but curated by him.
To be honest I found his voice a little weak, or at least not of a caliber one would expect from someone of his reputation. I later read about the criticism he’s faced from the opera establishment which can be dismissed as snobbery towards someone who has chosen the populist route, but even I with my relatively untrained ears could tell something wasn’t quite right. Maybe he was still suffering the remnants of the throat infection or maybe he just doesn’t have that power.â€¨â€¨To the audience, though, this didn’t seem to matter. The people sitting by me were glowing with happiness, punctuated only by tears when the voice they’d obviously loved for years sang a phrase that resonated with them. And that’s, ultimately, what this evening was about.
In the second half he switched from his classical repertoire and ran through a series of 20th Century pieces including songs from Italian movies. Here he seemed a lot more at home and his voice took on a more confident tone. As we reached the encore the audience were treated to the song many of them had travelled long distances to hear – his 1996 hit Time To Say Goodbye, originally sung with Sarah Brightman and here in a duet with rising star Malika Ayane. As the opening bars rang out a lady in front of my lept to her feet and there were tears of joy around me. This lead to a standing ovation. Bocelli had delivered the goods and they were declared worthy.