In Italy, Andrea Bocelli lived out the early days of the pandemic in a state of “worry and frustration” — not just for the harrowing health crisis but also for the social wounds of prolonged isolation.
During this unprecedented pause in his career, he spent more time with his children. He listened to music. He tackled some items on his reading list.
But through it all, he still possessed an eagerness to perform — to create and share with others.
So one month into the pandemic, on an unusually quiet Easter Sunday, Bocelli livestreamed a recital from an empty Duomo Cathedral in Milan. It generated more than 28 million views on YouTube in its first 24 hours and became the most-watched classical music concert on YouTube.
A week later, he participated in a virtual music festival that raised nearly $128 million for COVID-19 relief.
Eight months into the pandemic, he released a new album.
Nine months into the pandemic, he livestreamed a Christmas concert from an opera house in Italy.
In a nutshell, even as concert venues worldwide were shut down, Bocelli never did stop singing.
And while music has long been Bocelli’s passion, there was more at play than a desire to perform.
There was a sense of urgency because the 63-year-old tenor believes the arts took a serious hit during the pandemic.
“Having to manage the health emergency, I’m afraid, often penalized music and culture, neglecting and often reducing them to accessory elements,” Bocelli recently told the Deseret News in an email, with the aid of a translator.
“Whereas, to the contrary, art (music included) is a gift that builds and fortifies the spirit,” he added.
Now, more than a year and a half into the pandemic, Bocelli has finally returned to arena stages, performing for thousands of fans night after night. He seems to be on a mission to send the message that music, with its ability to inspire and heal, should be viewed as a necessity — not an accessory.
And he made a strong case for that in Salt Lake City.
The last time Bocelli was in Salt Lake City, he didn’t say a word to his audience until the show was nearly over. He had never performed publicly in the city before, and he was there to sing.
Three years and a worldwide pandemic later, he had more to say to his fans this time around.
“Finally, we are together again,” the silver-haired tenor said with a wide smile as he walked onto the Vivint Arena stage Saturday night. “I am very happy to sing for you. I am ready. Here we go.”
But the night wasn’t all about Bocelli — it was a celebration and full display of the arts.
During a two-hour spectacle that featured operatic masterpieces and songs from Bocelli’s newest album, “Believe,” a wide range of guest artists and musicians — including rising opera stars, pop singers, dancers and the Logan-based American Festival Chorus and Orchestra — got a chance to shine alongside the renowned tenor.
But Bocelli also left the stage several times to allow for these guest artists to have their own moments in the spotlight. That included the truly remarkable soprano Larisa Martinez — who is the wife of violin virtuoso Joshua Bell — and Utah native Loren Allred, well known as the powerhouse voice behind the hit song “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman.”
But perhaps no guest artist received more applause than 9-year-old Virginia Bocelli, Andrea Bocelli’s daughter who accompanied her father for a moving rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah,” which is featured on his new album.
Most of the songs Saturday night were performed in Italian. But as her father lightly strummed the guitar, Virginia started off “Hallelujah” in English. Harmonizing with his daughter, Bocelli then took the second and third verses in Italian before concluding in English. As the song volleyed between the two languages, it was a powerful symbol of how music is a language of its own that can rise above any kind of cultural or linguistic barrier.
Just about everyone in the arena stood up when it was over, rapidly applauding as Bocelli beamed proudly at his daughter.
It would be one of many standing ovations that night.
Performing with a purpose
For someone who sings with such intensity, Bocelli stands surprisingly still, with his arms by his side.
His eyes are often shut tight, with the expression in his eyebrows — little crescendos and decrescendos that rise as he holds onto a note and lower as he finishes a phrase. Aside from leaving the stage to let another artist have the spotlight, Bocelli doesn’t move around much.
But he doesn’t need any grand gestures to make his point.
Bocelli wrapped up the concert with a special encore set featuring three classics: “Time to Say Goodbye,” “‘O Sole Mio” and “Nessun Dorma.”
Each number got a resounding standing ovation from the nearly sold-out crowd, and it appeared no one in attendance was ready to say goodbye — including Bocelli, who couldn’t stop waving to his fans.
You know you’ve witnessed something special when hardly anyone leaves early to beat the traffic. After a year and a half of music and the arts, in general, being somewhat curtailed amid the pandemic, this was a potent reminder of what we’ve been missing.
Before his visit to Salt Lake City, Bocelli told the Deseret News that while he felt “a bit apprehensive” returning to the stage — “like an athlete starting to compete again at the highest level, after a long period of forced rest” — he welcomed the gradual return to normalcy.
“The world needs to go back to making culture and frequenting art,” he said. “And this is the strong message that I would like to convey through my singing and, especially, through this tour.”