Today it is exactly seven months to the day, since I was supposed to see Il Volo in the US for the first time. It would have been my third Il Volo concert. As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the last three shows of Il Volo’s 10th Anniversary USA tour. The third of the cancelled shows was going to be the grand finale at the Pearl Theater at the Palms Casino in mid-March.
Since Il Volo was going to perform in Las Vegas, home of all Elvis impersonators, good and terrible, I was looking forward to how many Elvis songs they might do (“Surrender/Sorriento,” “It’s Now or Never/O Sole Mio,” “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” etc.)
Maybe they would even do a little Freddie Mercury, while playing around at soundcheck. I understood a certain high tenor named Boschetto does that sometimes with backup harmony from the others. And, of course, Il Volo appeared with “La Streisand” when she had a residency at one of the clubs on the Vegas Strip 10 years ago. I thought they might do “Smile” as they did with her back then.
Strange as it sounds, I was also looking forward to hearing the guys do the scripted joke routine that they do repeatedly in English on American stages. Even though it may be “old hat” to Americans who have been to multiple Il Volo concerts in this country, the well-rehearsed wisecracks and gimmicks in English would have been new to me.
You see, the only two Il Volo concerts I’ve ever been to were both in Italia. The guys, relaxed and on their home turf there, didn’t do their usual routine, but instead did spontaneous jokes suitable to the locale. For example, at the Lecce concert in 2019, Ignazio admitted he no longer had a fidanzata (girlfriend) and was “available.” As an afterthought, he remarked that maybe he needed to find a nice Salentina girl from among the local Lecce young ladies. (They are very slender and very dark, and as a rule very beautiful.) That caused a predictable response: a flock of young Salentina girls, dressed up for the occasion, tried to rush the stage. Igna didn’t seem to mind at all. He seems to like to cause a disturbance, then take it all in stride, while the other two want to know “Ma cosa sta combinando, ora?” (What is he stirring up now)?
And of course, in Taormina, Sicily, when Ignazio started razzing Piero about his chopped off summer haircut, it was in Sicilian slang (which I won’t repeat here). He was implying, with rude words, that Piero cut it himself. If you know Piero, you know that his usual response to that kind of thing from Ignazio is, “Ma che te ne frega?” So, what do you care? Actually, I thought Piero’s summer haircut looked fine. Check out the picture below from Italy last July. What do you think?
By the way, Piero does occasionally cut his own hair. During the period when he was in voluntary quarantine after first returning to Italy this March, I saw him video-chatting with Gianluca. He proudly announced that he cut his hair himself, then lifted some of it with his fingers and showed the shorn part of the side of his head, where he nearly scalped himself bald with the razor. Gianluca responded that he would never consider cutting his own hair. His own hair has to be done expertly, because it’s so curly and unmanageable. He said this with a completely straight face. I couldn’t tell if he was serious. With these guys, you never know.
But I digress. As I said, I had never heard Il Volo do their scherzi (stage jokes) in English, and the Pearl Concert Theater in Las Vegas was going to be the place. Of course, as we know, it didn’t happen.
I was excited about Las Vegas because I thought I was going to have three opportunities to see the guys up close and maybe visit for a minute or two. As it was: 1) My ticket included something called a Meet & Greet. At first I didn’t even know what that was. 2) I was signed up for access to the soundcheck before the show. 3) I was signed up for the Fan Faire get-together with the guys which is hosted in Las Vegas by Myron Heaton and Jeanette Giglio at the lucky Penny Café at the Palms Casino Resort, where the theater is, and where I was staying. Three for three. I thought I had hit the Trifecta.
I had already met Jana VandeLaare, of Flight Crew fame, by phone when we decided to share my apartment in the Palms Place for a few days around the show. She kept me informed by text as soon as she started hearing murmurs that the boys might need to cancel this show and go right home due to COVID-19-related travel issues. I was on board my flight from Denver and taxiing out to the runway, when I got her text that it was likely cancelled! My mouth fell open as I squirmed with disappointment in my seat belt. It was too late to do anything except go on to Las Vegas.
Yes, the heartbreak was final after I got to the Palms Casino. Jana, who had cancelled her trip, asked me to go and confirm the cancellation at the theater box office as soon as I got there. When I did, it seems that the theater people, God bless them, had no idea what was going on and did not have the inside info that Jana already had. When I asked them about the show, the young desk agent I spoke to told me something like:
“The band is OK with it and it’s still on.”
He was wrong on three counts out of three. Il Volo is not a “band;” they were not “OK with it” (performing in a close crowd during a viral epidemic); and it was not “still on.”
The theater’s delayed reaction to the facts had one nice side effect. The staff was unable to remove the Il Volo concert advertisements all over the casino, theatre, hotel hallways, in-room televisions, and outdoor marquee. Everywhere I turned for the next several days, including all night on my apartment TV, I saw this:
Although two out of three events were now gone, at least the Fan Faire people chose to have their get-together anyway. It would be a good way for the fans still in town to get to visit with each other, even though there would be no Il Volo guys this time.
Until then, I had two days to myself in Las Vegas, but I don’t know how to gamble. I’m an engineering geek, so I just had to visit the Atomic Testing Museum, and I’m a Sicilian Jew from “New Joisey,” so of course I had to visit the Mob Museum. That place was so “familiar” to me it was almost funny. More than once, while looking at some of the old photos of Sicilian-American and Jewish-American mobsters, I did a double-take, thinking I recognized one of my old relatives.
