Staging an operatic event in a theatre that dates back millennia is usually the kind of event you’d associate with Italy. Verona is perhaps the most famous but there are venues in Rome and elsewhere. Italy doesn’t, though, have the monopoly on ancient sites and this week has seen one of its country’s greatest singers, Andrea Bocelli, choosing one such site outside his homeland to launch his new world tour.
Jerash in Jordan is a vast Greco-Roman site – the largest and best preserved outside Italy itself – with two theatres, two Roman baths, a hippodrome, arches, fountains, colonnaded streets and a vast oval Forum which was the setting for Bocelli’s concert. With an audience of thousands, it was the Forum they chose as the setting for the concert, though one of the theatres would have perhaps been more atmospheric and have had a far better acoustic. It wouldn’t, though, have had such an enormous stage for the 160 artists appearing alongside Bocelli (including a couple of dancers who managed with a very small space indeed).
The backdrop was nothing short of sensational with the columns of the Temple of Zeus behind the stage on one side and the curved wall of the Roman theatre on the other. In front of all this was an orchestra that included musicians from both the Hungarian Opera House Orchestra and the Jordanian National Music Conservatory as well as the Jordanian Fountain of Love Choir.
There were guest artists, too. Carisma, a guitar duo, were particularly strong in Granada backed by the orchestra and with Bocelli singing. Two sopranos sang alone and in duets with Bocelli. Elisa Balbo was delightfully flirtatious in Les Filles de Cadiz while the Jordanian soprano, Dima Bawab, received a rapturous welcome from the home crowd and admitted to fulfilling her childhood dream of singing with Bocelli. The first half was mostly popular operatic arias and duets – La Donna e mobile, O mio babbino caro and Brindisi from La Traviata. The second half mined Bocelli’s natural ease with a more popular repertoire including Neopolitan songs and musicals – everything from Funiculi Funicula to Maria from West Side Story. This went down a storm with the audience and also featured Ilaria Della Bidia, a regular on Bocelli’s tours and described as the “guest pop artist” but with much more range than that might imply.
There were several encores, including the inevitable Nessum Dorma, and the audience response was rapturous – I don’t think Bocelli could have hoped for a better start to his tour. This is a big year for him with not only his world tour but a new album, Romanza, and also a film of his life coming soon.
As for Jerash, this was quite an event as a first-toe-in-the-water as a major music venue. We can only hope they look at operas in the Roman theatre next – I can’t imagine a more stunning venue.
Anna was a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board and stayed at the Le Royal Hotel in central Amman. Prices at the Le Royal in Amman start at £95 for an Atrium King Inside View Room Royal Jordanian operates daily flights from London Heathrow to Amman. Experience the comfort of our Boeing 787 Dreamliner and enjoy our genuine Jordanian hospitality. Fares starting from £525. For more information please visit the Royal Jordanian website.