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Conductor Steven Mercurio gets serious about Andrea Bocelli and his new collaborator, Sting

June 15, 2010 |  9:05 am

Words and ideas rush out of native New Yorker Steven Mercurio, 53, who is conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Sting's current "Symphonicity" tour, with the same wired speed as they do from Martin Scorsese.

On a cool New York evening, Mercurio is telling me how much he admires Sting's songwriting. What really has his brain racing, though, is the elitism that invariably arises when popular and classical music are mixed. Mercurio has suffered its slings and arrows more than most, as he has conducted concerts by operatic singer Andrea Bocelli, whose tone and range drive opera purists around the bend.

"I've done more than 65 different operas in seven languages, and all of a sudden I do one concert with Andrea, and people run around and say, 'You're not serious.' And you go, 'What are you talking about?' Everybody's got something to offer. Mario Lanza had something to offer. It doesn't mean he's Luciano Pavarotti. Certain figures in every generation have crossed over and achieved a popular fame. Maybe you're not as good or legitimate as others, but so what? So what? Andrea has brought millions of people into classical music and opera.

"Music means a lot of different things to a lot of people," Mercurio continues. "Just because we live in the world of classical music doesn't mean we have to shut off every other part of our system. I love 'Tristan.' I've conducted the 'Prelude' and 'Liebestod' a zillion times. I live for it. But as a three-dimensional human being, it's also fun to do a 'Desert Rose' by Sting. It just is. Why should somebody apologize for that?

Mercurio and Sting's "Symphonicity" comes to the  Hollywood Bowl tonight and Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Wednesday. You can read my interview with Sting, and his own thoughts on mixing musical genres, here.

-- Kevin Berger

Photo: Mercurio conducts at Sting's tour opener in Vancouver. Credit: Darryl Dyck / Associated Press