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July 20, 2018

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Review: Andrea Bocelli, soprano Aida Garifullina soar in MGM spotlight

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Glenn Pinkerton / Las Vegas News Bureau

Aida Garifullina dances with Andrea Bocelli during their concert Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Andrea Bocelli at MGM Grand

Andrea Bocelli headlines Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Launch slideshow »
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Aida Garifullina performs during the Andrea Bocelli concert Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

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Aida Garifullina performs with Andrea Bocelli during their concert Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

It would be difficult to steal the spotlight from Italian superstar Andrea Bocelli, “the world’s most beloved tenor,” but 28-year-old Russian soprano Aida Garifullina nearly did so Saturday night during the “Cinema World Tour” stop at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Garifullina is equally talented and beautiful and commanded the stage with her vocals, looks and ball gowns solo and with Bocelli through riveting and show-stopping numbers including “Je Veux Vivre” from “Romeo and Juliet” and the duets with Bocelli on “Il Canto Della Terra” and “Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye).”

Bocelli, however, is no slouch, and Saturday evening was an exemplary occasion and his night — a night for men to dress up in tuxedos and women in full-length gowns and somewhere in between (jackets and LBDs), as on the low end were a few men in hoodies (really?).

In a first for the annual and usually punctual Bocelli concert — this journalist’s fourth in five years — at MGM Grand, the performance began 20 minutes late, at 8:20 p.m. No matter, as Bocelli’s concert has become a much-appreciated and highly anticipated annual holiday gift in Las Vegas.

Saturday night’s lineup included Music Director Eugene Kohn, guest artist Heather Headley (Broadway’s “Aida”), violinist Caroline Campbell (in a ravishing red gown), flutist Andrea Griminelli and, in a surprise, music uber-producer David Foster, who, after being introduced by Bocelli, said, “It’s good to be back in Las Vegas.”

Among the many highlights of the classy, elegant and lush evening, which included cinematic nods to screen legends Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, “The Godfather” and more:

* Big, powerful and long notes by Bocelli. Many of them throughout the evening, and fans show their appreciation with thundering applause and loud screams.

* Bocelli notes Garifullina’s beauty — “I am so fortunate to be working with such a beautiful soprano” — after one song playfully lifts her up, ball gown and all, then in another song dances with her.

* Shortly after being introduced, Foster requests that Bocelli sing a few bars of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” since we’re in Las Vegas, which the latter obliges wonderfully in English.

* The two shiver-inducing performances: Bocelli’s “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera” and Headley’s now-classic and spellbinding interpretation of “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz.”

* And the most emotional: flutist Griminelli’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” from “The Mission,” as it unexpectedly elicited long-forgotten memories from my first year of Jesuit Catholic education at Gonzaga University.

Another wonderful aspect of Bocelli’s “Cinema World Tour”: He works with an orchestra and choir from the host city. On Saturday night, it was the Las Vegas Festival Orchestra (a combination of Los Angeles recording musicians and freelance Las Vegas musicians) and the choir Southern Nevada Musical Arts Society.

The night’s only missed opportunity: There was no “The Prayer,” a fan-favorite duet with Celine Dion, and Bocelli and Headley would have soared with it. But it’s a minor quibble, like asking for a second helping of dessert after a very satisfying and decadent multicourse meal.

Saturday night’s setlist included “Triumphal Chorus” from “Aida” by Kohn, orchestra and choir, “La Mia Letizia Infondere” from “I Lombardi,” “Di Quella Pira” from “Il Trovatore,” “Je Veux Vivre” from “Romeo and Juliet” (by Garifullina), “Ave Maria,” “Addio Alla Madre” from “Cavalleria Rusticana,” “Brindisi” from “Cavalleria Rusticana,” “Fantasy for Flute and Violin” from “Carmen” (by Campbell and Griminelli), “T’amo, E Il Sol Dell’Anima, Addio, Addio” from “Rigoletto” (a duet with Garifullina) and “Brindisi: Libiamo, Libiamo” from “La Traviata.”

After the 20-minute “interval,” the fancy word for intermission at a Bocelli performance:

A medley from “The Sound of Music” — including “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “So Long, Farewell” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” — by Kohn, orchestra and choir, “Moon River,” “Maria” from “West Side Story,” “America” from “West Side Story” (by violinist Campbell), “The Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera,” “Brucia La Terra” from “The Godfather,” “Gabriel’s Oboe” from “The Mission” (by flutist Griminelli), “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” (by Headley), “Be My Love,” Cheek to Cheek” (with Headley) and the beautiful “Il Canto Della Terra” with the equally beautiful Garifullina.

The encores: “Nelle Tue Mani (Now We Are Free)” from “Gladiator,” “Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye)” (with Garifullina) and “Nessun Dorma.”

Bocelli and his wife, Veronica, have been in Las Vegas at least twice this year as honorees of the Keep Memory Alive Center at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in downtown Symphony Park.

Soprano Maria Aleida joined Bocelli on Tuesday, Dec. 2, at U.S. Airway Center in Phoenix; she has performed with Bocelli at MGM Grand in past concerts. The “Cinema World Tour” takes Bocelli and company to Madison Square Garden in New York tonight, Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Saturday and Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

Until next year.

Don Chareunsy is the Las Vegas Sun’s entertainment and luxury senior editor and has been a journalist for nearly two decades.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

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