I’ve always known that the mix of pop music and classical singing is one of the most popular music styles in Italy. What I didn’t know until last night’s Il Volo concert was that it is “Fan Girl” (Fan Woman, Fan Grown Man…) levels of popular. Numerous standing ovations, countless screaming fans, and more than one mid-show selfie told me I was not in Kansas any more; and the energy, excitement, and passion of Italy was clearly brought to Washington, DC for one wildly entertaining night.
Making their Kennedy Center debut, the Italian pop opera trio might have been nervous, but you never would have been able to tell. They packed their 90-minute performance with breath taking technique and a school boy excitement that kept both the Italian and English speakers in the audience laughing. Starting with an impressive lightshow, the orchestra rock band fusion put the party into full motion with the album titled single “Grande Amore,” but the applause changed into deafening cheers as one by one, Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto, and Gianluca Ginoble appeared.
Immediately they launched into a rapid-fire set of popular Italian hits, including the Dean Martin staple “Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu (Volare).” Toe tapping from the start, you couldn’t help but dance in your seat. Breaking into duets and solos, they rotated through “Memory” from Cats, “Il Canto,” and “Beautiful That Way” taking the audience through a full range of emotions. A range also represented in the personalities of each member. Ignazio was the goofy, fun loving type who reminded me of a mixture of Ben Platt (Benji from Pitch Perfect) and the now all too grown-up Matthew Lewis, while Gianluca was all about playing the cool Italian, constantly winking and waving at the many adoring ladies in the audience.
But it was Piero, the pop opera Justin Timberlake of the group, who couldn’t help but stand out from his fellow singer. His interpretation of Puccini aria “E lucevan le stelle” was simply stunning and on more than one occasion his Plácido Domingo-like tambour caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end.
Clearly close friends with each other and the members of their band, the trio threaded a delightfully and purposefully accented banter through out the show. Their hat tip bit to The Godfather’s Sicilian accents went off the rails when Ignazio ended up with too much bread in his mouth to be able to deliver a few famous Marlon Brando lines, causing Piero to nearly collapse to the floor in laughter.
Sometimes electing to sit along the front of the stage, they sang of love arm-in-arm in “Eternally” or “Unchained Melody” (during which several couples in the audiences put their arms around one another and swayed to the beat); and at other times they stretched the corners of the stage into the audience such as with the high energy “Delilah.”
And I certainly have never seen anything more Italian than their triumphant faces after the end of particularly long and/or high ending notes than when an audience member handed each a bouquet of a dozen red roses. Grazie, bella. But it was Piero and Gianluca’s tribute to Frank Sinatra (Gianluca’s idol) and Luciano Pavarotti (Piero’s idol) in the duet of “My Way” that really stole the show for me. Their sincere, nearly matching version of the classic duet showed just how much music has meant and continues to mean of this wonderfully talented trio.
By the end of the night, I had no doubt they would find much success as they continue along this 35-city tour of the U.S. and it seems now only inevitable that I’ll be checking out their album, Grande Amore, whenever I’m in need of a big, fun, schmaltzy, Italian pick-me-up.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Il Volo played for one night only on February 19, 2016 at The Kennedy Center – 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC. For future performances and information: call (800) 444-1324, or check out the Kennedy Center’s calendar of events.