I’m from Colorado but made a trip home to New Jersey to have an Italian weekend with my old college buddy Biagio and his Calabrese family, my Venetian/Napolitana good friend Rosaria, my Aunt Florence whose family is from Avellino, and my cousin Ken. I topped it all off with the Il Volo concert in Atlantic City – two more Siciliani and a Rosetone from Abruzzo. . . With this crew, we had most of southern Italy covered.
The Atlantic City Borgata Casino concert proved to be many firsts for me. In the past I’ve only heard Il Volo in outdoor venues in Italy. This concert was my first time see Il Volo in the US, my first time to hear them in an indoor theater, my first time to attend a soundcheck, and my first time to hear them with my family and friends.
Since I had never attended an Il Volo soundcheck before, I had no idea how tense the guys can be before a performance, and how tough they are on themselves while they’re preparing for the show. Our small group’s entry into the soundcheck was delayed several times because of Il Volo’s personal dynamic on the rehearsal stage that day. I was surprised, but also impressed, by several things I observed.
1. Gianluca is a perfectionist and when critiquing the rehearsal, did not even spare himself. Because some of us at the soundcheck understood Italian, the guys could not hide the sharp exchanges they do in Italian to get each song perfect. For example, while we were walking in, Gian was urging Ignazio to change how he comes in on Nessun Dorma. He was identifying note sbagliate (wrong notes) and some parts of the interpretation that made that songbrutto (ugly). He sang Ignazio’s entry and repeated it with a higher lift so they could hear and change it.
2. Much to Ignazio’s credit, he listened patiently and adapted instantly. When they sang Nessun Dorma in concert, it was perfect. I was impressed with Ignazio’s flexibility, Gianluca’s professionalism, and how fast they shifted gears before showtime. Despite the tough criticism and hard work beforehand, by the time the show opened, Gian was laughing, smiling, waving, and playing with the crowd like normal, and Gian and Igna were hugging and hanging all over each other, as usual.
3. I had no idea Piero is such a complete and utter gentleman. He took the time to come downstage, talk to us and make us feel comfortable despite the working tension on stage. He made us welcome, asked us about ourselves, and actually listened. Throughout the rehearsal, he clued us in on which number they were going to rehearse next, and thanked us repeatedly for our patience. He also jokingly asked if these front section seats were our actual seats during the show. For some of us, they were. By the way, I never knew that Piero’s speaking voice when he’s right up close to you was so soft and dark. He sings tenor but speaks in a velvety almost baritone. He apparently never raises his speaking voice before a show, to save the volume and power for the stage. Ragazzo intelligente. Smart boy.
Piero had noticed how empty Atlantic City is for a beach town. He wondered out loud to us what people actually do around there. The answer? “Giocano a carte e perdono soldi.” They play cards and lose money. Piero himself had dragged some of the Il Volo crew down to the casino the previous night. He insisted he didn’t lose any money. Maybe that’s because he spent his time in the casino taking selfies with fans who spotted him. A few of the fans I met during the VIP reception had done that.
At sound check, I took some close-up photos of each of the guys running around in their warm-up clothes, hanging all over Gianpiero’s piano, calling instructions to the sound guys, and visiting with us. Sorry I cannot share the pictures. Marianna, the fan manager at this location, said we could take all the soundcheck pictures we wanted, but insisted we cannot post any of them on social media. The concert pictures are a different story.
On to the Show
First off, they did not wear any white suits this time, so Ignazio did not have to complain he looked like a white salami or an ice cream vendor.
After they opened with The Ecstasy of Gold, Piero explained what was so special about the Atlantic City Borgata Casino. That helped me understand why the guys had been so stressed earlier that day. I didn’t know that Il Volo’s very first concert on their first tour in the US, when they were young kids starting out, was on this exact stage at the Borgata. The New Jersey, Delaware, and Philadelphia fans who come here every year were the first to accept them back when they were 16 years old. Since then, the guys try to make every return performance there more powerful than the last one, so they put themselves under a lot of pressure.
Piero described Il Volo’s first Atlantic City concert describing themselves as novice performers, just young kids. Ignazio described the three of them as little “cuties.” Piero played dumb and insisted he didn’t understand what “cutie” is in English. Piero asked the audience if they know what “cutie” sounds like to an Italian, then gave an Italian lesson. In Italian it’s not “cutie,” it’s chiudi, as in chiudi la porta (shut the door). Of course, nobody shut the door on them when they were young performers, which is partly why they are where they are today.
Piero promised they would perform some Italian favorites, some American favorites, some opera, and of course some selections from the late Maestro Morricone. If you follow the Flight Crew you have all seen this season’s approximate song list in other postings, so I won’t repeat it. I will highlight a few of the surprises I enjoyed, and some of the funnies.
I liked how they freshened up the act by replacing some of the solos. One of the new ones was Ignazio interpreting Celine Dionne’s version of “All by Myself,” even though that was not originally her song. Gianluca wanted to know why Ignazio insisted on singing a song about “Obama’s Elf,” or at least that’s what it sounds like with Ignazio’s accent.
I was looking forward to Gianluca doing “If I Can Dream” because I heard him rehearsing it at the soundcheck. He really nailed it for all its worth that night. His version was hot, bluesy, and rocked in a way Elvis Presley never did.
The ragazzi reintroduced Tom Jones’ Delilah, which they have not done on stage in some years, but they added a twist. They no longer finish the song with a shoving match as they used to do when they were teens. This time, Piero added a remarkably long sustain, and Ignazio chose to almost growl his lines about “the knife in my hand” and “she laughed no more.” They are not little boys any more.
