By Richard Leong
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Star singer Andrea Bocelli dazzled thousands with his signature brand of pop and opera in a cold, wet night in New York City's Central Park, which will be etched in his memory as an important career milestone.
The Italian tenor considers Thursday's free concert, which 60,000 had been expected to attend, as one that keeps him squarely in the footsteps of other opera stars including Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo who also have performed on the stage of the famed park.
"Most of (my) important milestones happened in New York," the 52-year-old told Reuters through an interpreter before the concert.
Bocelli, who has sold 70 million records worldwide, has performed at other famous New York venues including Lincoln Center and Madison Square Garden. But a free concert in Central Park is always a special event for performers as well as New Yorkers.
"Things are all things one would hope for. This is something I'm doing for the city," he said.
Among the biggest concerts held in Central Park were the ones by Garth Brooks in 1997 and Paul Simon in 1991. Each of them drew more than half a million people.
Thursday's concert goers including billionaire Donald Trump were entertained for more than two hours. The music accompanied by the New York Philharmonic was a mix of well-known arias such as "La donna e mobile" and Italian and American pop songs.
Bocelli alternated his solos by singing duets with his "friends" who included sopranos Ana Maria Martinez and Pretty Yende, violinist Nicola Benedetti, bass baritone Bryn Terfel and flutist Andrea Griminelli.
He acknowledged the diverse audience which braved the inclement weather. "In spite of the rain and cold, you are heroes," he told them.
The crowd jumped to their feet late in the show when pop star Celine Dion arrived on stage in a glittery, white gown to sing a hit duet she recorded with Bocelli, "The Prayer."
That was followed by a duet of "New York, New York" with American crooner Tony Bennett, with whom Bocelli recently recorded for the first time. Their song, "Stranger in Paradise," will appear in Bennett's upcoming CD, "DUETS II".
Bocelli said he was fond of his time spent with Bennett. "I got to know about the man behind the legend," he said.
Bocelli closed out the night with his signature song "Con te partiro (Time to Say Goodbye)" and Puccini's "Nessun dorma" to standing ovations.
(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)