You don’t have to search long and far on the Internet for times in which fans of Il Volo — the pop-opera singing trio that enthused a packed Saroyan Theatre Friday with a peppy, crowd-pleasing performance — rebuke the local music critic for not “getting it.” You know the online comment drill when it comes to transgressing reviewer: draw, quarter, eviscerate, turn into Italian meatballs, etc. The chief fan complaint: Critics treat Il Volo like it’s opera, and it isn’t. Don’t judge a group for what it isn’t trying to be.
And you know what? I’ll buy it. Il Volo isn’t opera. The group sings lots of songs in Italian, yes, and even some opera classics, but in no way, shape or form is this meant to represent the highly trained, specialized style that allows mere mortals to boom over full orchestras and fill 2,000-seat halls unamplified. Il Volo is pop-opera, and while its repertoire might lean toward the operatic — especially to American ears — the mentality is heavily pop, from the format (three adorable young guys wooing the audience) to the delivery (five musicians, heavily amplified and synthesized).
Using that rubric, the three singers accomplished what they wanted Friday and more. They delivered songs that the audience — many of whom got turned onto the group from PBS appearances — knows and loves. From English-language favorites such as “In the Arms of an Angel” to Italian classics like “O Sole Mio,” the guys worked their charms.
All three have sweet voices. The strongest is Piero Barone, whose red glasses give him a hipster student look. He also has the most stage magnetism; his periodic pointing and smiling at the audience was the smoothest and most effective of the three. With his vocals and charisma, I’d guess he has the best chance of breaking out of the group for a solo career.
Gianluca Ginoble, the suave one of the bunch, sang a notable cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Night and Day.” Ignazio Boschetto, who took on the role of jokester, tackled the difficult “Caruso,” an ode to the great singer. Both performers are solid, but it’s as much their youth and charisma as their actual vocals that seems to ignite audiences. (I can think of a couple of young Fresno singers with voices as strong as them who could wow a crowd when amplified.) And ignite they did: Periodic near-standing ovations occurred throughout the two-hour-plus concert, with audience members popping up here and there like prairie dogs after many songs.
Adding significantly to the impact was the sophisticated lighting and stage design, which used an enormous digital backdrop and a triptych of three smaller high-quality video screens to add to the visual punch. The concert was an example of music-video-meets-live-performance. At one point the three actually sang live vocals to a music video that had the sound turned down — perhaps the next evolution of digital entertainment. In terms of the ambiance and energy of the show, the stagecraft was spectacular.
The comic highlight was a three-man version of “Maria” in which the singers went into the audience and picked out three lucky women to serenade to while sitting on white love seats. (The woman paired up with Ginoble nearly stole the show by continuing to focus her attention on Boschetto.)
The one significantly annoying thing about the show for me was the awkward efforts at informality on stage, especially from Boschetto. He seems to be trying too hard when he turns to the drummer and mimes his motions, says, or banters with the other singers. He isn’t sophisticated enough to be suave nor funny enough to lighten the mood.
Or maybe it’s just me. I’ll be upfront: This was yet another concert — the recent Jackie Evancho outing at the Saroyan comes to mind — in which I didn’t feel in sync with the adoration of the audience. People around me seemed to be tremendously moved, while I was more along the lines of pleasantly polite. I probably could have felt the same way had I gone to the new “One Direction” movie — except most of the Il Volo fans were decades older. Both groups are “boy bands” in a way, just with different demographics.
Then again, I have to remind myself: This isn’t opera. Il Volo is about the whole package: youth, looks, charm, peppy arrangements, nice voices. In that regard, I can see why this group has taken “Flight.”