Booming 'Popera' Makes Fans Weep
March 29, 2004
By A.D. Amorosi
Loving Josh Groban is like gorging yourself on nothing but bread at a fine Italian restaurant. You're satiated, but you're missing the spiciness of the sauce and the headiness of the wine.
Groban, 22, sings popera - a contemporary take on the classics. To say this, however, is not to insult either Groban or his voice, which ranges from clean tenor to rich baritone.
To a sold-out Tower Theater audience Friday that included members of the "Friends of Josh Groban" organization, Groban was a young, elegant presence with a booming voice that soared atop bombastic arrangements. He dwarfed the grand brass of "Caruso" and the seasick strings of "Un Amore Per Sempre." When a local group joined him for the saccharine victory parade of "You Raise Me Up," Groban's wide-screen voice overpowered the choir.
As Groban's dynamic range and elocution helped me almost forgive the soppy songs ("Vincent") and lovelorn lyrics ("Broken Vow"), his gypsy-jiving violinist/concertmaster, a barefoot Lucia Micarelli, found subtlety in the sunburst orchestrations.
The singer brought forth tears from the audience members around me. Yet despite the irresistibly overwrought qualities of Groban's forceful voice, his scrubbed-clean persona did not convey the sense of experience needed to make the songs' emotions real. Lacking such nuance, selections such as the fake-flamenco "Just Walk Away" came off as Broadway schmaltz.
That said, Groban's subtlest moments, the quietest of his arrangements, doubled the power of his most heavenly howls. He was nearly haunting as he approached the curling sequencers and dark ambient electronics of "Never Let Go" and "Oceano" with a dramatic raspiness.