The audience members at an almost-full Vector Arena last night clearly couldn't wait for Andrea Bocelli to begin his recital of classical opera arias and popular love songs. An elderly gentleman sitting near me clambered vertically over two rows of empty seats in his eagerness to find his spot and a woman a few rows in front rose, clapping, to her feet before the Italian tenor had even uttered a note.
Her premature ovation was rewarded with a lively rendition of one of the most popular songs in Bocelli's repertoire, La donna è mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto. It was the first of a handful of crowd-pleasers and a welcome sound following the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra's somewhat lacklustre opening performance of the Overture to another Verdi opera, I vespri siciliani.
The acoustics at Vector aren't ideally suited to an orchestra and that surely contributed to the lack of clarity in some places and the string section's pianissimos sounding tinny, however the building cannot be held solely responsible for some sloppy playing throughout the first half.
Similarly, while Auckland Choral, in its role as chorus, delivered a muscly initial entry during the final Verdi aria, also from I vespri siciliani, subsequent passages lacked the desired punch. Thankfully, Cuban soprano Maria Aleida, who also joined the programme at this point, more than made up for it with her beautifully nuanced and engaging performance of the aria Mercé, dilette amiche.
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Two pieces from Gounod's opera Romeo et Juliette followed, the latter a duet between Bocelli and Aleida. Both were well delivered, but the video depictions of what was being sung about playing on a large screen behind the stage proved a distraction.
The second half brought a more relaxed feeling.
Popular favourites Mamma and Funiculì, Funiculà from Bocelli's 2008 album Incanto had some in the audience clapping their hands and swaying gently as they no doubt hummed along in their heads.
Further applause — and some whistles — came as Australian songstress Delta Goodrem made her first appearance to sing a heartfelt version of Martika's Love, Thy Will be Done.
She and Bocelli duetted on Victor Young's When I Fall In Love and a lightly-jazzy rendition of Elvis' Love Me Tender, which revealed a lovely richness in Bocelli's seldom-heard lower register.
However the highlight was the beautiful Vieni sul mar. It came early in the second half and was delivered by Bocelli with a genuine passion for his homeland that absolutely transported me to Italy when I closed my eyes to listen.