I used the time to talk to all the young people working at these places to promote Il Volo, and was surprised to find out how many kids were interested in opera and bel canto music. That was a pleasant surprise, and not what I expected from hardened Las Vegas natives.
On Sunday before the Fan Faire I just had to do something Italian. I jogged up to the Venetian Casino on the north end of the Strip, past Caesar’s Palace. As kitschy and artificial as the place is, it still made me homesick for the “old country” as we used to call it.
I came across this singing toy dog who does “O Sole Mio” in alternating Italian and English (“It’s Now or Never”). Do you suppose that was copied from you-know-who? It was cute, but the tenor voice they recorded in the singing dog was not that great. Jana later said the dog reminds her of Ignazio’s mustache. Have a look.
The singing gondoliers rowing guests all over the indoor canal were iffy, except for the older baritone. He was impressive – a mature voice, dark and smooth.
This authentic Venetian gondola below is there for display only, and is not used in the faux canals. The black paint job is traditional, and became law in the 15th or 16th century, to stop wealthier Venetians outdoing each other with their outlandish, gaudily-painted, plush luxury vehicles. The seven arms on the white mast represent seven of the main islands of Venice. The one arm facing backwards represents the Jewish quarter on Cannaregio.
At least the rock and pop music outside on the piazza was in Italian. As I picnic lunched there, I recognized some of the modern Italian music I heard in espresso bars and on cab drivers’ radios the last two years in Sicily and Puglia, and also some Italian hip hop thing that I knew the words to. I had heard Ernie and Gianluca singing it once when they were goofing around on Instagram. Have you ever heard Ernie sing? His voice is as deep as Gianluca’s baritone.
I ate below this bridge facing Las Vegas Boulevard. It’s supposed to be a reduced-scale model of the Ponte di Rialto across the Grand Canal in Venice. Except this one has a Walgreen’s Drugstore and fast-food chain next door.
Do you remember this view from below the Ponte di Rialto, half a career ago? It was posted on the Flight Crew page some years back. It’s the “same bridge” I photographed, but it has a better view in the foreground.
Here’s an update of the foreground – Venice has been undergoing restoration.
This view from the bridge isn’t bad either. Las Vegas’ Venetian Rialto didn’t have anything like this.
The Fan Faire people turned out to be superb and sweet. Thank you to Myron and Jeannette for having the dinner. Myron, Jeanette, Linda, Diane, (and I’m sure I missed several others) all told me Il Volo stories. I like Myron’s story best. He had sent flowers to Italy when the Boschetto’s grandpa died. Assuming Il Volo was back on tour, he telephoned Nina Boschetto’s pizzeria, to ask her if the flowers had gotten there in time for the funeral. When Nina couldn’t understand him very well, she asked him to wait until she could find someone in the pizzeria who understood English. Guess who came to the phone to interpret for Nina?
The Fan Faire bunch took this group photo before we left. I’m the Sicilian runt, the one whose head barely reaches above the sign.
The Las Vegas that didn’t happen was valuable despite Il Volo’s cancellation. Without it, I would not have met Jana and Pat, the Fan Faire folks, and Daniela and the rest of the Flight Crew, and I would not have started writing to all of you.
I also came home all cranked up about helping in some way. I understood we need to develop something akin to Fan Faire for when Il Volo next comes to Denver, whenever that will be. It’s been several years since they’ve been here, so I’m hopeful that when touring eventually resumes Denver will be back on the schedule. More importantly, I have heard the guys often say that their favorite concert events are where there are lots of young people. We really need the next generation to catch their fire. I repeatedly hear the guys say they want to and need to get in front of kids. And we need to make their next trip to the mountains better than the last time. Piero had an attack of cold-induced asthma on one trip, and Denver Airport nearly lost one of his suitcases (with his eyeglass collection) on another.
I’ve been learning my way around the music community here in Denver to create settings to get Il Volo in front of kids to give them more publicity among their own generation. Folks that I know are involved in the University of Denver’s opera school, and their youth vocal program, who would love to hold something Italian and interactive between their vocal students, or their children’s chorale, and Il Volo. I even started visiting with managers of Italian restaurants in downtown Denver, and found one who would love to host a Fan Faire-type event at their place near the Pepsi Center or the Opera House. The Dante Alighieri Society (Italian language, food, and culture society) would probably spoil the Il Volo guys, feed them (knowing their allergies and special diets), and throw an Italian open sing-along complete with accordion and mandolin. I can picture Ignazio, whom Gianluca calls “Il Canta-Cuoco” (the singing chef), taking over the Saint Anne’s parish kitchen.
I’m in the process of calling/emailing Barbara Vitale to ask her to put this in front of Piero, Gianluca, and Ignazio early enough for future planning, long before they confirm a new tour schedule. Touring has to wait until post-COVID of course, but planning early won’t hurt.
If you are from any large city in the US, you probably have been to and have experience with Il Volo receptions and such. We Denver folks can learn from you. If you are from the Colorado Front Range, or even if you’re not but want to help, get in touch with me. Email me comments with ideas, contacts. If you are from the old Denver Il Volo on-line fan club, tell me. When the touring resumes, let’s don’t wait for an Il Volo event to appear. Let’s create one.
Oh, by the way, Denver has already started doing something for Il Volo. As of now, we have two synagogues praying for Alessandro Quarta’s complete recovery. Che Dio sia misericordioso e che la sua guarigione sia rapida! May God be merciful and may his healing be quick.
Credit to the owners of all photos.