Celine Dion is the one musical artist on this planet that I love to hate more than any other. For me, her multi-octave voice, while technically impressive, is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Add to that her zillion-selling albums stuffed with Ready Whip-tunes by songwriters-for-hire, and an utter sincerity as a live performer that makes irony seem like a four-letter word, and Dion is a hilarious spectacle to witness. Blissfully unaware of her own cheesiness, and blessed with a stage persona that makes Napoleon Dynamite seem graceful, Celine is about as cool as Barry Manilow, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Lawrence Welk all rolled into one.
Which is of course why I'm always riveted whenever she's on the screen. Watching her perform in 'A New Day... Live in Las Vegas' (a visually breathtaking document of her legendary five-year run at the Colosseum at Caesar's Palace) is like watching someone with Tourette Syndrome sing with the voice of a dove. Her routine goes something like this: she makes some bizarre facial expression, launches into a spastic high-kick, then feigns a bit of rock air guitar (Slash, watch out!), before topping it off with a camera-ready pose, legs spread eagle, as if she suddenly needs to take a dump onstage. If only Celine wasn't so damn gracious and sincere about it all ("I want to dedicate this song to all the parents and children of the world!" she says at one point, which I guess includes everyone on the planet), I'd say she needs to book a one-way ticket to the cuckoo's nest along with Courtney Love.
Luckily, Celine the awkward entertainer is surrounded by such a spectacle of costume, dance, and electronic visuals in 'A New Day...' that she doesn't have to bear all of the burden on her pointy little shoulders. As conceived by Dragone (better known as the "visionary" behind the Cirque du Soleil phenomenon), it's such an utterly ludicrous combination of pretentious performance art, bad musical dinner theater, and bland musicianship that it's like a car crash you can't turn away from, but secretly think is half-good. There is talent on display here to be sure, but it's also so absolutely devoid of any hint of self-awareness that the result is grand, grand camp of the highest caliber.
What's so riveting about 'A New Day...' is that since Celine has never been an artist who seems to exhibit any personal direction over her career, every moment of her show -- like every manufactured note on her albums -- is predetermined by a higher power. In this case, it's Dragone, who stages each song like it's some sort of post-apocalyptic battle for Celine's soul.
The "themes" of each number are inspired in their insanity. What to make of "Seduces Me," which features a cavalcade of writhing, half-naked male dancers (apparently on unemployment since Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour circa 1990), who look like a bunch of hungry zombies who don't so much want to make love to Celine as eat her? Or the towering "To Love You More," where the projection of Celine's twitchy mug is beamed upon the ginormous LED screen that covers the back of the stage, complete with flames and thundering lighting effects -- it's Celine as Godzilla, and had I been sitting in the audience, I would have feared for my life. Last, but not least, there is of course "My Heart Will Go On," which Dragone re-imagines as some sort of intergalactic mash-up of 'Titanic' and '2001: A Space Odyssey,' complete with giant moon backdrop and an Asian version of Kate Winslet floating suspended across the stage in a giant white wedding dress.
All of this is, of course, massively entertaining. Just the sheer size and scope of this thing is impressive, no matter how much you may hate the music. Celine doesn't perform on any mere stage, of course, but on a mammoth platform that looks as if the Mothership from 'Close Encounters' is going to land at any moment. There is also so much going on at any one moment (Giant video screens! A zillion dancers! Enough smoke for a good-sized forest fire! Celine taking a dump!) that it's impossible to be bored. I just enjoyed watching the over-arching visual madness of it all, even if I understood not a lick of its appeal.
My only real reservation with 'A New Day...' is that I'm not sure if it is the best iteration of the Celine's five-year-spanning run at the Colosseum. The production underwent some tinkering over the years, including various setlist changes, and I'm not sure it was improved along the way. The show I saw live about three years ago seemed to flow a bit better, and also had a more fitting final encore than 'My Heart Will Go On' (which, for some odd reason, ends the show on an anti-climactic note here), but no matter, as any Team Celine member will certainly cherish 'Live in Las Vegas' as a vivid document of what just may prove to be her career zenith as a live performer. Whether or not that is a compliment, I'll leave up to you...
