LAS VEGAS — One thing became totally clear at the Colosseum of Caesars Palace on Tuesday night: Celine Dion is all about the triumph of love over death.
To return to her residency on the Las Vegas stage slightly more than a month after losing both her husband, René Angelil, and her brother Daniel to cancer demands a certain kind of courage, but Dion has never lacked courage.
What stunned and moved the capacity audience is how she took songs she had sung a hundred times before and imbued them with new meaning, or dared to tackle fresh material that dealt dangerously with her current situation.
The first 20 minutes of the show were live-streamed through Dion’s website, and they began with a photo montage of Angelil and a projected quote from Dion that ended with the words “I realized that if he ever left us, I would have to continue without him, for him.”
Then Dion stepped forward as the curtains parted and she sang “With One More Look at You/Watch Closely Now” — the numbers first sung by Barbra Streisand at the end of “A Star Is Born” when another singing supernova had lost her love.
Dion’s tearful, frankly emotional performance drew a standing ovation and cheers from the crowd, but it was just the beginning as she plunged into a sequence of songs all about love lost, including “Where Does My Heart Beat Now?,” “Because You Loved Me” and “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.”
We might have never thought about Angelil when we heard those songs before his death, but now it was impossible to think about them in any other way.
Still, Dion is too canny a showman to wallow in self-indulgence, and she quickly switched to a series of upbeat energetic numbers that showed her in fine voice and seemingly joyous spirit.
Then things suddenly changed as she made her way into a standard of hers, “All by Myself.” It was the one point in the evening when the emotion got too strong and after singing “Don’t want to be by myself any more,” she had to cover her face with her hands for a minute or more before she could resume.
When she did, she built things back up with a pull-out-all-the-stops rendition of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On,” followed by an achingly sweet version of her greatest hit, “My Heart Will Go On” — the ultimate song of love triumphing over mortality.
The juxtaposition of those two songs was no accident. Dion was there to tell us in no uncertain terms that the show must go on, but her heart will very clearly, if sometimes painfully, go on with it as well.