Grobanís Voice Pulls in Diverse Devotees
April 1, 2004
By Jane Vranish
While listening to Josh Groban wrap his powerful baritone around "Caruso" at Heinz Hall Tuesday night, it was easy to ponder whether Groban could provide a gateway for new audiences to slip into productions like Pittsburgh Opera's "Carmen" down the street at the Benedum Center.
Or is Groban one of a new group of crossover artists forming a musical category in their own right, like jazz/pop song stylist Norah Jones or classical/bluegrass double bassist Edgar Meyer?
At any rate, Groban attracted his own brand of crossover audience -- screaming teenage girls, decidedly adult couples, golden-aged listeners and family clusters packed the hall to hear what he had to offer.
Groban brought a program mainly based on his second album, "Closer," with a number of hits from his first, "Josh Groban." Not that there was much difference, although the songs from the second album don't leap for the high notes that can occasionally force his voice. Groban's niche seems to be set -- ballad after ballad after ballad -- whether in English, Italian or Spanish. They all unabashedly grab at the emotions, whether dealing with the loss of 9/11 in "To Where You Are" or the loss of a love in "Broken Vow."
Groban was backed by his own group, enhanced by a soaring string section led by Juilliard-trained and barefoot violinist Lucia Micarelli, who stepped in for Joshua Bell on "Mi Mancherai" and offered her own sweeping solo. The Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts chorus appeared in the inspirational gospel-flavored finale to "You Raise Me Up."
That, along with projections in which waves surged over a front scrim or women danced across the back, served to try to disguise Groban's quiet manner, mostly standing or slowly walking, his hands rarely leaving the microphone.
But then, the audience came to hear him sing, and he rarely paused in this single-minded mission. His is a natural instrument, one that embraces soaring melodies that border on arias, tapping the passion within with an ease that invites great admiration.
Paired with his obvious skill in other languages, these are traditional operatic leanings, but pumped up by a percussive undertone and a sometimes overbearing sound system that occasionally gave his vocal richness a metallic edge.
This is a voice that stands on its own.
It is his cherubic youth that attracts and confounds audiences, in that, like Welsh soprano Charlotte Church, the 23-year-old Groban should possess such a magnificent voice, one that will only get better with time. It's a reason one fan, Shannon Scott, came all the way from Stony Point, N.Y., to celebrate her birthday at the concert with twin sister Brianne, a student at Duquesne University. As fan club members, both got to pose with Groban for pictures after the concert along with local radio promotion winners, and Shannon will go on to see two more Groban concerts this week in New York.
Then there's Darlene Vargo of North Huntingdon, who bought her husband, Dennis, a pair of tickets for his birthday. She admitted, "I have daughters older than him. I jog to him every day. I have parrots that sing to his music."
That's another brand of crossover.