Free Madonna concert draws crowd of 1.6m to Brazil’s Copacabana beach

With the world-famous statue towering over it from Corcovado mountain, Rio de Janeiro is well used to Christ the Redeemer. For one night only this weekend, it also had Madonna.

More than a million people thronged Copacabana beach on Saturday night, turning its vast stretch of sand into a massive dancefloor for a free concert by the pop star as she completed her world tour.

“Here we are in the most beautiful place in the world,” Madonna, 65, told the tightly packed crowd. Pointing out the ocean view and the mountains, she added: “This place is magic.”

In the run-up to the concert, the city had been buzzing, with fans lined up outside the stately Copacabana Palace hotel in the hope of catching a glimpse of the star. The city’s airport fielded an estimated 170 extra flights as fans poured in from around the world.

City officials estimated that 1.6 million people turned up for the concert, some watching from brightly lit apartments or hotels overlooking the beach, while others looked on from motorboats and sailboats anchored nearby.

View image in fullscreen ‘Rio, here we are, in the most beautiful place in the world,’ Madonna told fans. Photograph: António Lacerda/EPA

As drones and helicopters flew overhead, the singer offered up a dazzling show, playing classics ranging from Like a Virgin to Like a Prayer, and cycling through dozens of sets and costume changes.

Flanked by giant screens, she began the show with her 1998 hit Nothing Really Matters, eliciting a huge cheer from the crowd.

“Oi, Rio!” she called out in Portuguese. The response was swift, carried by more than a million voices: “Oi, Queen Madonna!”

The singer also paid an emotional tribute to “all the bright lights” lost to Aids as she sang Live to Tell, against a backdrop of black-and-white photos featuring people who died from the illness.

The Brazilian pop artists Anitta and Pabllo Vittar, as well as younger musicians from samba schools, also took part in the show.

View image in fullscreen Fans at the Madonna concert in Rio on Saturday. Photograph: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

The show, which Madonna’s official website described as the biggest ever in her 40-year career, marked the final stop on her Celebration tour. Giant screens and 18 sound towers had been spread out along the beach to ensure the crowds could enjoy the event.

Fans, many of whom lined up hours or even days before the concert to get a good view, hailed Madonna’s performance. “I have never seen such a powerful show,” one told the BBC. “It’s unimaginable, very much out of the ordinary,” she added.

“Madonna is spectacular,” said another. “There’s no concert better than Madonna’s.”

City officials, on high alert after a young Brazilian fan died at a Taylor Swift concert last year as a result of heat exhaustion, ordered firefighters to cool down fans by spraying water before the concert. Free drinking water was also handed out as temperatures hovered at about 27C (81F) during the late-night show.

More than 3,000 police officers were deployed around the concert area, where the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart have also drawn million-strong crowds.

Across Rio, anticipation had been building all week. “Welcome, Queen!” read Heineken ads plastered around the city, while bars and restaurants served up “Like a Virgin” cocktails. Across the Copacabana neighbourhood, the singer’s image was emblazoned on billboards, souvenirs and T-shirts.

As hotel bookings in Copacabana climbed to an estimated 98% of capacity, Rio state’s security readied plans that included the presence of 3,200 military personnel and 1,500 civilian police officers on standby, while the country’s navy carried out inspections of any vessel looking to follow the concert offshore. City officials estimated that the concert would inject as much as 293m reais (£46m) into the local economy.

With contributions from Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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