Andrea Bocelli: I hope to return to the UAE soon
Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli on his affinity with the Middle East and how love is at the heart of his music
Superstar tenor Andrea Bocelli remains the modern incarnation of the Italian Bel Canto with his vocal charisma and timbre, exquisite musicianship, and acute sensitivity.
His musical career has now spanned almost 30 years but he continues adding songs to his vast repertoire and discography. The versatility he shows — an almost uncanny ability to instantly adapt to opera arias, sacred pieces, and pop hits — is what makes him peerless.
Also a giant in joy and enthusiasm, Bocelli is a rooted cosmopolitan loyal to his heritage. “To have strong wings, one must rely on deep roots”, he tells City Times from his Tuscan villa in Lajatico, in the Pisan region where he was born and where his ancestors raised their families. So did he with his three kids: Amos, a space engineer, Matteo, who follows in his footsteps, and eight-year-old daughter Virginia, who in a live-streamed event, Believe in Christmas, from Teatro Regio di Parma joined him for a moving rendition of Leonard Cohen’s iconic song Hallelujah. The 62-year-old tenor reflects on his music, life and talks about his experience with the Gulf countries.
Early last December, you performed at Dubai Opera accompanied by the Arabian Philarmonic. You were joined on stage by Israeli composer Idan Raichel, soprano Talia Or, and Arab-Israeli pop singer Nasreen Qadri. How would you describe the collaboration with the UAE ensemble and the Arabian Philarmonic?
I will always remember that experience with great pleasure as an exciting, stimulating moment of my artistic career. We lived it to the fullest. Yes, I hope that we can repeat the collaboration as soon as possible. I find these opportunities for multicultural encounters priceless. They are united in leaning into beauty and its sharing. Art speaks from the heart: it has the power to break down barriers and generate shared passions that cut the distances, producing mutual knowledge and empathy.
What is your relationship with the rich tapestry of Arab music?
I am an admirer of it. I remain captivated by those rhythms. However, I would like to know the millenary and complex Arab musical tradition much more than what I know.
We exist in dissonant times. But you are lucky to be blessed with the gift of music that comforts us, allowing us to stop the madness; it picks us up. Do you feel privileged?
Good music is a source of consolation and inner richness. It affects consciousness and makes us better people. Music can educate the mind and soul; it can help us overcome difficulties and opens the heart. I feel privileged to have been able to make a profession out of my greatest passion. Beyond that, it is with great humility that I make available my vocal instrument. It is a gift from heaven for which I have no merit.
Music is the universal code of communication. Music transcends the limits of language. Is that why it unites people and nations more than anything else?
Your definition is very fitting. I think so too! I am fascinated by the universality of a language that educates to beauty and expresses peace and brotherhood. Music is therapeutic; it can help us overcome difficulties, increase our positiveness and trust our fellow men. Two thousand years ago, ancient Roman politician Cato the Younger (also known as Cato Uticensis) suggested that the legislator forbid soldiers from listening to music. In his opinion, music risked sweetening the soul: it made warriors unable to fight. Today, we no longer want conflict and violence, so music — good music, because bad music risks creating adverse effects — can be a powerful instrument of peace.
But what inspires you? What are the driving forces behind your singing?
My source of inspiration is always love, in all its forms. Love is the engine of the world. Without love, life would have no purpose and no meaning. I set up my entire existence by paying homage, through song, to the force of love and therefore to life, which is the most beautiful and the greatest of gifts.
You also view friendship as a cardinal part of your life.
Definitely. We confide in a friend, trust them with our most intimate secrets. Friendship is a sweet responsibility requiring commitment and abnegation. For me, a friend is someone who understands me for who I am, without any pretense. Friendship is a form of love. And love generates mutual understanding: when we are understood, we are at home.
Last Easter, during the devastating first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, your spine-tingling Music for Hope performance from an empty Duomo cathedral in Milan was watched live by 28 million around the globe in its first 24 hours. That unique experience reaffirmed the strength of spiritual messages that speak life and rebirth.
I would not consider it a concert: I intended to say a prayer for my family and the world. I cherish those memories among the most precious ones. Lockdown showed eerie scenes those dark days. However, we were tens of millions, thanks to the Internet. And above all, thanks to the heart of each of us. We were unknown brothers who joined their hands to reach up to the sky in prayer.In that forced separation, it was a great emotion to feel so much sense of unity, so much sense of fraternity!
The music industry counts the heartbreaking cost of coronavirus. How can the sector hope to recover? And then maybe later there will be a musical renaissance?
Covid-19 wiped out a year of concerts. We spent a year without live music, without opera, without arts in general. We lost many opportunities in a year. As art is a gift from heaven, it aims at fostering spiritual growth. So when the spirit is not nurtured, there is a risk that it downgrades dangerously. But despite this, I remain optimistic. Even though predictions are hard to make, I am sure we will get out of the crisis. I hope the renaissance you have evoked will not be only musical but on a broader level. I hope it will induce us to seek beauty on all fronts — and beauty is always something intrinsic to goodness.
What does music mean to you?
It is an indispensable urgency, a way to infuse life with lightness and poetry. I am passionate about it for its ability to affect consciousness. Music changes the moral character of a soul, as Aristotle wrote.
When did you fall in love with Bel canto?
According to my mother, even when I was a baby in the cradle, I showed my own powerful and rapt emotional reaction to sound sources. I was captured by them, really enamored with them, especially when they were vocal pieces. Music has been fundamental at every stage of my life. As a child, I raised awareness of having a pleasant voice and an inclination to singing since my friends and relatives regularly asked me to perform. Several times, their insistence made me think: “Who knows, this might become my profession!”
Your new album, Believe, weaves 19 songs together with a sacred theme.
The project revolves around three keywords: faith, hope, and charity. Not only are they the three theological virtues that frame and inform the Christian life, but also they are universally the pillars of a meaningful life. The new album is a heterogeneous and experimental collection of spiritual pages combining pieces by great classical authors (from Tomaso Albinoni to Georges Bizet to Giacomo Puccini) with popular songs and new songs. After releasing a few more sensual records, this project aims to be a medicine for the soul. It offers a moment of relief and optimism. As for my faith, I believe in eternal life, in the immortality of the soul, and that we are spiritual beings grappling with the finite, temporary experience of a body.
What about a next future tour in the Gulf Countries and the Middle East in general?
The United Arab Emirates and the other Gulf countries are among the regions I love most in the world. I always visit with enthusiasm also because of your refined hospitality. You welcome me with great affection, and I feel that kindness. I find a strong affinity with the Middle Eastern audiences. And this is even more extraordinary since the music I propose is distant from your musical tradition that is as rich and great as ours. Yes, I confirm, the Middle East is in my thoughts, and I hope to return as soon as possible.