The first time I ever heard of Andrea Bocelli was sometime in the late 1990s when his name was mentioned in connection to a Grammy Awards performance with Celine Dion. Bocelli was indisposed and up-and-coming Josh Groban was asked to fill in the male vocal part to “The Prayer” with Celine Dion. Josh Groban and songs like “Home to Stay,” “You Raise Me Up,” and “Si Volvieras A Mi” introduced me to the operatic pop — or popera — genre which Andrea Bocelli had firmly taken root in with fourteen solo albums.
Popera is a type of pop music performed with operatic singing styles or with a basis in a classical theme. Unlike with hip hopera — musical works in hip hop or rap styles with operatic form — untrained audiences can not easily differentiate popera from classical opera recordings, and many feel that they are listening to — and enjoying — legitimate opera. To be fair, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and other operatic artists also dabble in the popera genre.
Since I came from a family who would be hard-pressed to pick the Metropolitan Opera House out of a lineup of buildings in Lincoln Center but could hum along to most Andrea Bocelli songs, popera seemed like an immensely popular genre. Cue Enrico Caruso, Charlotte Church, Il Divo, Il Volo — among others — and these “light opera” styles become easy to find and recognize.
Broadway has also contributed to the rise of popera, most notably through Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. Hip hoperas like Carmen: A Hip Hopera and the much more recent Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda have also brought the operatic form to new audiences.
On December 12th, I had the exciting opportunity to sub with The Philly Pops accompanying Andrea Bocelli at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. We rehearsed in the empty space earlier in the day and were provided dinner up in the highest seats where we could see the entire arena below. Less exciting were the dressing room areas — accessed using our Purple level musician badges — which were really just spacious locker rooms for people much taller than any of us. It took a while for all the women of the orchestra to take turns using the single stall in the restroom to change into our concert attire, but we weren’t too bothered by the wait — it was exciting to see what sparkly clothes (usually allocated for New Years’ Eve and other fun performances) everyone pulled out of their closets.
Eugene Kohn — who, incidentally also conducted the Bocelli portion of the concert at the World Meeting of Families in September — was our conductor, and we performed for an audience of approximately 20,000. Kohn and Bocelli had bickered a bit in rehearsal (in Italian), but everything appeared smooth for the performance. I had never been inside the Wells Fargo Center — for basketball games or otherwise — and wasn’t prepared for how big the space was or how loud the cheering and applause of a full house would sound. The stage was set with a backdrop of an Italian street scene, and a combination of lighting and fog completed the rockstar effect.
Here’s what we played, listed alphabetically by composer:
Arlen: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz
Berlin: “Cheek to Cheek”
Bernstein: “America” from West Side Story
Bernstein: “Maria” from West Side Story
Bizet arr. Sarasate/Galway: Carmen Fantasy for Flute, Violin, and Orchestra
Gerrard, Badelt, Zimmer: “Nelle Tue Mani” from The Gladiator
Gounod: “Ah! Je veux vivre” from Romeo et Juliet
Lloyd Weber: “The Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera
Mancini: “Moon River”
Morricone: “Gabriel’s Oboe”
Mascagni: “Mamma, quel vino è generoso” from Cavalleria Rusticana
Mascagni: “Vivi il vino spumeggiante” from Cavalleria Rusticana
Puccini: “Nessun dorma…O sole, vita” from Turandot
Rodgers: Medley from The Sound of Music
Rota: “Brucia la Terra” from The Godfather
Sartori: “Il canto della terra” and “Con te partirò” from Vivere
Schubert: “Ave Maria”
Sinatra: “My Way”
Verdi: Triumphal Scene from Aida
Verdi: “La mia letizia infondere” from I Lombardi
Verdi: “Di quella pira” from Il Trovatore
Verdi: “ Brindisi – Libiamo, libiamo” from La Traviata
Verdi: “La donna è mobile” and “T’amo…È il sol dell’anima…Addio, Addio” from Rigoleto