A con­cert sung alone but seen by mil­lions

The Washington Post - - STYLE - BY MICHAEL ANDOR BRODEUR

Finicky lis­ten­ers can say what they will about Andrea Bo­celli’s voice — that it’s thin or raspy, that it lands too soft or reaches too hard, that it can’t quite fill a hall or a soul — but on Easter Sun­day, it rose from the Pi­azza del Duomo in Mi­lan and car­ried around the world.

Bo­celli, 61, live-streamed a solo Easter pro­gram ti­tled “Mu­sic for Hope — Live From Duomo di Mi­lano” from the grand cathe­dral. And while no­body was in at­ten­dance apart from cathe­dral or­gan­ist Emanuele Vianelli, who pro­vided Bo­celli’s only ac­com­pa­ni­ment, the per­for­mance drew more than 22 mil­lion view­ers on­line be­fore the day was over.

“On the day in which we cel­e­brate the trust in a life that tri­umphs, I’m hon­ored and happy to an­swer ‘Sì’ to the in­vi­ta­tion of the city and the Duomo of Mi­lan,” Bo­celli said in an in­tro­duc­tory voice-over with English sub­ti­tles. “The gen­er­ous, coura­geous, proac­tive Mi­lan and the whole of Italy will be again, and very soon, a win­ning model en­gine of a re­nais­sance that we all hope for.”

The re­gion of Lom­bardy, of which Mi­lan is the cap­i­tal, has been hit harder by covid-19 than any­where else in Italy, with more than 57,000 con­firmed cases of the novel coro­n­avirus and more than 10,000 deaths — more than half of the na­tion’s to­tal toll. Thus, when the cam­eras oc­ca­sion­ally turned away from Bo­celli to the open rows of the Duomo, or cut away to drone footage of eerily clear streets in Mi­lan, Bres­cia and Berg­amo, the over­whelm­ing empti­ness felt more like a loom­ing pres­ence — rep­re­sent­ing both the rav­ages of the virus and the re­silience of those fight­ing it by lock­ing them­selves away.

At times, the empty cathe­dral’s nat­u­ral re­verb — which Bo­celli sculpted more skill­fully

as the pro­gram pro­gressed — felt like part of the mu­sic. Its hol­low­ness seemed to ex­tend far beyond the walls of the Duomo and into the streets of Paris, Lon­don, New York and the rooms of my own apart­ment in Wash­ing­ton. Even as mil­lions of oth­ers lis­tened along, it was, acous­ti­cally speak­ing, one of the loneli­est­sound­ing ser­vices I’ve ever at­tended.

There were plenty of mo­ments dur­ing the 20-minute per­for­mance that left Bo­cel­lichal­lenged nit­pick­ers, my­self among them, as chal­lenged and nit­picky as ever. His phras­ings in Franck’s “Pa­nis An­geli­cus” stalled here, bunched there. His falsetto felt like an un­steady shelf at the close of Mascagni’s “Sancta Maria.” And through­out, his voice re­mained his voice — how­ever you re­gard it.

Still. As a sym­bol of mu­sic’s power to unite those sep­a­rated by time, space or stay- at- home or­ders, Bo­celli’s per­for­mance was flaw­less.

I went back and watched footage from the 2015 World Expo in Mi­lan, when Bo­celli last sang at the Duomo, ac­com­pa­nied by pi­anist Lang Lang and the Orches­tra del Teatro alla Scala. Thou­sands of fans packed the plaza, all hoist­ing their phones just to get a shot of the jum­botron screens bear­ing his face. Bo­celli was and is a phe­nom­e­non — larger than life and so far away. ( It’s why they call them stars.)

Five years later, the dif­fer­ence feels dream­like. In this strange and soli­tary per­for­mance, I could hear him clear his throat and draw a breath. I could hear his footsteps as he made his way to his mark in the Pi­azza. He was 4,000 miles away and yet felt closer than we’re al­lowed to be. And as he sang an un­ac­com­pa­nied verse of “Amaz­ing Grace,” he sounded less like a star than a man cry­ing out for his coun­try.

I could fi­nally hear him loud and clear.

LUCA ROSSETTI/SUCAR SRL/ DECCA RECORDS/REUTERS

Ital­ian opera singer Andrea Bo­celli per­forms “Mu­sic for Hope,” a live-streamed event Sun­day from Mi­lan.

LUCA ROSSETTI/SUCAR SRL/DECCA RECORDS/REUTERS

Andrea Bo­celli per­forms a livestream­ed event Sun­day in an empty Duomo cathe­dral. It was in­tended as a sym­bol of hope and heal­ing amid the pan­demic.

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