Andrea Bocelli performed in front of the Milan Cathedral.

RONALIFE IS PASSING ME BY

Musically. But that’s OK, it’s all still online.

Am I missing the thrill of the “live” performance? Maybe, but watching Andrea Bocelli’s Easter concert from the Milan cathedral later, sounds and looks exactly the same as it did live, and, I’ll wager, feels the same if you put yourself completely into it. In this case, absolutely thrilling, moving and inspirational. Everyone should allow themselves half an hour with no interruptions to experience it.

The sound, the song selection, the setting, the solo organ accompaniment, the brief but affecting words at the beginning and ditto the footage of empty city streets at the end, all perfect. When he stepped outside for the final number, an American gospel song sung in English, he looked so tiny when the camera backed up to show the entire magnificent cathedral rising to heaven behind him.

And please allow me a diversion here. I will always protest when someone says such cathedrals or the Vatican were an immoral waste of fortunes that could have been used to feed the poor. Lemme tell ya, the people who built them, or the Taj Mahal or the pyramids, were not thinking, let’s see, Sistine Chapel or millions to feed the poor, hmmm? What counts is that we now have them, the soul is transfigured in their presence, and millions have had that unique experience.

ART IS LIFE ITSELF

Something we ignore these days in America, to our peril. We certainly need more of it in Santa Monica, out where everyone can see it. The Duomo di Milano you saw Bocelli inside of and in front of is the second largest cathedral in Europe, after St. Peter’s. But it’s not the size. It is breathtaking for its setting, scale and design, especially to see in person, and like other religious art it is intended to elevate the human spirit to God (however you might want to define that). And to do so for centuries. Interestingly enough, the construction of the Duomo was begun in 1386 but not finished, final details, until 1965. Good things are worth waiting for. (Nearly half of it was completed in 16 years, then it took the conquering Napoleon to finish the famous facade, 400 years later.)

It is special among cathedrals, and a great source of pride to the Milanese. I mean, just look at it. I’ve been in more cathedrals than I can count, across Europe, on two continent-spanning year-long adventures. Some have reviled Il Duomo, like Oscar Wilde, others adored it, like Mark Twain. I’m with Mark Twain. Always.

Eight years ago my family had a very special tour of the Duomo, and Milan, from our then-new friend GianPaolo Corda. We met him and his wondrous wife Paula when we parked our campervan next to theirs in a camp in Budapest. Paolo is an architect and city planner and a recognized authority on his beloved home city. And a music fan of the highest order, with a great passion for and knowledge of jazz. He presented us with a treasure of his when we parted company, a thick CD box set of the Glenn Gould Gold Collection, with a 200-page book. I think of them every time I play it, or even see it.

We exchanged numbers and were delighted to get the invitation, if you are ever in Milano… But sometimes, when you are travelling a lot, that is perfunctory. It was not, and we later spent a few magical days with them there, finding out just what a sterling career Paula has had in several realms — we already knew from shared meals in Budapest what an out-of-this-world chef she is — and getting a unique tour of the city from Paolo, including the Duomo. Few who step inside get the inside scoop he gave us. So it was especially meaningful to me to see again this magnificent edifice, inside and out.

AMAZING GRACE

Bocelli’s final number, the only one not in Italian or Latin, is an amazing composition, for many reasons. It is probably the best-known song in the English-speaking world, estimated to be sung 10 million times a year. It is a gospel song and significant particularly in black American history and culture, yet the words were written in 1779 by the absolutely fascinating English poet and clergyman, and former slave trader, John Newton. It was attached to maybe 20 different melodies until landing in 1847 on the one we know today, which seems like the perfect marriage.

As a simple, short confessional of hope and redemption it is a masterpiece of emotion, sung in this case by a man who has been blind since age 12. It was significant that Bocelli stepped outside to sing this one to the world, out in the world. The entire performance was superb and meaningful but his “Amazing Grace” brought me to tears.

Yes, I know, what I missed was one of the intentions of the performance, to unite the world at that moment, on Easter, with songs of hope, rebirth and love. And of all the recent terrific live performances, that stands out as one to experience in the moment. But I also got the impact watching later. I wasn’t disdainful of such high purpose, I just wasn’t free at that hour. Hadn’t scheduled it on my busy calendar. I’m still working, ya know, plus trying to catch up on a lifetime of accumulation and neglect.

SOME GREAT STUFF

We are seeing some remarkable art come out of this quarantine. The baddest storm clouds do have a silver lining. It’s impossible to keep up with it all, and also to know what will be mind blowing and what will be meh, because it’s live and anything can happen.

I stumbled upon a “live” performance the other night of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” one of my favorite musicals. Great songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. I was lucky enough to see the original touring show, with Ben Vereen, when it rolled into Albuquerque.

This one had John Legend as JC, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, Alice Cooper as Pilate and a powerful Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas. But though it intermittently flashed “LIVE!” on the screen, it was shot in 2018. Haven’t watched it yet but am really anticipating it. I don’t think the fact that it was broadcast live two Easters ago will make any difference.

The big change now is most of us, except those heroes in the thick of it, from medical to mail carriers to delivery persons, have more time to watch things like this, and that’s great. Now, where’s that pile of books that have been collecting dust?

NICOLE RECOMMENDS:

AQUARIUM DRUNKARD RADIO — (“Weird times, strange signals” is the apt slogan for Aquarium Drunkard, a 24/7 streaming pirate radio station “for heads, by heads,” featuring top notch selections by global guest DJs, rare recordings, specialty shows, listener requests, interviews and more, varying in genre but always with their finger on the pulse.) — visit https://aquariumdrunkard.com/2020/03/27/radio-free-aquarium-drunkard/ to listen live.

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

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