Long before manufactured pop era groups such as Il Divo and Bond began blurring the lines between contemporary and classical music, lured by the juicy financial opportunity, Andrea Bocelli was crossing musical boundaries — just because he can.
While he’s hardly shunned the trappings (Bocelli is frequently cited as the biggest-selling classical artist alive today) for the Tuscan, music is its own reward and his fame not something he takes for granted.
“Showing off is an ‘intellectual accident’ that I steer clear of,” Bocelli told tabloid!, in an extensive email interview ahead of his performance in Abu Dhabi on Friday. “Today, as at the beginning of my career, music is a dream I cannot give up. I had never thought I would have gone so far.”
The Italian singer rose to global fame with “Time To Say Goodbye” in 1996, and earlier this year released his latest “pop” album, a collection of love songs taking in everything from a rendition of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender, The Girl From Ipanema and Quizas, Quizas, Quizas — probably best known by English speakers as Doris Day’s Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps. While he works with pop singers including Jennifer Lopez on the album, it’s a journey back to the singer’s beginnings, which are not as operatic as you might think.
“It is a selection of the musical moments that accompanied my youth, a collection of cherished memories; when 18 years old I first approached pop music starting to play as a pianist in piano bars, it is right from this repertoire, from these international pieces become classics that I started.”
Bocelli was already an accomplished pianist and singer when he lost his eyesight aged 12, but his gigs in the piano bars were to put him through law school — and meet women. He is Italian, let’s not forget that. Love songs are still his bread and butter — hence the title of the album. “Passion is one face of love, and love is the engine of the world: without it, life would have no meaning,” he said when asked what he is personally passionate about.
“They say I am a passionate man. I believe that life is the most beautiful and the greatest of gifts, and that it is worthwhile living it with great strength and courage and above all with great optimism. I love breathing life to the fullest and I am interested in all that surrounds me. Without passion you do not get any results, and surely you do not sing well! I hope this album which is dedicated to passionate love, can convey peacefulness and naturally the spark of a renewed passion.”
From stage fright to 24 hours of silence; connecting to his audience and Jennifer Lopez to Edith Piaf, Bocelli explains what we can look forward to at his Yas Island concert this weekend.
What is an Andrea Bocelli concert?
For the public who will listen to my performance, I hope it will be a day of rest: my staff and I have done everything possible to conceive an event up to the expectations. I tend to invite my public to share immortal pages, through a repertoire that is typical of the Italian tenor. There will be at first an exquisitely lyric part, with pages from the great 19th century Italian opera repertoire and with some pieces from the French one, (including a page from “Romeo et Juliette” by Gounod, which I had the pleasure to record recently), followed by the great romanzas by now consigned to history, including some world-famous Neapolitan songs to get then to more pop music. There will be songs from “Incanto” and from my new album “Passione”. And on more than one occasion I will sing while playing the piano.
How do you prepare for a concert, physically and mentally?
A concert is for me like a painter who is ready to start painting a picture: an artist with the brush in his hands close to the canvas, cultivating an idea, and hoping in his heart to accomplish it, so that once the picture has been completed, it may be as similar as possible to the original intention.
There is always a difference anyway, in the painting as in the concert, and it may happen again this time too. But on the stage we try to get as close as possible to the original idea. That is what did the great authors at their time giving us the marvellous pages that we are proposing.
When I am close to the concert I try to spend my time in isolation, I try to maintain the maximum concentration, and I observe a strict silence in the 24 hours preceding the concert, putting into practice what my great master Franco Corelli indicated as an essential precaution for a singer before his performance.
Going on the stage, I always feel a little bit afraid. You must learn to cope with it. All in all, I find it right to be excited when you feel a great respect for music and for your public. To counterbalance the stress, it is important to be aware of having done one’s own duty, in other words, to have a clear conscience.
How do you connect to the audience when you cannot see them?
I think that many people in the world can look at everything without actually seeing anything. What people think of as my first problem, I often personally perceive it as the last one. Also because as Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote, “One sees clearly only with the heart”. With my public I always establish an intense and touching relation. I try to convey a little joy and happiness entering the heart of people, and I am rewarded by such warm affection that gives me the strength to continue after 20 years to get on a plane and travel the world to sing.
Your latest album is Passione. How is it different from your others?
