Review: Andre Bocelli enchants and pays tribute to the late Prince in Abu Dhabi show

What really got the crowd in the mood was the opening chords of Purple Rain – In the first of two tributes to pop legend Prince – the track was played loud and proud. 

Andrea Bocelli and Balqees perform a duet at du Arena in Abu Dhabi on Friday. Antonie Robertson / The National
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No matter the genre of live performance, the maxim remains the same: you need to work the room. Such was the case with classical singer Andrea Bocelli’s Abu Dhabi return on Friday night at du Arena.

Perhaps aware that the venue normally hosts more raucous musical affairs, Bocelli’s team and concert promoters, Flash Entertainment, did their best to get us into a more refined mood.

Women in dazzling green gowns gave away free roses to the audience. Seats were covered in soft black and white cushions and classical music wafted out of the speakers.

Ironically, though, what really got the crowd in the mood was when the opening chords of Purple Rain rang out across the arena. In the first of two tributes to pop legend Prince, who died on Thursday, the track was played loud and proud.

There was no need for a video montage – many in the crowd will have remembered the seminal performance he provided at the same venue five years back and we all sang along in gratitude.

Then it was back to the business at hand. Backed by the UAE’s NSO Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Bocelli delivered a performance nothing short of enchanting. However, it was nearly derailed a few times by the unforgivable sounds of cars roaring in the nearby Yas Marina track – a swift investigation must ensue so this never happens again.

Admittedly, hard-core opera lovers would have blanched at some of the repertoire. Serviceable yet staid takes of Brindisi from Verdi's La Traviata and La donna è mobile did nothing to protect Bocelli from critics' accusations that he is opera's equivalent of Kenny G.

That said, there was no denying the power of his soulful tone on Verdi's Di quella pira, his voice effortlessly working its away around the swooning string section.

Warmed up, Bocelli dedicated the second half of the show to selections from his latest release, Cinema. On record, the collection of songs from classic movies does sound a tad bland – but the songs truly shone when performed live.

A large part of this was because of the beautifully produced visuals tailor-made for each track.

Bocelli's interpretation of the songs mostly consisted of slowing them down a few beats. His pleasantly languid take on Maria almost transformed the West Side Story favourite into a lounge track.

The Music of The Night, from Phantom of the Opera, was simply luscious. However, Bocelli's voice – while pleasant – didn't capture the ache within.

The highlight came when he returned to the Mediterranean. The Godfather's Sicilian ballad Brucia la Terra was hair-raising.

Emirati-Yemeni singer Balqees made a guest appearance, with an impressive solo take on I Dreamed a Dream from Les Misérables.

The emotional high point of the evening came when she returned for a duet with Bocelli. The stage screen was transformed into purple, with a simple declaration: dedicated to the genius of Prince, as the duo launched into the stirring Canto della Terra. It was a deeply poignant moment that once again proves that no matter what some critics say, Bocelli remains a class act.