She came, she saw, she conquered all! Yes, Louise Veronica Madonna Ciccone, better known to the entire world as Madonna (or “Lady Madonna” as local Italian papers called her), hit the tiny town of Udine (pop. circa 100,000 people) with some 300 security personnel and well over 20 semi-trucks which carried her gigantic stage for her “Sticky and Sweet” world tour. And indeed sticky it was in Udine as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees with an incredible amount of humidity!
Just before leaving for the show, the evening was marred by some rather tragic news as two stage hands who were working on setting up her July 19th show in Marseille died as part of the stage came tumbling down (the show was eventually cancelled). Quite moving actually as Madonna cried as she informed the 40,000 fans present of the death of these two stage hands and the injury to other personnel as well (she sang “You Must Love Me” in honour of the two stage hands).
As one of the 16 official photographers who were lucky enough to take pics at her concert (from a distance of about 30 meters from the main stage), the protocol and rules were worthy of a visit by President Obama. We also looked, from our potent zoom lenses, that we were actually about to leave for war in Afghanistan, and not for a Madonna concert! We had to be escorted into the stadium by Madonna`s personnel and security staff in a single line just 15 minutes before the show (it was to have started at around 9:15 pm but began instead at 10 pm). We had only 3 songs in which to be able to quickly take pics (in my case, I used a 150-500 mm zoom lens and a Nikon D90 digital camera) and then we were immediately ushered out. On the small stage that also included the mixer, security was watching us as though those zoom lens actually consisted of high-powered rifles, ready to assassinate Madonna! The odd thing came as we were escorted out of the Friuli stadium: the Madonna staff member bid us adieu and we had to basically leave the stadium and we were unable to watch the rest of the show, as happens pretty well with all other artists. But luckily, given my contacts, I managed to sneak back into the stadium and I watched the rest of the show from the VIP area. My hats off to the Azalea (www.azalea.it) folks and in particular to my contact Luigi who that night not only had on his shoulders at least 15 heads in order to cope with a kazillion requests from nagging photographers and fans alike who wanted their free accreditation tickets, but who throughout the Madonna “cyclone” always maintained his cool composure. A promotion to organizing Obama`s presidential visits to Italy (or Udine?) is indeed the call of the day for young Luigi!
In order to get fans “hot and ready” for the Queen of Pop a DJ got things going. Madonna opened up the show sitting upon a revolving throne with the song “Candy Shop”. This was followed by some other 22 other songs, including “Vogue”, James Bond`s them song (in which she also had a brief cameo role), “Die Another Day” and my favourite, “Ray of Light”. There was also a tribute to Michael Jackson and yes, she also came out on stage with a white Rolls-Royce. The show itself concluded with MJ`s “Don`t Stop `Til You Get Enough”.
At 50 plus years of age (she`ll be 51 in August) and watching her through zoom lenses and on the large stage screens, admittedly the woman is not in bad shape (an undercover cop who was her escort though told me that “She must have one great make-up artist”!), even though with what she earns and the time she has on her hands, she can afford some of the world`s best personal trainers. Some have suspected that half of her shows are usually sung in playback and some have also hinted at the fact that in certain songs her voice actually cracked. Now having seen her twice live (the first time was in August, 2006 in Rome`s Olympic stadium) and with poor Jackson now dead, I understood during her incredible show (hers is more of a SHOW than an actual CONCERT) that she is now unquestionably and undeniably THE King/Queen of international pop music! I mean, who`s left, Mariah Carrey? Jennifer Lopez? Shakira? Celine Dion? Cristina Aguilera? Paris Hilton? No, she`s alone on the top (sure, there`s Mick Jagger but he`s been part of a group since 1962. Madonna instead is alone on stage, that is, she`s never been part of any group) and perhaps will be there for many years to come knowing her appetite for money and for world fame.
As I left the stadium I handed it to this woman from Michigan who one fine day many decades ago decided for the very first time in her life to take a plane for the very first time to New York and with only 35 bucks in her pocket. For awhile she scrounged around without asking anyone for money, lived in rather squalid conditions, did a wee bit of dancing (and who knows what else!), sang some songs and has now sold well over 200 million records. Indeed admirable I must say, Lady Madonna (all pics by M. Rimati)!