Andre Rieu’s concert Saturday night wasn’t sold out but, when looking around at the audience in the vastness of the KeyBank Center, it was difficult to see the empty seats.
The stage was set and the audience was primed. As Rieu led his Johann Strauss Orchestra down the aisle from the back of the arena, people stood up and cheered. The musicians waved, slapped hands with fans, and quickly headed toward the garland bedecked platform at the front of the “house” as Meredith Wilson’s “Seventy-six Trombones” played over the speakers.
It was the start of a love fest. Standing ovations were frequent and appeared with stunning frequency.
While Rieu plays the violin, he doesn’t really solo as much as he blends with the other string players, focusing more on conducting and acting as a genially boisterous master-of-ceremonies, guiding more than a dozen string players plus a large brass and wind ensemble, a punchy rhythm section, and an impressively sized choir.
The sheer volume of set pieces, costume changes and sight gags combined with a setlist that swung fluidly from abridged versions of classical music standards (Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”) to Broadway show tunes (“Think Of Me” from “Phantom of the Opera”) and familiar pop classics (“Granada”) came off with ease.
There were also spots where soloists stepped into the spotlight. “Nessun Dorma” – Giacomo Puccini’s big aria which has been done by everyone from the Three Tenors (Carreras, Domingo, and Pavarotti) to Aretha Franklin - was ably performed by the troupe’s Platin Trio. Sopranos Ling Shao and Li Jing covered the lovely “Plaisir d’amour” before singing a “Shanghaitan,” a Chinese folksong. Another highlight saw the orchestra’s clarinetist Manoe Konings setting aside her regular instrument to play “Highland Cathedral” on the bagpipes along with members of various Western New York pipe and drum corps.
The scope of Rieu’s enterprise was massive and the real wonder of the production was how seamlessly the logistics of the whole operation came together for the audience’s benefit.
Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra, Sept. 29 at KeyBank Center