I’ve been following Italian pop music since my first visit to Italy in 1998, and over the years have discovered a number of amazingly talented singers and songwriters that I now follow regularly. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have the chance to see some of them in concerts both in the U.S. and in Italy. So far I have seen Eros Ramazzotti twice, and both Laura Pausini, and Giorgia once. But another of my favorite artists, Tiziano Ferro has been more elusive…
I’ve watched Tiziano’s fame skyrocket over the past decade to the point where he now seems to perform only at huge venues and for very short tours. But while visiting Italy last winter, I gleaned from what I could understand of Radio Italia’s frequent notices that he had announced a concert tour of Italy for summer of 2017. I immediately got online and found myself a ticket to one of his three shows at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, ithe very first row in the balcony above the floor of the stadium. Bravo, Matteo!
Tiziano Ferro is only 37 years old, but first arrived on the music scene in 2001. Since then he has released 6 albums and a 4-CD collection called TZN: The Best of Tiziano Ferro which contained his greatest hits and some bonus material that hadn’t been released before. Each of his albums has both an Italian and Spanish language version, since he, like many other Italian performers, tend to have large audiences in Spain, Central and South America. I prefer the Italian versions not just because I speak Italian but not Spanish, but because since the songs were written in Italian, they sound more natural somehow in his native language. In 2010 Tiziano made headlines when he announced that he is gay, and there was concern that he would lose his fan base in Italy and various Latin countries, but his popularity did not seem to suffer at all, and he has become even more popular since then. He’s even written a book about how the effects of living “in the closet” for so long affected him psychologically and emotionally.
I planned to spend two nights in Milan just to see this concert and on the night of the show I parked almost two kilometers away from San Siro, a sports and music venue just outside of the city center. While it is on a Metro line and there are parking lots nearer to the venue, I had heard that before and after the prior evening’s concert there had been massive traffic jams all around the area and that the Metro trains were a madhouse. This, coupled with 90+ degree heat, made me decide to use the car to get somewhat close to the stadium and then walk from there, but of course many other folks apparently had the same idea, so while I did find a parking space, I walked to San Siro in a parade of other concert-goers.
There was a security checkpoint to get into the area surrounding the stadium, and another to enter the stadium itself, which is to be expected after the recent attack on a concert venue in Manchester, England. But the lines moved quickly, and overall I was impressed with the behavior of the crowd. I’ve almost stopped going to concerts in the U.S. because I am tired of paying big bucks for a seat, only to have everyone in front of me stand up throughout the whole show, spill beer on me, scream loudly to the point where it’s impossible to hear the singer, etc. But my experience with Italian concerts is that the crowd is polite and civil toward one another, alcohol is not allowed within the stadium itself (you can have a beer outside), and everyone behaves themselves and watches the show. What a novel concept! The audience ranged from children to the elderly, probably equal numbers of men and women, and probably an average age of 30.
My seat was perfect… only a railing in front of me, and I had the last seat at the end of my row, so there was room to stretch out. The show time was scheduled for 8:45, and virtually everyone was in their seats by then. At 9:00 sharp, the show began and as the lights darkened, hundreds of little blue lights from cell phones (the modern day version of the cigarette lighter!) twinkled throughout the stadium. A chant began and picked up volume as the approximately 50,000 fans started calling out “TIZIANO!’ in three distinct syllables that sounded like “TITS- YAHN- NOH!”, with the accent on the second syllable. And then, out he came in his signature black suit jacket over a black t-shirt to sing the title track of his most recent CD, Il Mestiere della Vita (The Mysteries of Life) and the crowd went a little pazzi… crazy!
