Two tenors. Two sold-out halls. Two clap-happy audiences. Two weird concerts.

On Sunday, the Metropolitan Opera sponsored a debut recital by Andrea Bocelli, the world’s best publicised tenorino bianco. The house, capacity 4,000, may have been 10 times too big for the singer, and the programme – Baroque arias and assorted art-songs – may have been 10 times too ambitious. Still, anyone who confuses intentions with achievements had to be pleased.

On Monday, at acoustically murky Avery Fisher Hall, the New York Philharmonic presented a high-class variety show billed as An Evening with Plácido Domingo. Everybody’s favourite overachieving septuagenarian sang lustily, chatted with the public, borrowed Alan Gilbert’s baton to over-conduct the Fledermaus overture and seemed to be having a very good time. He also brought along a pretty protégée soprano from Bulgaria and a sexy dancer from Spain.

Bocelli, widely celebrated for crossover endeavours, made no concessions to easy listening. He didn’t even use a microphone. Leniently accompanied by Vincenzo Scalera, he ventured some ornate Handel and noble Beethoven in addition to romantic indulgences of Wagner, Liszt and Richard Strauss. Then he added introspective mélodies of Fauré and Gounod. Everything sounded pretty much the same.

He wrapped his pinched, slender, nasal tone around each entry with obvious care. He sustained some sweet diminuendi, technique willing and pitch variances notwithstanding. He sometimes held on to final cadences as if sheer endurance assured victory. Even at his limited best, however, he seemed to be singing by rote, neither text nor meaning internalised. ()

Domingo’s tenor has become bottom-heavy and somewhat monochromatic yet it remains remarkably steady, remarkably plangent. He blasted the ecstasy of Wagner’s Siegmund (in odd German) and the agony of Tchaikovsky’s Gherman (we can’t vouch for his Russian). He luxuriated in the pathos of “None but the Lonely Heart” and the gutsy romance of a zarzuela excerpt by Torroba. He waltzed through some hum-along Léhar as a prelude to – what else? – “Granada”.

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He shared the stage gallantly with Sonya Yoncheva, who looked lovely, flirted shamelessly and sounded vibrant one moment, breathy or strained the next. Nuria Pomares had the forestage to herself when allowed to slink and click a quick flamenco routine. Gilbert and the Philharmonic provided enthusiastic accompaniment as well as a raucous Meistersinger prelude and dutiful divertissements by Tchaikovsky and Falla. ()

Incidental intelligence: (1) Bocelli’s fans punctuated his performance with incessant photoflashes. Since the artist happens to be blind, he was not distracted. We were. (2) The Philharmonic bathed the stage in crimson for Domingo’s lovefest. It was, after all, Saint Valentine’s day.


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