It’s not just a new day for Céline Dion. It’s a new life.
For the first time in 35 years, Quebec’s most famous singer is going to have to do her thing without René Angélil guiding her every move. Angélil, who died last month, became her manager when she was just 12, and he was intimately involved in every decision that happened along the long, strange voyage that transformed this kid with a golden voice from Charlemagne into one of the planet’s biggest pop stars. He was the one who guided her to the Oscars, to the top of the charts, and to the Las Vegas stage with her record-breaking show A New Day.
Now he’s gone. Of course, the first and biggest impact is personal. Dion and Angélil married in 1994, and she’s suddenly single for the first time in her adult life. When she goes home after performing at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace, once her staff departs, she’s on her own.
“You know, I might not hear his voice yet, but I talk to him, I think of him all the time,” Dion said Tuesday night in Vegas, at the start of her first concert at the Colosseum since her husband’s death. “I feel and I know he hears me. One way or another, I know he will give me a sign for his approval or not.”
Obviously, she’s not alone professionally. Aldo Giampaolo, a longtime friend and collaborator of the couple, was personally chosen by Angélil to step in and help manage Dion when he was ailing. Giampaolo, a former Cirque du Soleil executive, now becomes the sole manager of notre Céline nationale.
The loss of her longtime mentor comes at a crucial time for Dion. She kicked off what will be a huge year professionally with her return to the Colosseum Tuesday. She has 48 more dates to come in 2016 at the 4,000-seat theatre at Caesars Palace, and by the time this year’s run winds down, she’ll have headlined more than 1,000 concerts at the venue since A New Day was inaugurated in 2003.
The songbird is also set to return to Quebec for multiple shows for the first time in seven years, with 10 concerts booked at the Bell Centre and another four gigs at Centre Vidéotron in Quebec City. The shows in la belle province take place between July 31 and Aug. 25.
She also has eight arena dates booked in Antwerp, Belgium and Paris in late June and early July. And there’s a new French album on the way, set to hit stores in the fall.
Of course, there will be continuity. In other words, don’t expect Dion to tap Jack White to produce her next English album, which she is due to start working on as soon as they wrap the franco album.
But it is a new world sans Angélil, and it’s bound to be a different Céline we see and hear in the years to come.
“Life changes,” said Giampaolo, on the phone from Vegas just hours before Dion’s return to the Colosseum stage on Tuesday. “When somebody passes away, life changes the next day. They’re not there. It’s the same thing here. Before (Angélil) was my boss, he was my friend. He’d be my adviser. I’d be his adviser at times. We were together for a long time, me and René. I always felt part of the organization even before being here.
“I’m missing a friend. But I have to go on. And I’m Aldo. I’m not René. And I want to take the lead now. I want it badly, because they picked me and I want to keep the dream René had going. I can’t be René, but I want to help Céline the best I can. I’ll be who I am. He knows that.
“We’re different people. I can’t have the relationship he had with Céline. He built Céline. He built the Ferrari. I just have to drive it. I have to guide it with the best of my knowledge, with Céline giving me the OK.”
But what if one day — maybe soon — Céline leans over to Aldo in the Ferrari and says, “Hey buddy, how about we pull over and switch seats, and I’ll give this baby a spin through the streets of Vegas?”
Dion is 47, and the thing that struck me the most in our conversations in recent years is how she has become such a strong, forceful personality. When I first talked to her — way back in 1990, just as she was about to launch Unison, her first English album — Dion was a shy, awkward young woman who was obviously taking all her marching orders from Angélil.
That hasn’t been the case for years. It was clear Dion was giving her manager her two cents’ worth on a regular basis. Listen to her last English album, Loved Me Back to Life, from 2013, and you can hear the influence of the singer.
Angélil was always the old-school guy. The guy who wanted to work with Beatles producer George Martin, with early-’60s girl-group maestro Phil Spector. It was Angélil who dreamed up the duets with holograms of Elvis and Frank Sinatra for the current Vegas show. Dion, on the other hand, is the one who loves bringing in R&B elements. She even likes to rock on occasion.
So, will her tastes come more to the fore in the years to come? Production was already underway on a new franco album before Angélil died, and from the sound of it, that collection will be in line with Gallic albums like D’eux and D’elles. It will feature a new song from French songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, who penned most of the D’eux album — the record most of us consider to be Dion’s finest work — and a tune from French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel. The album will also include À la plus haute branche, written by Quebecer Daniel Picard. It was chosen after Dion launched an online contest last year to have her fans vote on a song to be included on the album.
But what if Dion comes to Giampaolo and suggests they do something radically different for the next English album, due out in 2017? I asked Giampaolo what he thought of the idea — which I’ve mulled over for years — of having Dion do an English album like D’eux: a set of songs from a noted songwriter, tailored specifically for her. I’m dreaming here, but maybe do it with Elvis Costello or Randy Newman or Paul McCartney.
“I’m there to guide her,” said Giampaolo. “But I’ll also look at her point of view, because she is the company. How can you get an artist to do something they don’t want to do? You try to get them to understand, but at the end of the day, if the heart ain’t there, it won’t happen.”
So maybe we’ll see a different Céline Dion, I suggested.
“You can’t do radical things with an artist,” replied Giampaolo.
Well, you can, I countered.
“You can when you have a young artist,” he said. “But when you have an established artist, you have to be very careful. You can’t disappoint the fan base.”
But veteran artists do remake/remodel their careers, I argued, pointing to cases like Tina Turner and Johnny Cash, who went through late-career transformations.
Maybe, said Giampaolo, but don’t hold your breath for any Lady Gaga-esque moves.
“I don’t see it today. My mind is not there,” he said. “I will consider everything, and Céline will have a very big say in where she wants to go. She’s the artist. So it’s an exchange. I’m an open-minded person.”
One thing Giampaolo, Angélil and Dion had been discussing was pushing the Céline brand into non-musical areas, and that is going to happen. Negotiations are underway with a potential partner to explore opportunities, in everything from cosmetics to boutiques to clothing lines to kitchenware.
So we don’t know exactly what Dion’s new day will look and sound like. All we know for sure is that it’s coming.
“She’s a trooper,” said Giampaolo. “She’s a Stanley Cup winner. She’s going to play the seventh game, and in the seventh game you’re going to get a lot out of her. She’s going to come to play.”