Wednesday, May 7, 2008 | 2 a.m.
American tenor and film star Mario Lanza was the first to fuse opera with pop music.
Lanza died in 1959, the year before Andrea Bocelli was born. Bocelli often is credited with creating “popera,” the genre sneered at by opera purists but adored by fans worldwide.
“Mario Lanza was the first tenor who created accessible music,” says Romina Arena, the 27-year-old who is one of the most prominent female popera singers in the world. “Mario Lanza never considered himself a true tenor, a true classical artist, but a pop artist with a classical sensibility to his voice.”
More than 20 years after Lanza’s death, Bocelli became an international sensation.
“Andrea made opera reachable to younger generations and to people who wanted to feel inspired by music,” says Arena, a native of Sicily who lives in Los Angeles. “His music elevates you, takes you to different dimensions. Popera is not as dramatic as opera but it is still passionate and very romantic, very unique.”
Almost 20 years after Bocelli arrived on the scene, along came Arena, Josh Groban and Alessandro Safina, perhaps the hottest popera star in Europe.
Good news for popera fans — you can see them all in Las Vegas this month.
Bocelli, Groban and Michael Buble perform in “A Tribute to David Foster” on May 23 at Mandalay Bay. Foster produces the three artists.
Arena, Safina and American popera artists Chris Riggins and Marc Schreiner perform Saturday at the Cannery. If you’re on a budget, the Cannery concert is $29.95 compared with $185.75 and up at Mandalay Bay.
Arena created the concert for the Cannery with the help of entertainment director Kathy Spehar.
The venue turned it into a Mother’s Day event for mothers, wives, girlfriends and anyone else who likes popera.
Spehar says if the concert does as well as she expects, there will be more in the future.
“I think it’s going to be phenomenal,” she says. “Some big property may take the idea from me, but I love to try something new, something out of the box.”
Arena, who studied opera at La Scala in Milan, Italy, has been a devotee of popera for a decade.
“I was classically trained but I never really performed pure opera,” she says. “I’ve always performed pop music with a classical sensibility to my voice. People tell me if Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli had a daughter, it would be me. I’m right in between.
“My performances always have been pop songs, but very powerful, with a great deal of passion. My songs become an experience, an incredible journey I like to take my audiences on.”
Arena, who is fluent in nine languages, has taken her popera to the world.
“My music reaches everyone — all generations,” she says. “The music world today is a world of crossover, not just one genre. It takes parts of different musical components and combines them to make new sounds.
“I like to try new things. It is challenging. But the pure opera world has a hard time accepting the popera world. But look at the numbers.”
Billboard, the 104-year-old bible of the music industry, recently added a crossover music chart to its list.
“That brings me to believe that this music is becoming huge,” Arena says. “Popera is the most prestigious and high-end music today with its very luxurious sound.”
Arena has performed with Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti.
“The biggest tenors in world,” she says. “I am happy these people would choose me to work with them. I feel very humbled. I didn’t think a kid from Sicily would be able to work with such great artists.”