“This feels like a beautiful, beautiful resurrection,” the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director Gustavo Dudamel said to the sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night (July 16).
The statement — which was met with venue-shaking cheers — served as a sigh of relief following a tumultuous year where live music came to a screeching halt amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Dudamel’s words continued to ring true throughout the night.
After the LA Phil set the tone for the night with a moving orchestral set, Christina Aguilera took the stage, sauntering up a makeshift mountain to open her return to live music with an intoxicating cover of Etta James’ classic, “At Last,” filled to the brim with the star’s mind blowing vocal runs.
She then delivered versions of her hits including “Ain’t No Other Man,” “What a Girl Wants,” “Fighter” and, of course, “Genie in a Bottle,” reimagined as compelling orchestral-pop crossovers with the help of both her band and the LA Phil led by Dudamel.
Upon seeing the energy of an in-person crowd singing back to her for the first time in more than a year, Aguilera herself got misty eyed. “I hope I got all the tears out of the way,” she told the audience. “I’m a crier, so this morning when I came in for rehearsal, I just got to be a spectator for a moment as [the LA Phil] was rehearsing, and oh my God, this is a moment of a lifetime because my mother was a violinist […] I remember all these images of her playing the violin every night in our living room and just being around classical music my whole life.”
“I was originally, of course, inspired by the great Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Sound of Music being the first thing that ever spoke to me musically. I wanted to be Julie Andrews on the hills and tonight is that moment for me,” she continued with a laugh, gesturing toward the onstage mountain she opened the show from the summit of. “I’m just constantly inspired by composers and the way they create worlds and take you to other places and have new perspectives hearing things, it’s just incredible.”
It was only fitting, then, for Aguilera to bring out A Great Big World’s Ian Axel to deliver a cinematic version of their duet “Say Something,” with Axel on the piano and the Philharmonic adding a tender orchestral accompaniment that felt like a score straight out of a movie.
To wrap up the evening of, in Dudamel’s words, “resurrection,” Aguilera gave fans the moment they had been waiting for. Emerging onstage for an encore in a flowing black gown, the singer belted “Beautiful,” her ode to self-acceptance. With more than 17,000 voices singing the lyrics, it was a much-needed moment of unity following a year spent in isolation.
See the full set list below, and grab tickets for Aguilera’s second show at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday (July 17) here.
Etta James’ “At Last”
Ain’t No Other Man
Genie in a Bottle
The Voice Within
Peaches/Can’t Hold Us Down
What a Girl Wants
James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World”