The king of top note

AFTER THE recent death of Luciano Pavarotti, much attention has been paid to the search for a successor to the world's best-known classical tenor. If sales history and crossover appeal can be used as guides, Tuscany, Italy-born Andrea Bocelli - who sang at Pavarotti's funeral - is surely the key contender.

Bocelli's Italian label, Sugar, claims the singer has racked up career sales in excess of 60 million albums at home and abroad through a series of international licensing deals. That figure looks set to increase significantly after the rollout of Bocelli's career retrospective Vivere, which arrived Oct. 30 via Decca.

Bocelli's route to international stardom was hardly a conventional one; blind since the age of 12, he financed his singing lessons by performing in piano bars in Pisa, while he attempted to launch a career as a lawyer. Ahead of the new release, the artist talked to Billboard about his remarkable career.

Does a "best of" release feel like a milestone to you?

I guess so. I see it almost as marking the end of one part of my career and the start of another. I wanted to do a 'best of' before my 50th birthday (in September 2008) and moving onto other things. I've already got plenty of projects lined up for the next part of my career, such as a recording of 'Carmen' and a couple of other things that I'll talk about at a later date.

Luciano Pavarotti played an important role in discovering you - was he your mentor?

I wouldn't say (that), as I was already fairly mature when I met him, but he played a key role in my career. He was the first important person to believe in me and introduced me to other important people. He helped open a lot of doors that might otherwise have remained shut.

Do you see yourself as an heir to Pavarotti?

For me, the idea of 'artistic inheritance' doesn't exist - inheritance can only apply to material things. For that reason, I don't think there's much point in looking for heirs to Pavarotti. He was unique. He touched people's hearts the world over in a special way. The rest of us just try to do our best.

Why does the world love Italian tenors?

Opera was born in Italy. We are at an advantage when it comes to singing opera, in the same way Americans are at an advantage when it comes to jazz and rock 'n' roll.

Speaking to Billboard in 2004, you said you wished opera could return to its historical role as "the music of the people." Is progress being made?

Opera is still largely confined to the opera houses. Part of the problem is that the mass media - radio, TV and the press - doesn't take much interest, and part of the problem is the snobbery of the opera world, which puts a lot of people off. That's a real pity. I've received negative reviews from opera critics, (but) that's a slightly different issue - more to do with resentment of my commercial success and the assumption that I've made a lot of money. (But) negative criticism isn't necessarily bad for a successful artist. It can help you keep your feet on the ground. For a young artist who has yet to make it, it's completely different. It can destroy you.

You "made it" relatively late for a singer, in your mid-30s, but did you ever feel like giving up in the early days?

There were certainly times when it all seemed very difficult, but I don't think I ever reached the point where I wanted to give up. And in retrospect, I have to admit that I'm grateful I became a star in my 30s and not in my teens. I had already grown up, and I think I was able to handle it. For an 18-year-old, it must be terrible.

More news from City Times