There's nothing particularly exceptional about the way Andrea Bocelli sings a certain verse in "La Luna Che Non C'è," from the Italian singer's 1997 gem, Romanza. His husky, conversational delivery is straight out of George Michael's textbook. Yet as soon as the song's full instrumentation kicks in, Bocelli performs a tantalizing turnabout. He transforms his voice from a gruff pop singer's into a full-bodied operatic tenor's all in one note, marrying his two musical worlds, pop and opera, in a single breath.

Listening to the switcheroo is like watching a video in which a young man's face rapidly morphs into an older man's. The sheer virtuosity of the spectacle is breathtaking.

Opera's crossover hopeful, Bocelli has disappointed since debuting in the mid-1990s. Though capable of pulling both opera fans into pop (or at least Italian pop) and pop fans into opera, Bocelli, by virtue of his post-Romanza releases, seems to have dedicated too much energy toward opera, much to the chagrin of smart AAA fans and program directors worldwide.

His decision to put opera slightly in front of pop makes smart business sense. A performer can't shamelessly branch into another genre having not proved himself in one, his natural and chosen form. But Bocelli's decision makes little artistic sense. Bocelli has been blind since the age of 12. His sightlessness prohibits him from performing opera regularly, and it's well understood that great acting and great singing go hand in hand. Compare, say, Bocelli's version of "Che gelida manina" (from La Bohème) to Pavarotti's, circa 1977, and frankly there is no comparison.

Bocelli's forays into opera are laudable, enjoyable even, but not endearing. His pop material, however, is worth enduring any interminable Wagner aria. -- Anthony Mariani

Andrea Bocelli performs Wednesday, April 12, at Compaq Center. For more information, call (713)629-3700.

Johnnie Taylor -- Ladies, it's time to pull out those sequined dresses and matching pumps; and guys, it's time again to dust off those fur-brimmed lids, three-piece double-breasted suits and alligator boots. Once dressed, it's time to go to your nearest liquor store, buy a big-ass bottle of Night Train and find a place on your person to smuggle the booze past security. Because the master returns.

The barroom blues legend behind such feet-shuffling numbers as "Cheaper to Keep Her," "Who's Making Love?" and the last-call favorite "Last Two Dollars" makes his semiannual stop in the Bayou City. Johnnie Taylor will be singing those numbers as well as new stuff from his 1999 release, Gotta Get the Groove Back on the historic Malaco label.

Of course, you don't have to be completely inebriated to enjoy this performance. Taylor has the chops to keep you spellbound even when sober. But it's like The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The experience is all part of the fun. Hearing Taylor lay down his Arkansas-bred soul automatically transports you, figuratively speaking, to your neighborhood watering hole, where your three favorite words are "one more round." Taylor takes you to a happy place -- a place that never closes, has Jim Beam on tap and, no matter what state you're in, is lousy with good-looking wimmin. Now who doesn't wanna experience that? Johnnie Taylor performs Friday, April 7, at Houston Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30.50 and $35.50. For more information, call (713)629-3700. (Craig D. Lindsey)

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey
Anthony Mariani