Andrea Bocelli gives voice to his love of film music on Cinema, his new album
The music of a film score 'allows composers to go out in space and be totally free', says the tenor of songs including Maria, Moon River and Por Una Cabeza from Scent of a Woman
Andrea Bocelli has two requirements for this interview: he wants to sit out on the patio (“it’s too cold in here,” he says of the suite at the Montage Beverly Hills hotel), and he is going to speak Italian only (“because if I speak English, I have to be more basic, and I won’t be able to express exactly the things I want to say”, he explains, in perfect English).
The Italian tenor, who has sold 80 million albums, was in the United States recently for a number of reasons: the filming of a PBS special, to publicise his latest album – and a little gig singing for the Pope during the latter’s visit to Philadelphia. He has a busy, although not gruelling, tour schedule ahead, singing in Budapest, Prague, Phoenix, Las Vegas and New York’s Madison Square Garden up to the end of the year.
Bocelli’s new album, Cinema, which goes on global release on October 23, is his first in two years and encapsulates a lifelong love of film music.
The 16 tracks include classics like Maria from West Side Story, Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Music of the Night from The Phantom of the Opera.
Bocelli invited in young talent on a couple of the songs, teaming up with Ariana Grande for E Piu’ Ti Penso from Once Upon a Time in America, and Nicole Scherzinger for a rousing duet of No Llores Por Mi, Argentina (Don’t Cry for Me Argentina).
The songs featured are in English, Italian, French, Spanish and the dialect of Sicily. Por una Cabeza, the beguiling tango song that appeared in 1992’s Scent of a Woman, is in Spanish – “a wonderfully seductive, evocative language”, he says.
Bocelli – who suffered from congenital glaucoma as a child and lost his sight for good after an accident during a soccer match when he was 12 – considered hundreds of songs before settling on the final tracks, choosing songs that are beloved and admired.
“The basic principle that I’ve followed in choosing these pieces is that they have established themselves over space and time,” he says. “This is music that is very touching. The music of a film score allows composers to go out in space and be totally free. They don’t have to follow any established patterns … It’s not a constraining type of music.”
He has long been inspired by composers like Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini and Leonard Bernstein. And it’s not just those mainstream composers that he remembers as being a profound influence on his musicianship. He likes to cite Italian operatic bass singer Bonaldo Giaiotti, who was born and grew up near the Dolomite mountains in northeastern Italy, and who believes that “even cows mooing” can be a source of inspiration.
“Any voice that comes from nature can relax and put you in harmony,” says Bocelli.
The classical tenor made his first foray into pop music in the late 1990s, after the success of his award-winning duet with Celine Dion, The Prayer, on the Quest for Camelot soundtrack.
His voice can be both vigorous and velvety at the same time; when Bocelli sings he conveys intimacy, pathos, longing. His breakthrough 1995 hit, Con Te Partiro, which was done partly in English a year later with Sarah Brightman as Time to Say Goodbye, has on numerous occasions brought Bocelli himself to tears, as well as the legions of people that have heard him sing it in concert halls around the world.
Bocelli says he forms a connection with each song he undertakes. “In order for an artist to understand a song, it has to be in his nature, part of his DNA,” the tenor says. “Basically an artist is an artist because he has a very strong desire to understand the almost cryptic nature which is contained in a piece of music.”
Although Bocelli began taking piano lessons when he was six, and later learned the flute and saxophone, a career in music was the last thing on his mind. He grew up on a farm in rural Tuscany where, he says, “it wasn’t like there was a lot of singing at home from my mother and grandmother”.
“The moment that records came into existence, they took over. We listened to them 24 hours a day.”
He decided to study law, getting his degree at the University of Pisa, and says that if a career in music hadn’t worked out, he would have become an attorney. But instead, he went on to study with the tenor Franco Corelli, and gigged in piano bars to support himself.
In 1992, he auditioned to record a duet with Luciano Pavarotti, was selected, and went on to perform as a guest star in the Pavarotti International Festival. International acclaim followed very soon afterwards.
His first two albums, from 1994 and 1996, showed his operatic chops. It wasn’t until his fourth album, Romanza, which included the Brightman duet, that Bocelli began to be regarded as a crossover artist. When The Prayer came out in 1998, that reputation was solidified after Bocelli was nominated for a Grammy for best new artist; the song won a Golden Globe award, and sold 10 million copies.
“As time goes on, your tastes start to change,” he says. “You listen to things when you’re young that you realise later are kind of naive. But then other songs, they are works of art – listened to and appreciated throughout the world, throughout time.”
Despite decades of performing in sold-out stadiums and arenas, he says he still often walks onto a stage with a little trepidation.
“Every time I go close to [singing] an opera, I have a feeling that I might not be able to take it to its end,” he says. “There’s definitely that angst every time. Doubt is a very important component of success. I don’t think there’s an artist anywhere that isn’t animated by doubt.”
Bocelli also believes that there is no magic formula for success. He often talks about artistic talent being something that is God-given, and indeed says that his own voice comes “from above”.
“Art has to do with being a gift from God,” he says. “You can be an excellent engineer or architect or worker in a factory. But if you didn’t get the gift, I truly don’t believe that that person could become an artist.
“Conversely, if what I say is true, it’s also true that no matter how much you work, if you don’t have that gift you cannot be successful. But if you do have the gift, you have to work very, very hard to be a good artist. The concept of good fortune or good opportunity – that’s a consolation prize for those people who weren’t able to make it.”