The complete tracklist includes: 01. A New Day Has Come / 02. The Power Of Love / 03. It's All Coming Back To Me Now / 04. Because You Loved Me / 05. To Love You More / 06. I'm Alive / 07. I Drove All Night / 08. Seduces Me / 09. If I Could / 10. Pour Que Tu M'Aimes / 11. I Surrender / 12. Ammore Annascunnuto / 13. All The Way / 14. I've Got The World On A String / 15. I Wish / 16. Love Can Move Mountains / 17. River Deep, Mountain High / 18. My Heart Will Go On
Sony BMG has been the most consistent distributor of music titles on high-def (on either format), and they once again hit it out of the park with 'Celine Dion: A New Day... Live in Las Vegas.' This is a stellar 1080p/VC-1 encode, with the kind of you-are-there, picture perfect quality that screams demo disc.
Captured with multiple HD cameras, the explosion of color, light, and costume that is 'A New Day...' is tailor-made for Blu-ray. Colors are exquisite -- deep, rich, bold and perfectly saturated with no chroma noise or smearing. Blacks are pure and contrast is excellent, resulting in a level of detail and depth that is truly stunning. 'Live in Las Vegas' also excels in terms of shadow delineation, which is always a true test for shot-on-HD live recordings as they often breakdown into fuzziness and artifacts. No such problems here -- this one is a true winner.
Note that my 'New Day' was almost spoiled when I thought I noticed some pixel break-up and noise in some of the large background images. However, I soon realized that as Celine is often framed in front of the gigantic LED screen that flanks the rear of the stage, I was seeing some blockiness in the actually projections themselves, which is not a fault of the transfer. Have no doubt, 'Live in Las Vegas' is a five-star affair through-and-through.
'Live in Las Vegas' again scores a home run with dual Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround and uncompressed PCM 2.0 Stereo tracks, both at 96kHz/24-bit, and both breathtaking. I swear, when Celine hit (and held) those high notes, there were times I thought my speakers were going to explode.
I really can't pick a favorite between the PCM and TrueHD (despite the lack of 5.1 on the PCM), as both deliver the kind of goose bump-inducing aural experience of only the best high-resolution live music soundtracks. Celine's vocals and the instrumentation have that transparent, utterly palpable sense of realism that makes it seem as if the music is floating around the room and no longer emanating from a set of speakers.
Timbre, attenuation, fidelity and clarity are all simply exquisite. The highs are warm and rich, and even the sharpest notes that Celine hits never sound too brittle (such sterility is a criticism often leveled at her music). Dynamics are also perfectly modulated. Bass is strong and impactful, but not overpowering. As you would expect, Celine's voice is very prominent in the mix, but not at the expense of her backing -- the elements simply flow together perfectly.
If there is any room for complaint, it is that perhaps the mix makes too little use of the rears. However, the crowd at Caesar's Palace is simply a dull, lifeless one -- Celine crowds are hardly the same raucous group you'd find at a Metallica gig -- so this is a front-heavy mix. I'm not going to fault this Blu-ray for that, as it's a Celine show, and this is about as perfect a sonic reproduction of it as I could imagine.
'Celine Dion: A New Day... Live in Las Vegas' comes to Blu-ray in a package much more impressive than I expected. Housed in a very elegant fold-out keepcase, there is a considerable amount of documentary material here spread over two full Blu-ray discs -- this is no chintzy Blu-ray/DVD combo that you often get with music discs. Add to that a neat 40-page collectible booklet (which includes liner notes and lyrics to all of the songs performed during the show), plus all of the video-based extras presented in full 1080p/VC-1 video, and this is a strong supplemental presentation. (Note: Subtitle options on all of the included documentary material include English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Portuguese.)
'Celine Dion: A New Day... Live in Las Vegas' is simply critic-proof. If you love Celine, you'll absolutely love this spectacle, and if you hate her, well... you'll probably hate her even more after watching 90 minutes of her earth-shattering warble. This Blu-ray is simply flawless, however. The video, the audio, the extras -- it's a perfect package and a virtual love letter to fans. Team Celine, this Blu-ray is for you!