Bocelli’s poignant ‘Music for Hope’ Easter Sunday concert

With the world at stand still and the main thoroughfares of the world’s greatest cities silenced by corona virus, tenor Andrea Bocelli’s lone Easter Sunday performance in Milan provided the perfect time and venue to savor sacred music.

With the largest church in Italy – also the second largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world – as dramatic backdrop, Bocelli suddenly had a perfect venue, the timeliest program and a captive world audience listening to him in an empty church.

Bocelli -- last heard in Manila in 2004 and 2016 – cast a very solemn figure in this centuries-old cathedral with just organist Emanuele Vianelli as a very able collaborating artist.

The color was predominantly grey and as he intoned Gounod’s Ave Maria to an empty church, you could see his world audiences reacting from every corner of the world via the internet.

Talk of the endless possibilities of live streaming.

In this special Easter Sunday broadcast, the live streaming was seen by over 30 million people world-wide, probably one of the highest audience rating for a concert of religious songs.

While the Gounod number set the tone for the concert, it was in Mascagni’s Sancta Maria (arranged by Vianelli) that the tenor showed an extremely lyrical beauty of line and ending in a show of high notes beautifully sustained and ending in a breathtaking last measure.

Rossini’s Domine Deus from Petite Messe Solennelle (also arranged by the organist) has a brisky tempo that tested the tenor’s agility at some point. He wrapped it all with amazing result.

Newton’s Amazing Grace has never been so timely as the world mourned the dead and the dying. The voice never for once waivered and the tenor sent home the message of acceptance and forgiveness with extreme fervor in such a such a hollowed landmark in Milan.

Described as a “Music For Hope,” the concert was streamed through Bocelli’s YouTube channel with his adoring fans commenting on the concert link.

In a pre-Easter Sunday concert message, the tenor said he was honored to say yes to the invitation of the city on a day that the “world celebrated trust in a life that triumphs.”

He added: “I believe in the strength of praying together. I believe in the Christian Easter, a universal symbol of rebirth that everyone, whether they are believers or not, truly needs right now.”

Among those moved by the performance was actor Hugh Jackman who wrote on Twitter: “From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. A tremendous gift and exactly what we needed.”

(Italy is one of the worst hit by corona virus with more than 156,000 cases of Covid-19 and 19,899 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.)

Now 61, a father of two and born with congenital glaucoma, Bocelli is a highly documented singing celebrity whose life was recalled in his autography called Memoirs which inspired the film The Music of Silence reportedly based on the tenor’s life.

For the record, Bocelli was last heard in Manila in 2016 with the ABS CBN Philharmonic under Carlo Benini alternating with Gerard Salonga.

He sang with Filipino singing actress Christine Allado who also joined him in his Scandinavian tour last year. (The actress was associated with the roles of Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds in the West End production of Hamilton.)

Bocelli’s 2004 Araneta Coliseum concert

Bocelli’s first Manila concert was memorable as he was heard for the first time by an audience of 30,000 at the Araneta Coliseum.

He was with the Italian guest soprano Maria Luiga Borsi who almost stole the show from Bocelli.

But the tenor easily conquered with his religious number, Ave Maria by Schubert.

The surprising thing was that Bocelli and Borsi received a premature standing ovation at the end of the first part after their La Boheme duet (O suave fanciulla) and got a full ovation after the Brindisi duet from La Traviata.

The Padre Pio Symphony Orchestra (with most members coming from the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under Rodel Colmenar) was in good shape and their opening number (Preludio from Bizet’s Carmen) set the tone for the evening’s unforgettable excitement.

Under Maestro Rota, the Filipino orchestra rose to great heights from Carmen Preludio to the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana to Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri overture.

No one was prepared to realize that a portion of Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez for guitar had metamorphosed into a reinvented art song which opened Bocelli’s solo parts. He skipped Giordano’s Amor te vieta and sang a religious favorite, Panis Angelicus and here one got a live taste of the tenor’s vocal range.

For the record, Impresario Rose Marie “Baby” Arenas (now Pangasinan congresswoman) was the fairy godmother of the first Bocelli experience in Manila.

Autographed photo of impresario, now Pangasinan Congresswoman Rose Marie “Baby” Arenas with Andrea Bocelli.

The last classical concert seen at the Araneta Coliseum was pianist Van Cliburn with the CCP Philharmonic under the late Luis Valencia in the early 70s. The person who initiated it, Mrs. Imelda Marcos, was – by coincidence – present in the Bocelli landmark concert in Manila.

Of that 2004 Araneta Coliseum concert, Bocelli’s tessitura didn’t take too kindly in Verdi and Puccini arias but shone in lyric parts like in Cilea’s Lamento di Federico (from L’Arlesiana) which he sang with exquisite tenderness.

Indeed, the man sang with his soul.

One is sure this is the same impression Filipinos got when they saw her Easter Sunday appearance in the historic Milan cathedral.

Bocelli’s post-concert message was indeed timely as well. “History teaches us that after this is all over, a spring will come that will be brighter than any we can recall.”


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