Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli returns to Boardwalk Hall this weekend
Depending on whom you ask, Andrea Bocelli is either the world's most beloved or reviled opera star.
To the purists, Bocelli has committed nothing short of artistic heresy -- again! -- with the release of Amore, the second all-pop album of his career.
To the broad-minded, though, the 48-year-old Italian tenor is merely expanding the appeal of opera by using contemporary music to introduce the art form to the classically challenged.
Truth be told, Bocelli isn't exactly a stranger to pop music. He covered pop standards several years ago on the album, Andrea. But even that wasn't his introduction to popular songs.
Long before he burst onto the international music scene in the mid-1990s, Bocelli was performing pop songs in the most unlikely of venues.
"The repertoire [on Amore] is the same repertoire I performed when I was working in the piano bar before I became famous, so many songs are for me sweet memories," Bocelli told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year.
The charismatic performer worked his way through law school at the University of Pisa by performing in piano bars. Although some of the songs on his latest album are the same ones he performed 25 years ago, he said there's one major difference.
"But probably now the interpretations are better. Also the orchestration, because at the time I played the piano and it was not so beautiful," he said.
When Bocelli hits the stage of historic Boardwalk Hall Saturday for his second appearance in the big room (and his third show in Atlantic City), his program will be designed to both please and appease. The Boston Pops Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Steven Mercurio, will accompany Bocelli.
Because his current tour is in support of his new album, he'll be performing selections from Amore. But 60 percent of the show will be opera, according to Frank Gelb, the Atlantic City-based promoter who produces all of Bocelli's North American concerts and is teaming with Trump Entertainment Resorts for this concert.
"It's always been difficult to convince [Bocelli] to go more to the center," Gelb said. "His true passion and his true love is classical music. Left alone, it's all he'd perform."
But Bocelli is smart enough to know that an all-classical repertoire in his concerts and albums would limit his appeal. So he reluctantly agreed to do the pop albums -- and appear on this season's recently concluded American Idol -- to reach a broader demographic. He even included AI runner-up Katherine McPhee on three of his concerts earlier this month, yet another attempt to steer pop music fans toward his heavenly voice.
But he knows such moves risk incurring the wrath of longtime fans that view him, somewhat myopically, as a strictly classical artist, Gelb added.
|Local promoter Frank Gelb.|
Bocelli, blind since he was 12 due to congenital glaucoma and being hit in the head with a soccer ball, has accepted the fact that his classical fan base isn't going to buy his pop albums or attend any concert that isn't purely opera.
Although his musical mentor and friend, fellow tenor Luciano Pavarotti, has successfully recorded and performed with pop stars for years, Bocelli's fans aren't as forgiving. So they aren't likely to be enamored with an album that features duets with pop singer Christina Aguilera, jazz-pop saxophonist Kenny G and singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder.
Bocelli, however, brushes aside the seeming double standard.
"I'm convinced it's not important what you sing but how you sing it," he said. "If you sing it with your heart, that is the most important thing."
For promoter Gelb, who produced his first Boardwalk Hall event -- a boxing match -- in 1972, when it was still known as Convention Hall, the Bocelli concert marks an anniversary.
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