Critics may remain divided over Andrea Bocelli's operatic credentials, but the popular verdict long ago crowned the sightless tenor as a crossover champion, a victory that will only be reinforced by this handsomely produced video companion to Sacred Arias, his well-timed 1999 album of devotional pieces. That collection mingled sacred classics with a handful of venerable Christmas songs to combine seasonal appeal with a broader spiritual fervor, providing a sturdy platform for Bocelli's unfailingly earnest style. For its video incarnation, Bocelli, performing with the Orchestra e coro dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under the baton of Myung-Whun Chung, reprises the album with three additional works, with Chung and the orchestra and chorus contributing a fourth bonus track, Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."
As first aired on PBS, Sacred Arias dovetails comfortably with Bocelli's hugely popular, preceding broadcast and video, A Night in Tuscany, again adding color to its often solemn musical performances with glimpses of Italy. The performances were shot in Rome's Cathedral of Sopra Miverva, employing wide-angle lenses and graceful camera movement to supply energy to the otherwise static performers: Bocelli's own lack of body movement is offset by Chung's more expressive conducting, but the program's most striking visuals are achieved through long shots that pan down onto the group from high in the cathedral's nave, and cutaways that show us the rich frescoes that adorn the walls and vaulted ceilings. The pacing also makes good use of contrasts between Bocelli's solo performances and those pieces that rely more on the sweep of the chorus and orchestra.
Brief interview segments with the singer and conductor allow the camera to move outdoors for romantic vistas of the Italian countryside, shot in golden light complementing the darker sepias and grays seen in the cathedral. A slightly wider screen aspect ratio gives the concert a cinematic flavor while imposing discreet black bars on standard sets that won't trouble viewers who prefer full-frame videos. --Sam Sutherland