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Andrea Bocelli's St. Pete Times Forum performance offers an uncommon experience

TAMPA — Despite possessing such a supernatural gift, a gravitas-dripped vocal able to bring the manliest of men to tears, Andrea Bocelli will sing with pretty much anyone, Muppets and American Idol schlubs included. The Italian tenor is profitable pals with pop schmaltzmeister David Foster, who has taken Bocelli's crossover dreams and turned them into multiplatinum realities, seducing everyone from teen girls to swoony grandmas.

And yet, when the 53-year-old opera star was first led to the stage at the St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday — his perfect posture and impeccable scruff looking resplendent in front of a 71-piece orchestra and 60-person choir featuring the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay — there was nothing common about him.

The blind heartthrob was otherworldly in delivery, diving into the meat of Verdi's I Lombardi alla prima crociata with fluid ease, yet passionate thrust, all while standing stock-still.

It's not often you can hear a crowd's collective breath being taken away. But it happened, again and again, at the venue, which was near-capacity with 14,033 fans of vocal kaboom, many of whom arrived bedecked in tuxes and evening gowns.

In the first portion of the show, Bocelli was joined by soprano Ana Maria Martinez for a gorgeous run through classic opera's romantic highs. They were chaste lovers, Romeo & Juliet in gaze only, and yet the occasional caress added subtle lift to their pairing.

Bocelli sings for the masses now; this includes hoops announcer Dick Vitale, who was in attendance and tweeted from the show: "Andrea is a PTPer." Thus, the 2½-hour show's second half was a populist dream, commencing with an Ave Maria that included Bocelli soloing on the flute. That was followed by Amazing Grace, which was punctuated by midsong applause when his low moan delivered: "Was blind but now I see."

If that doesn't get the gooseflesh rippling, I don't know what will.

"With the next song, I want to wish you a merry, merry Christmas," said a smiling Bocelli in one of the few times he addressed the throngs. He then delivered the seasonal grandeur of Adeste Fideles, from 2009's My Christmas, a multimillion-selling smash and one of the primary reasons he's become an all-ages sensation. That was followed by Volare and O Sole Mio, which lacked fire. And yet, it should be noted that he later dusted every single Italian wedding singer in history with Funiculi, Funicula.

Oddly enough, Bocelli never got around to doing The Prayer, a duet he made famous with Celine Dion.

That's too bad because he also had with him Broadway light Heather Headley, who won a Tony Award for originating the role of Nala in The Lion King. Her solo slow-build rendition of Over the Rainbow was a doozy, Dorothy Gale touched by gospel fire. And she later joined Bocelli for Vivo per lei (I Live for Her).

Instead, his final duet was with Martinez: Time to Say Goodbye. He then made a small apology for his overworked voice — and proceeded to make manly men, and just about everyone else, reach for the Kleenex with a closing firework from Puccini's Turandot.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow him on Twitter (@seandalypoplife) and Facebook (facebook.com/seandaly.tampabay).

Andrea Bocelli's St. Pete Times Forum performance offers an uncommon experience 12/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 5, 2011 10:49am]

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