He has performed for four US Presidents, three Popes and at Princess Eugenie’s wedding, in venues ranging from NYC’s Central Park and London’s Windsor Castle to the Pyramids in Cairo and even under Paris’ Eiffel Tower. As one of the world’s biggest classical stars, this top tenor’s sold a whopping 80 million-plus albums, with his new album, Sì, topping the UK and US charts at No.1 last autumn.
Andrea Bocelli talks to Angela Sara West about the highlights of his glittering career, performing for Pavarotti, and his latest album featuring Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa and Josh Groban.
He gave Elizabeth Taylor “golden goose bumps”, Céline Dion stated “If God had a singing voice, he would sound like Andrea Bocelli,” while David Foster describes him as having “the most beautiful voice in the world…” Andrea Bocelli’s been awarded a Golden Globe, seven Classical BRITs and World Music Awards, and a sought-after star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He’s now the first classical singer to top the UK album charts in over 20 years, simultaneously clinching his first US Billboard 200 No.1.
Andrea tells me his talent became apparent at seven years-old. “I could instantly recognise all the famous voices of the time. I’d learn the great arias and try to emulate the great interpreters, singing loudly with them in our living room. Relatives and friends told me I had a pleasant voice and often asked me to sing. Their insistence led me to think that singing might, one day, become my profession.”
The Italian tenor’s first musical hero was Beniamino Gigli. “Followed by Mario Del Monaco…Enrico Caruso…Giuseppe Di Stefano…Mario Lanza…and, of course, Franco Corelli, who still is my greatest source of inspiration and with whom I had the honour of perfecting my craft.” At 14, he enjoyed his first competition success, performing O Sole Mio. “As a teenager, I played piano, singing what I loved most. My studying became more systematic and serious when I entrusted myself to Italian composer, Maestro Luciano Bettarini.”
To fund singing lessons, Andrea performed in piano bars. He studied and practised law, but the stage summoned. “I came to fame late, at 35 years-old, after experiencing many doors closed in my face and many dashed hopes.” Now the biggest-selling artist in the history of classical music, from Tosca and Carmen, to Madame Butterfly and Roméo & Juliette, the opera king’s covered them all. “I never abandoned the dream of making music my profession, even at university and when singing in bars… Reality’s exceeded a thousand times even my rosiest fantasies!”
The eternally-humble tenor says singing’s the only way to express himself fully. “My primary school teacher once warned me, ‘Always remember, Andrea, that God has given you a gift, and of this gift you have no merit’. I’ve tried to honour my gift with much dedication, seriousness, honesty and conscience. Music is my daily bread… it’s a need, passion, joyful elation and vital élan towards beauty and making life lighter. The art of sounds, music’s always the source of an inner wealth and consolation. Good music’s fatally connected to good because it has a strong influence on our conscience, contributing to our spiritual evolution and, therefore, making us better people.”
But, he says, life’s also about other important aspects. “I try to be a good father, companion and person who expresses his ethical convictions with simplicity in daily life, even beyond music.”
For Andrea, singing’s a “sweet privilege”. “To perform to an audience, whether heads of state or family and friends, shares a gift that Heaven has given me. It’s the simplest and most direct way to win their affection and give back as much, and as intensely, as possible.” .
He says the more honours he receives, the higher the expectation. “The main challenge is to put all of myself at the service of music, using my voice at its best through continuous technical and interpretation refinement. It seems I can touch people’s hearts through my singing and I’m the first to be astonished, and grateful, for their kindness. To succeed in my field, you need a pleasant voice, willpower, spirit of sacrifice, stamina, plus a pinch of narcissism!”
King of classical crossover – the album with A-list duets
The self-described ”modern but old-fashioned tenor” has showcased his mellow-yet-powerful tones at sell-out arena shows and prestigious international events, including the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations and Princess Eugenie’s wedding, the Oscars, Olympic Games, World Cup and UEFA Champions League Final. He also records pop albums, collaborating with Tony Bennett and contemporary artists like Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande and Mary J. Blige.
For his chart-topping album, SÌ, Andrea duetted with Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Aida Garifullina and Josh Groban. His first album of all-new material in 14 years sees him return to his roots, with an intimate collection of sensational songs celebrating love, family, faith and hope, including an emotional duet with his 21-year-old son, Matteo. “I wanted to go back to my memories of being a young man, playing at a piano bar. I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time for new songs…’, like starting all over again.” Heart…soul….positivity…family…melody and magic… the uplifting album includes personal tributes to his family and reflects his spirituality. “In this historical period we’re going through, we too often say ‘no’. But ‘yes’ (‘sì’) is the word you say when you have your first kiss, agree with somebody, want to make someone feel good… ‘Sì’ is the word you say every time things will end well. For 1,0001 reasons, ‘sì’ is the expression of a positive, powerful human word and feeling and emotion.”