In a sense “Passione” comes from the pursuit of beauty. It is a selection of the musical moments that accompanied my youth, a collection of cherished memories: when 18 years old. I wanted to collect some among the most beautiful pages of pop ever: timeless songs that are still moving today. And I love the idea of offering [them] to those who already know them, a new updated version, different and recorded with a quality in sound updated to the technologies of the new millennium. I also think that for new generations the album will represent a special opportunity to discover a repertoire that will surely give them strong emotions.
How was it working with Jennifer Lopez on Quizas, Quizas, Quizas?
One of the greatest privileges of my profession is the possibility to sing duets with wonderful colleagues who are also extremely competent! Jennifer is a complete and charismatic artist: with her soft and sensual voice she has been able to impress a strong personality to this song, and to make sure that the duet does not cut a poor figure in comparison with the interpretations of Nat King Cole, Doris Day and other famous artists. The vocal talent of Jennifer blends with her acting experience, the multiplicity of her talents in the apparent simplicity of this melody. A popular and universal song about the eternal love chase between man and woman.
You also sing with Nelly Furtado.
Even with Nelly, we are in front of a volcanic personality . Having to deal with a “classic” of Brazilian music like “Corcovado” she has been able to make it particularly attractive. A great artist. But in the album you will also find a great voice from the past, a legendary voice, revived thanks to technology in a contemporary duet. It is the marvellous and unrivalled voice of Edith Piaf who I sing with in “La Vie en Rose”. It is just as if she had come back with us 50 years after she had left.
How did you chose the tracks for the album, and why did you go in this direction?
With David Foster [a great friend and artist who produced and arranged the album], we initially identified approximately 80 songs that, overcoming generational conflicts of taste and style are still performed in every corner of the world, cherished and a thousand times reinterpreted, loved by grandfathers fathers and sons. The titles which in the end have passed the selection and found their place in “Passione” are at the top of my personal love list.
The reception of the album has been very positive. Why do you think you are so popular?
I must say I am amazed too, and every day I feel grateful for the affection that people show me. But I never dwell on numbers, on records, on prizes…. I try to go on, knowing that my voice is a gift of which I have no merit, a gift that might leave me at any time. Showing off is an “intellectual accident” that I steer clear of. Today as at the beginning of my career music is a dream I cannot give up. I had never thought I would have gone so far. I am perfectly aware that I am very lucky and I can say that reality has far exceeded the brightest dream
I have many talented colleagues both in the field of lyric and pop music. But success is the sum of a series of variables and of inscrutable balances. Fame in itself is not a value. There are a thousand ways to be trustworthy people without being famous.
What are the most unusual fan experiences you’ve had?
I like to remember what happened at the birth of my daughter Virginia: our house was invaded by gifts from all corners of the globe… From the simplest and symbolic objects to the most engaging ones. From small pictures to embroidered covers, to a 3 meter-long grand piano made on purpose. From a blanket with a dedication from Quincy Jones, to a pair of socks knit by an old lady (who, of course, I have never personally met). Colourful gifts from Brazil, Cuba, Taiwan, Romania, Miami. Dolls, rocking horses, silver spoons, dresses of all shapes and fabrics. Behind every object there is the story of a life, there is a positive thinking, a will, an act of love that leaves me touched and full of gratitude.
You are close to Pope Emeritus Benedict. What are your thoughts on his resignation?
I think that the choice of Pope Benedict XVI asks for our most respectful silence.  It is too great a choice, deep and certainly meditated, to be diminished by the superficiality of any comment. My only thought for him is of gratitude and affection for all that he has done in the course of his Pontificate.
An election has just taken place in Italy. What’s your take on the political situation there, who do you think is best to lead the country at the moment? Have you ever considered entering politics?
It is easy for everybody to understand that it is a particularly complex situation. But I am an optimist and I think that this time too my country will improve its chances. I have faith in Italians and I am sure they will be able to overcome this moment of political turmoil and of economic crisis, (a crisis which is not only linked to Italy or Europe.) Personally I have values in which I believe and which I try to put into practice every day, and to convey, through a concrete example, to my children and to those who surround me. But this does not mean that I am willing to enter politics: I think an artist must be able to speak to everybody’s heart regardless of personal ideas.
By Natalie Long