While his breakthrough CD Romanza confirmed that Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli could deliver extraordinary vocal performances, his DVD, Sacred Arias, shows why and how Bocelli came to stand among today's most beloved voices. The video cuts back and forth from a performance at the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome, in March 1999, to interviews and footage of Bocelli with his family and friends. Director William Cosel has captured Rome in wonderful, enchanting shots, while focusing closely on Bocelli and his favorite spots in the Eternal City. Drawing on his boyhood love for sacred songs, Bocelli performs 17 classics, including Verdi's "Va, Pensiero," Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," and Bach's "Ave Maria." Bocelli speaks about his early days growing up in Italy and attending church, when his love for this luminous music began to take shape. In performance, close-ups show Bocelli delivering fantastically difficult musical passages, while surrounded by the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Roma, in a spectacle befitting his vast talents. His music may touch hearts worldwide, but this is an ideal chance for Bocelli's fans to know him as a man.
Sacred Arias followed Andrea Bocelli's successful mainstream effort Sogno by a matter of months -- a release strategy that suggests he wanted to shore up his classical audience after a pop-leaning effort. That's nonsense, however. For lack of a better term, Sacred Arias is a holiday album, released in November, just in time for Christmas. For much of Bocelli's audience, given that the arias are religious songs, they are holiday songs as well -- after all, "Ave Maria," which leads off the album, is an integral part of the holiday season, and "Silent Night" and "Adeste Fideles" are also here. But Sacred Arias is more than just a holiday record. It contains other arias that aren't specifically about Christmas, plus selections like Wagner's "Der Engel," which isn't religious. Nevertheless, the album holds together fairly well, since the arrangements are of a piece, and Bocelli performs each in his signature style. He may not offer new interpretations of these standards, nor is his phrasing particularly unique, but nevertheless, he does deliver spirited performances of strong, albeit familiar, music in a way that's accessible to a wide audience. That's reason enough for fans to add this to their collections, especially as it is his first collection of arias and religious music. [The 2003 edition of Sacred Arias includes a live concert DVD, filmed in Rome.]