I have never heard them do the Great Caruso or Funiculi Funicula in concert before, except on a CD. Of course, Il Volo got drowned out by the front section of the audience who all know the words to Funiculi Funicula and insisted on singing along. It reminded me of concerts in the Teatro Antico in Taormina.
Gianluca spent a good part of the concert patting Ignazio’s pancia (belly) and teasing him “No more cannoli for you.” Ignazio claimed he had gained 10 kilos since the last tour, but didn’t care, then promptly told Gianluca to cut it out. Igna recited to the audience the Italian expression “Uomo di pancia, uomo di sostanza.” He didn’t translate it, but he didn’t have to with this very Italian-American audience. (Man with a belly is a man of substance). The fact is, he really doesn’t have a belly.
I had really liked Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah from the first time I heard it in a Nicholas Cage movie. I knew Gianluca and Ignazio have been doing it in the middle of their program as a memorial to those lost over the last two and a half years. But I had no idea how moving and soulful their version is.
It was a delightful surprise that Piero and Ignazio chose to add La Donna e Mobile to the program. Even though that piece has the most chauvinistic, insulting, anti-female lyrics ever written, it’s still a great song. I took my daughter-in-law Anya to hear Verdi’s Rigoletto last summer performed by Central City Opera, so I have recently heard it live. But Central City’s tenor couldn’t touch Il Volo’s two tenors, who simply blew him away. Ignazio’s interpretation was creative and flat out powerful. Piero revealed that when Ignazio first brought up the idea to duet this with him, Piero told him he was crazy. However, they had so much fun practicing it with their voice coaches, they decided to let the rest of us in on the fun, and the result was amazing.
All the people I interviewed before the show wanted to send “Auguri” and other greetings to Ignazio on a card in anticipation of his birthday on October 4. So, we collectively wrote him a handmade birthday card. If you’ve ever heard Ignazio joking on American stages, he often laments that they don’t have decent Italian coffee like Lavazza or Illy in the US. He also complains that Americans drink coffee in a mug the size of a swimming pool. During soundcheck earlier in the day, I waved our handmade card to ask him if I could send it up to the stage later during the show. He thumbed up that it would be OK. But I deliberately didn’t show the back of it to him at that time.
What he didn’t know was that the funny-looking creased piece of cardboard we wrote on was the back of a Lavazza coffee poster. It seems Igna was wrong about Americans and our coffee: we do have some good coffee here, at least in Italian communities. You should have seen his face when he got the card in his hands, turned the used cardboard over and saw the coffee ad. He was looking around but couldn’t find anyone in the crowd to make a face at. (Or more likely gestures; you know how he is). But he had already gotten even with us birthday greeters well before he got the card. Early in the show he announced to someone near the stage who was wishing him happy birthday that, “It’s bad luck to wish someone happy birthday before it’s their birthday.” I heard that, but it did not stop me sending the card to the stage anyway. My thanks to Sandra Libretto from Delaware, a major Ignazio fan sitting next to me, who wanted to carry the card up to him on stage. Thanks also to her husband Bob for letting her climb out over him in a rush to do that for us.
Most of you have probably already seen Piero and Ignazio do their “Sicilian sign language” and heard Gianluca joke about having to deal with two Sicilians all day every day. This time when Gianluca made his usual complaint, and asked if anyone out in the audience was Sicilian (so he wouldn’t offend anyone) the whole front center section started shouting at him. He was outnumbered. Before the show, many people in our section were talking to each other in our various dialects and most of us in fact were Sicilian or Calabrese. The man behind me was from Sciacca, Sicily (not far from Piero’s home), my family is from Palermo, and Biagio’s family is from near Cosenza, Calabria. We all understood each other and of course the two Il Volo Sicilians, as well as Gianluca the “honorary Sicilian,” understood us when even when we shouted things in dialect at them.
The Covid years have not stopped the guys from roaming the aisles and playing with the fans during the show. While they sang Here’s to You from Sacco and Vanzetti Piero came down my aisle and was fist-bumping, high-fiving, hugging and selfie-ing like the old days.
Normally, if you want a selfie with Piero, he takes the phone from you and takes the picture for you. But the lady behind me had her phone ready to go, and he let her do-it-herself, as you can see.
You can tell how multi-talented Ignazio is, by watching just a few minutes on stage. Beside his singing, he played the piano to jazz up Torna a Surriento, “conducted” the orchestra with his hands on several numbers, and announced Piero and Gian’s duet of My Way with the long, roaring rumble of a boxing emcee announcing a prize fight. Piero shook his head teasing that with this crowd, Ignazio even got un applauso(an ovation) for eating a piece of bread behind the piano.
Let me explain. One of the most remarkable things I saw at this show was something I’ve never seen at any concert, ever. In my day, I’ve seen all kinds of stuff sent up to performing artists on stage, from love beads to flowers to hotel room keys. You may even have heard the story about some young lady throwing her brassiere on stage to Gianluca, with her phone number pinned inside. But this concert was a first. A sweet little old lady struggled up my aisle hauling a huge double-thick paper shopping bag full of home-made Italian food. When Ignazio caught sight of her, there was no stopping him. He started waving and gesturing to everybody in our aisle to get out of his way and let her through, because she’s coming for him. Then he personally came down to get the bag from her. Two songs later, Ignazio was behind the piano eating fresh Italian bread. Welcome to Il Volo in the New Jersey, Philadelphia Italian–American style.
I think one of the best things about Il Volo is that they have great fans. For two days I had so much fun meeting and interviewing fans from all around the NJ, Philadelphia, Delaware area, that I decided I need to do a whole second article. Thank you to everyone who wrote birthday greetings to Ignazio, and to every fan who let me interview them. You’ll get to meet them in my next article.