"It's the biggest band I've ever had," bragged Sting about the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra that is accompanying him on a tour promoting his new album "Synchronicities."
Featuring orchestral versions of songs famous and obscure, the show was fittingly performed at New York's illustrious Metropolitan Opera House. "I've gone legit," the singer jokingly explained.
The latest in a series of stylistic forays that have marked this restless artist's post-Police career, the shows are a natural progression from his excursions into the jazz and classical realms. Looking far too good for his 58 years and sounding terrific, Sting was visibly exuberant as he delivered a nearly three-hour show that traversed his entire career, including plenty of rarities along the way.
Besides the 45-piece orchestra conducted by the exuberant Steven Mercurio, the lineup also included several of Sting's longtime players as well as special guest Branford Marsalis, who provided his sinuous sax playing on the show's opener, "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," as well as numbers like "Englishman in New York."
The results, as is so often the case with these sorts of experiments, were mixed. Too often the arrangements -- provided by several contributors, including Michel Legrand -- gave the music the feel of a movie soundtrack, adding texture and bombast to the music but too often failing to provide revelatory aspects. In many cases, the orchestral versions bore a marked resemblance to the originals, with precious few changes from the original tempos and little melodic divergence.
The numbers that were the most arresting were the ones that deviated the most from the original versions. A slowed-down "Roxanne" provided room for haunting cello and clarinet solos; "Whenever I Say Your Name" benefited from a sterling violin intro; the brass section provided a suitably martial atmosphere to "You Will Be My Ain True Love," written for the "Cold Mountain" soundtrack; and some sultry trumpet solos provided appropriate atmosphere for "All Would Envy," about the relationship between an older man and much younger woman.
On the other hand, the sumptuous, Muzak-style arrangement of "Every Breath You Take" gave it a generic feel, robbing the song of its hauntingly menacing implications. Two songs particularly benefited from the orchestra's contributions: "Russians," featuring musical quotes from Prokofiev and Mussorgsky, was delivered with thrilling bombast, and the strings on "Moon Over Bourbon Street" gave it the ominous feel of a Tim Burton movie soundtrack.
Sting was in chatty form throughout, providing lengthy song introductions that were alternately humorous, autobiographical and professorial. He clearly was buoyed by the wildly enthusiastic response of the crowd and relishing the opportunity to revisit many songs that he hadn't performed in years.
Sting played the Metropolitan Opera on July 13 and July 14.