If you have never heard Tiziano Ferro you should definitely check out some of his work. He has a very unique style that ranges from beautiful ballads to pseudo-hip-hop to swing music and everything in between. What ties it all together is his voice, which is deep and powerful and almost what I would describe as “operatic”. Many of his songs begin with him just sort of talking vs. singing, but then the choruses explode into very catchy melodies and or goose-bump-inspiring, emotional releases. The themes of many of his songs are sad: lost or impossible love affairs, goodbyes, painful memories, etc. and even if you don’t speak Italian, the pure emotion of his voice will convey the message. Songs of this type that he performed that night included, L’amore e` una Cosa Semplice (Love is a Simple Thing), Ti Scattero` una Foto (I’ll Take a Picture of You), and Non Me Lo So Spiegare (I Don’t Know How to Explain), a duet he originally recorded with Italian superstar Laura Pausini.
But don’t get the idea that the concert was in any way sad or depressing, because Tiziano also has lots of up-tempo songs that have infectious melodies that make you want to sing along. Among these, and some of the best moments of the concert, include La Differenza Tra Me e Te (The Difference Between Me and You), Stop! Dimentica (Stop! Forget), Lento/Veloce (his latest radio release, Slowly/Quickly), and Indietro (Behind or Backward). A very common custom at Italian concerts is for the performer to hold out the mic and let the audience sing at least some of the choruses, and on these songs there were 50,000 enthusiastic voices providing back-up vocals!
For me, there were three stand-out numbers during the concert. The first was E Rafaella e` Mia! (And Rafaella is Mine!), a manic salute to his idol, Rafaella Carra`, a 60s and 70s Italian pop and TV personality similar to Cher in the U.S. In the song he fantasizes about having Rafaella come to his house and sing only for him. He released the song in 2006, and my Italian friends tell me that when Tiziano came out as gay in 2010, most people were not all that surprised because, “No straight man would sing a song like this about Rafaella!” The second moment that I loved was his rendition of Per Dirti Ciao (To Tell You Goodbye), a really beautiful up-tempo melody coupled with achingly sad lyrics like: Soffierà nel vento una lacrima che tornerà da te per dirti ciao… ciao! Mio piccolo ricordo in cui nascosi anni di felicità… ciao! (“A tear will blow in the wind and return to you to tell you goodbye, goodbye… my little memory in which I’ve stored years of happiness…”). This was the last day of an extended stay in Italy and while this song always makes me want to cry, it was especially potent on this night.
Finally, as one of his encore numbers Tiziano performed Lo Stadio (The Stadium). He originally wrote the song for Italian artist Jovanotti because at the time Tiziano had not achieved the level of success that would allow for stadium performances, but when his popularity rose to that level he finally recorded the song himself. The lyrics celebrate the emotions of the audience inside the stadium: love, fear, losing someone, starting a new life, and promises that we will change the world through music. It is the perfect summer concert song and the entire stadium was on its feet dancing and singing along with the irresistible chorus. It was an unforgettable experience.
His last song of the night was the recent hit, Potremmo Ritornare (We Could Return), in which he talks about the end of a relationship and sings the line that “Life rained down upon us”. As he finished the song, from somewhere above the stage came a pouring cascade of water somewhere between a serious thundershower and Niagara Falls, soaking Tiziano to the skin as he raised his arms to the sky and said goodnight.
And then, with no shoving or screaming or ugliness, the fans left the stadium and I was glad for the 20 minute walk back to the car to soak in the warm night and reflect on the concert. The next morning, as I checked out of my hotel, I told the woman at the desk about the concert. She seemed truly dumbfounded and asked, “You mean you have come to Milano during your trip in Italy just to see Tiziano?” She was amazed because most Americans have never even heard of him, and so when I told her about my extensive relationship with Italian music she was truly impressed. She said, “Here in Italy we all listen to American music, but here you are in love with our music!” She told me about her favorite artist, British/Italian pianist Fabio D’Andrea, then she asked who I most loved. And so as I rolled my luggage out of the lobby, I left my new friend listening to Landslide by Stevie Nicks. Lo Stadio: the love, the music, bringing people together and changing the world. Lo Stadio.
And for a great English Language website devoted to Tiziano Ferro and his music, check out Tiziano Ferro International