Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli brought comfort to millions on Easter Sunday with his concert of sacred music in the Duomo di Milano, the historic cathedral in Milan.
Bocelli sang alone in an empty cathedral. His only accompaniment was the organist Emanuele Vianelli, who played from a safe distance in the otherwise empty cathedral. Italy has one of the highest death rates from COVID-19, but the 61-year-old opera singer was not going to let the pandemic stop him from bringing hope to people on Easter Sunday.
Invited to perform the concert by the City of Milan, the tenor live-streamed a passionate solo performance on YouTube, titled “Andrea Bocelli: Music for Hope.” More a prayer than a performance, the April 12 presentation drew more than 22 million viewers online by Sunday’s end. By Monday night, the video had received 32 million views, prompting the entertainment news magazine Variety to remark, “Clearly it transcended religion, nationality, age and even music preference on its way to becoming perhaps the signature cultural event of the pandemic.”
Music for Hope included sweeping views of Milan, the capital of Lombardy—the region of Italy hardest hit by COVID-19. An introduction carried Bocelli’s voice-over Easter message, which referred to the pandemic with optimism.
“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,” he said. “It will be a joy to witness it, in the Duomo, during the Easter celebration, which evokes the mystery of birth and rebirth.”
Occasionally, the cameras turned away from the opera star to the empty rows of the cathedral or cut to drone footage of the barren streets of Milan, London, Paris and New York. While the stark emptiness highlighted the virus’s devastation, it also symbolized the resilience of entire nations battling the scourge by staying indoors.
“I will cherish the emotion of this unprecedented and profound experience, of this Holy Easter, which this emergency has made painful, but at the same time even more fruitful, one that will stay among my dearest memories of all time,” Bocelli said. “That feeling of being at the same time alone—as we all are in the presence of the Most High—yet of expressing the voice of the prayer of millions of voices, has deeply impressed and moved me.”
He added, “Love is a gift. Making it flow is the primary purpose of life.”
Bocelli’s selections included Cesar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus,” which sets to music a hymn written by Saint Thomas Aquinas, “Ave Maria” by Johann Sebastian Bach, “Sancta Maria” by Pietro Mascagni, and “Domine Deus” by Gioachino Rossini.
The climax of Bocelli’s performance following his walk through the cathedral into the empty Piazza del Duomo where he performed “Amazing Grace,” a soaring spiritual that is among the most beloved of Christian hymns of the past two centuries. When the sightless tenor sang the couplet, “I once was lost but now am found/Was blind but now I see,” the poignancy of his a cappella delivery was especially profound.
“As a symbol of music’s power to unite those separated by time, space or stay-at-home orders, Bocelli’s performance was flawless,” wrote Michael Andor Brodeur, the classical music critic of The Washington Post. “He sounded less like a star than a man crying out for his country.”
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