A Night at the Popera
London Free Press
February 17, 2004
By James Reaney
John Labatt Centre
London, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 17, 2004

When the Josh Groban concert started at the John Labatt Centre last night, the superstar singer appeared to be floating in mid-air.

Soon enough, the platform elevating the U.S. star and the pool of light around him had done their magic and Groban was down on the main stage. But long after the spectacular entrance faded into memory, his voice kept floating beautifully over the RBC Theatre, which was jammed with 5,400 Grobanites.

That is the name of the young singer's fans. They cheered the stage magic at the start. About two hours later, they were on their feet to cheer Groban's pre-encore finale, the Super Bowl hit You Raise Me Up. Helping raise Groban and the crowd on the finale were members of the Westminster secondary school concert choir, who looked right at home on two of the three stairways used by Groban and company.

Groban is a master of the style dubbed "popera" -- combining deliberately paced, inspirational pop tunes and rhythms with faux operatic flair, a big voice and plenty of Italian lyrics.

"London . . . yes. It's such a thrill (to be on my first world tour)," Groban said early on before continuing with My Confession, another selection from his megahit CD, Closer.

"I love you, too," he called out to the first of many fans to profess her undying love for the young guy who once played Ally McBeal's date, which nicely sums up his non-musical appeal.

"No, you're my hero," he told another Grobanite calling up to the stage during strong second half. After the intermission, his set included an assortment of the sad songs Groban says he loves. Broken Vow (for all the fans who had suffered through a miserable Valentine's Day) and Don McLean's Vincent were among them.

Groban's not-so-secret weapon was concertmaster Lucia Micarelli. In the first set, Micarelli stepped out from Groban's string section, positioned on one side of the central stairway.

Groban's pop-rock band, the other side of the popera equation, was placed on the opposite side of that stairway.

Micarelli proceeded to take on the arrangement of Mi Mancherai built around classical superstar Joshua Bell, who played on the CD track.

The young violinist did well, leading Groban up a stairway that dominated the centre of the stage setup. The two "sang" back and forth -- voice answering strings and bow -- in the best popera style.

In the second half, Micarelli took over centre stage while Groban briefly departed to emerge with an operatically untucked shirt.

The shirt worked and so did some of the projections designed to add a visual dimension to all that vocal magic. On the good side was the opera house view in Caruso. On the corny side was the silhouette of the ballerina during a song about dancing.

It should also be said the placement of the stage side-curtains made it impossible to see the strings -- they had a harpist in there, as it turns out -- and occasionally Groban himself. Even an adjustment didn't solve the problem. This shouldn't happen with such a classy performer or to such dedicated fans.

Groban and his pop-classical ensemble and the singer with the Top 5 CD get extra marks for daring to pitch a concert's volume at an intimate level. Unfortunately, that meant mechanical hums and their human counterpart, concertgoing chatterboxes, could be heard, too. "This is such a beautiful song," went one such sentiment. Over and over. True, but Groban is even better if you just listen to him.