Ask Andrea Bocelli if there's any song he feels compelled to sing when he visits Las Vegas and he offers this reply:
"I don't think there is any which could be considered 'compulsory,' even if some ... are particularly appreciated and expected by my fans."
But singer Katherine Jenkins - who's the beloved Italian tenor's "special guest" Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden - begs to differ, citing "Time to Say Goodbye" as a Vegas must.
"He has to do that!" Jenkins insists. "I remember standing at the Bellagio fountains," where Bocelli's duet with Sarah Brightman (also known by its Italian title, "Con Te Partiro") is in regular rotation, "and being moved to tears, it was so beautiful."
Then again, Jenkins may be slightly prejudiced; she and Bocelli sang "Time to Say Goodbye" in 2007 on British TV's "Strictly Come Dancing," the inspiration for ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," where Jenkins was a contestant earlier this year. (More about that later.)
Despite the song's popularity, however, it's not on Bocelli's list of "My Favorite Songs" he's performing during this current tour.
Instead, the lineup represents "the typical repertoire of an Italian tenor," he explains in an email.
So you can count on hearing favorite opera selections from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut ," Verdi's "Il Trovatore " and "La Traviata ," Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor " - some solos, some in tandem with Jenkins (such as the waltz duet "Tace il labbro " from Lehar's operetta "The Merry Widow") or soprano Maria Aleida .
And, for the fourth consecutive year, the 65-voice Southern Nevada Musical Arts Chorus will join Bocelli for several selections, including such seasonal favorites as Schubert's "Ave Maria," "Amazing Grace" and "Adeste Fidelis." (The Las Vegas-based choral ensemble also will perform Donizetti's "Che interminabili andirivieni ," from "Don Pasquale.")
Of course, there may be a few surprises, Bocelli acknowledges.
But "a surprise once it has been revealed is no more a surprise!" he notes. "Seriously, my staff and I have done our best to conceive a special performance. ... There is not a single piece in the lineup that I do not consider among the most intense and enjoyable (pieces) ever written."
Despite the Thanksgiving weekend date, however, audiences shouldn't expect a holiday concert, he insists, stating his hope that every concert "may be felt as a moment of joy, of celebration, regardless of the connection with the feasts on the calendar."
All of which makes sense to Jenkins, who cites Bocelli's emotional investment in every performance.
"I love singing with him," she says. "There are a lot of singers you can teach so they're technically good, but he has a rare gift - he was just born with it." (You can hear Bocelli and Jenkins sing "I Believe" on Bocelli's "My Christmas" album - or watch them on Bocelli's PBS Christmas special DVD.)
Bocelli explains, "when I sing a song, I must first fall in love with it, feel it in my heart, and then I know it is going to be a convincing performance."
As for the concert as a whole, "when I think of a concert, I find that a powerful comparison may be the one of a painter who us ready to start painting a picture: an artist with the brush in his hands close to the canvas, cultivating an idea, and hoping in his heart to accomplish it, so that once the picture has been completed, it may be as similar as possible to the original intention," Bocelli writes.
This six-city fall tour was scheduled to begin today in San Jose and, after Saturday's Las Vegas stop, continues to Houston and Dallas, Chicago and New York over the next two weeks.
Although Jenkins has sung frequently with Bocelli - on TV and at his 2009 festival in his Tuscany hometown - it's her first tour with him.
"There'll be quite a lot of classical" music, she says of the program, "but it's well-known classical stuff - more of the crossover songs that have resonated with people."
The tour also provides a chance for Jenkins to remind audiences that she was an award-winning singer long before she hit the floor on "Dancing with the Stars."
Indeed, Jenkins made her "Dancing" debut singing - during the show's "Classical Week," when she performed (what else?) "Time to Say Goodbye" and two additional selections, one with "Dancing" regular Beverley Staunton .
"Dancing" officials later asked Jenkins "whether I would consider being a contestant" on the show's 14th season, which began in February.
She would, and did, despite her lack of dance experience, other than "a little bit of tap as a child" in her native Wales.
And when she made her "Dancing" debut in February, many fans predicted she and ballroom pro Mark Ballas would be an early casualty, in part because "unless you were a classical music fan you didn't know me," Jenkins reasons.
But she and Ballas persevered, finishing in second place, behind NFL Super Bowl champ Donald Driver and partner Peta Murgatroyd .
Jenkins and Ballas continued their partnership in July, dancing together during Jenkins' Salt Lake City concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; the pair also reunited for an episode of "Strictly Come Dancing."
Jenkins' new Christmas special for British TV also "involved quite a lot of dance," she notes. (Jenkins' holiday spirit this year includes a new CD, "This Is My Christmas," featuring a variety of traditional carols and pop tunes - along with a duet with another beloved tenor, Placido Domingo.)
Although "it's strange to be known as a dancer before a singer," Jenkins admits, "I don't mind. People are lovely."
Just the same, "it's quite nice to go back to touring," she says.
Bocelli seconds that emotion.
Noting that he and Jenkins have been friends for a long time, Bocelli praises her as "an experienced, serious and beautiful artist," one who "represents one more guarantee for a concert that I hope will turn out to be in every spectator's heart an unforgettable experience of joy and of great music."
Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.