Andrea adores duetting. “When two voices are intertwined, they reciprocally enhance the interpreters’ expressive qualities. When this intimate and deep alchemy takes place, something magical happens… it’s an artistic practice that gives me much satisfaction. There are many talented artists with whom I hope to share the stage… too many to mention! To sing together, both in opera and in pop, is a very gratifying and intense experience.
On the road… dream operas & Christmas classics
The legendary tenor’s world tour takes in everywhere from the UK, US and Canada, to Germany, Italy and Spain. “Every concert’s special and every stage thrills me. I try to give my best to all those honouring me with their presence, offering them moments of joy and celebration. I live every concert with apprehension and joy of an important moment and unique encounter.”
Andrea will be joined by the queen of British soul, Beverley Knight, on his highly-anticipated upcoming
headline tour this autumn.
His ‘dream’ operas? “All the compositions by Giacomo Puccini, a good selection from Verdi and Pietro Mascagni, and many of the French 19th-century works.” He enjoys executing Christmas classics, including White Christmas, at his festive events. “They’re even more exciting and joyful occasions to celebrate together, warming hearts and conveying Christmas wishes through music. The concerts usually showcase the most-loved pieces, mainly from an operatic repertoire, followed by pop classics and songs that my audience ‘anticipates’.”
His favourite venues? “I appreciate operatic theatres’ acoustics… they’re magical places, where humanity’s told and its values expressed, without electronic amplification device. Nevertheless, in large arenas I always perceive a very intense wave of positive energy from such vast audiences and can disseminate my music preferences on a large scale.”
Celebrity Fight Night
Andrea’s fulfilled his ‘American dream’ of performing at the Statue of Liberty to an audience including Leonardo Di Caprio, Robert De Niro and Cameron Diaz, while his annual star-studded fundraiser, Celebrity Fight Night, draws famous faces, including John Legend, Susan Sarandon, Steven Tyler and Sir Michael Caine, to Florence or Rome. “Last year, I was joined by Sir Elton John in the world-famous Colosseum. We’ve previously hosted Queen Rania of Jordan, Sharon Stone, Sophia Loren, Nicolas Cage, Lionel Richie and George Clooney, among many others.”
Performing for Pavarotti
Andrea sang a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria at late great Luciano Pavarotti’s wedding. “It was a marvellous, generous, brilliant, cheerful and touching wedding ceremony… just like the groom. Although there were over 600 guests, it was intimate and worldly… a concert of feelings, in his home city, Modena. The fact that Pavarotti chose me to perform at such a delicate and important moment of his life was, for me, a further testimony of his esteem and genuine friendship. I still miss him very much…”
Silver screen star
Based on Andrea’s amazing life, The Music of Silence features an all-star cast, including Antonio Banderas and Game of Thrones’ Toby Sebastian. “Sometimes, it seems a paradox to me that my life may be considered so interesting to the point of making it into a movie! I’ve great esteem for the actors and director, Michael Radford, author of great masterpieces like Il Postino: The Postman. It contains some songs I composed in my youth, which were perhaps a little naïve, but are dear to me.”
Time out in Tuscany
For R&R, Andrea’s spectacular Tuscan villa in Forte dei Marmi’s just the ticket. “I love spending my rare moments of rest in the country village where I was born, or my house by the sea with my wife and children.” His children are following in his musical footsteps. “Amos and Matteo have been playing the piano for many years, while little Virginia’s also becoming interested in music. Matteo has a voice with interesting potential…”
Despite being born with poor eyesight, becoming blind in a football accident at 12, audacious Andrea lives an adventurous lifestyle. “That’s right! Although I’ve had to moderate my taste for challenges and strong emotions that, in my youth, made me quite daring, above all with sports. I love sailing on my boat, swimming, surfing, skiing, horse-riding, boxing and football. An avid reader, I’m fond of writing poems and playing chess, too.”
Keeping the faith
Andrea says faith is the greatest gift. “I’ve tried to honour this extraordinary miracle which is life, in the desire to always stay on the path of ‘good’ and cultivate faith. My life’s not free from mistakes, but I’ve no particular regrets.”
What’s next for this magnificent music maestro? “I hope to go on singing as long as our Lord will want it, and to continue, along with the foundation bearing my name and the many friends that support it, to offer my little contribution to make the world a better place. The world of culture and entertainment’s facing radical transformations and new challenges, but I’m eternally optimistic because, as history’s extensively shown, good music will not die!”
Andrea Bocelli’s new album ‘Sì’ is out now on Decca Records. For further information and tickets for his tour, visit Andrea’s website: www.andreabocelli.com
Prolific philanthropist Andrea set up The Andrea Bocelli Foundation (ABF) to give underprivileged children around the world a better future. He recently created The Voices of Haiti choir, offering children opportunities to perform with famous artists: www.andreabocellifoundation.org
Andrea’s Celebrity Fight Night raises funds for the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, Barrow Neurological Institute and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center: www.celebrityfightnight.org