- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Andrea Bocelli, the Italian tenor who has put his beautiful voice to work melding operatic and pop musical sensibilities, headlines “A Royal Christmas,” a variety show on stage tonight at 8 at the MCI Center. He joins a cast of 175, including an orchestra, chorus, ballet dancers and other featured singers, to perform Christmas songs, selections from “The Nutcracker Suite” and Ukrainian folk dances.

What won’t be on the program is Mr. Bocelli’s signature song, “Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye),” which has sold 28 million recordings to date. It’s not that Mr. Bocelli has grown tired of performing it: “You sing to make people happy,” the tenor says by phone from Italy. “So you can’t grow tired of singing something that makes people happy.”

However, “Con Te Partiro” doesn’t fit with the Christmas theme of the program or with Mr. Bocelli’s approach to the holiday, which focuses on the divine. “This is a different concept from what I have done before in America in live performance,” he says, noting that he has “done many concerts with the repertoire of the Italian tenor.”

Mr. Bocelli’s contribution to the show will not consist of standard Christmas material. Much of what he plans to sing is Christmas music only in the larger sense that it is music about Jesus Christ.

The songs will come from his 1999 CD “Sacred Arias” (material that also was featured in a recent “Great Performances” special for PBS). “Sacred Arias” includes a few seasonal favorites, such as “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” but the CD is devoted primarily to sacred music appropriate to any season, including the “Domine Deus” from Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solonnelle” and three versions (Caccini, Bach/Gounod, and Schubert) of “Ave Maria.”

Some of the more traditionally popular Christmas repertoire will be handled by Denyce Graves, the lovely mezzo-soprano and Washington native. She is taking a break from her packed schedule performing the title role in “Carmen” at New York’s Metropolitan Opera to be part of the “Royal Christmas.”

Mr. Bocelli will join Miss Graves in at least one duet. Pleasantly surprising for such an extravaganza, some of the musical selections are still up in the air. Mr. Bocelli and Miss Graves are still deciding what they will sing together.

Mr. Bocelli recognizes that putting on a Christmas variety show is just the sort of thing that antagonizes his detractors among the opera-purist set — but he believes the popularity of his approach can only help broaden audiences for the straightforward opera he also performs. (Mr. Bocelli has recorded complete versions of “Pagliacci” and “Carmen” that are still in the pipeline for future release.)

“I think that if the audience likes me, they will follow me,” he says.

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