In what was undoubtedly an emotional night for her, Céline Dion was the picture of grace Tuesday evening in her first performance back on The Colosseum stage after losing her husband René Angélil to cancer last month.
The first 20 minutes of the show were streamed live on CelineDion.com.
The tribute concert first began with a quote from Dion followed by a slideshow of family photos and René’s TV appearances: “I understood that my career was in a way his masterpiece, his song, his symphony. The idea of leaving it unfinished would have hurt him terribly. I realized that if he ever left us, I would have to continue without him, for him. – Céline Dion”
The audience greeted Dion with a standing ovation and roaring applause as she belted out “With One More Look at You/Watch Closely Now.”
“Thank you, I did rehearse this song in my closet and it went way better than that,” Dion began, trying to hold back tears. “Through my life, I only had highs from my husband who sat out here night after night. People thought that I was looking at him actually, but I didn’t need to, because every time I closed my eyes I felt René on stage with me whether he was seated in his seat right there, in the balcony, backstage or at home with the kids. He’s always been on stage with me. And nothing will ever change that.”
She added: “You know René always surrounded me with the very best people possible. I trusted him so much, that I never had the chance to worry about anything. Now I guess it is only a natural impulse to constantly question myself. ‘Would he let the kids play with these toys?’ and, ‘Is this song too fast? Is this song too slow? Don’t talk too much.’ It is pretty amazing that since he is no longer physically with me he is even more present.”
“René was my very best critic. He never told me what I wanted to hear, he told me what I needed to hear. You know night after night on our way back home from the show when he was so silent, I could sense that he was trying to know how to approach me without hurting my artistic feeling, but there were things that he had to tell me for my own growth. René is the only man that I have known all my life. He always made me feel that we were on our first date, isn t that amazing? Never talking bluntly, and always impressing himself in a soft and gentle way. We were one. And nothing has changed we will always be one.”
“You know I might not hear his voice yet, but I talk to him. I think of him all the time. 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. And now I can feel that he’s telling me to zip it and start singing. Thank you so much for being here.”
Dion also spoke a few words in French before singing her set list. She completed her speech by saying, “I love you René.” The live stream concluded after she sang her hits “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” and “Because You Loved Me.”
After the tribute, Dion began what she would later call “the most difficult show that I have done in my whole life.” A consummate professional, she held it together through the majority of the 100-minute show.
The star was incredibly emotional and shed tears after singing “All By Myself,” standing in the center of the stage with her head down and her body shaking. The crowd of 4,000 people rose to its feet to cheer for the the heartbroken singer. “I hope you know that tonight’s show is very personal to me,” she said at one point, “but, who am I kidding, by now you know everything about me.”
Prior to her encore, Dion appropriately sang, “The Show Must Go On.” In doing so, she defiantly and emphatically spread her arms and pumped her fists to the beat. As she left the stage, she pointed into the air, looked up and was seen mouthing the words “thank you.”
She returned to the stage for the encore to belt out her mammoth hit “My Heart Will Go On” as artificial rain came down around her. Afterward, she spoke to the crowd.
“I have to tell you that that was definitely the most difficult show that I have done in my whole life and I want to thank you for the support,” she said. “You know, growing up in my generation, the word ‘love’ was not said. We were kind of shy to say the words.”
“René, on the other hand, was saying ‘I love you’ every day, to his mother, brother, children, friends,” she continued. “You know the first time that I heard him say to his mom, ‘I love you mom,’ I was stunned. I understood immediately that I was missing out on something. I have infiltrated the words ‘I love you’ in my family.”
Those three words that are said all around her house, are incredibly powerful, she said.
“I can say to all of you tonight I love you,” she told the crowd.
Following her sentimental moment, Dion finished her show with a stirring rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
After Angélil’s death, friends of the longtime couple – who first met when Dion was 12 years old – told PEOPLE the music producer would want nothing more than to have the star continue to sing.
“It’s very inspiring that that’s what this couple was about,” said Dion’s stylist Annie Horth. “They created something amazing completely together. He loved more than anything watching her perform.”