THIS PERFORMER NEEDS absolutely no introduction. The 60-year-old Italian is synonymous with powerful, melodious, almost ethereal singing both on stage and in his recordings. Tenor Andrea Bocelli's appeal was once explained by Celine Dion thus: "If God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea." He is often labelled the world's greatest musical artist and you have a chance to witness the magic live at the du Arena, Yas Island, where he will be making his third appearance at the venue, this Friday evening. A mixture of material from the classics to tracks off his new album, Si, Bocelli spoke exclusively to City Times about his upcoming show.
How does it feel when people label you the world's best and most beloved tenor? Did you always believe you would reach this level of notoriety when you began singing?
I don't think that reflects reality: there are many extraordinarily talented singers in the world. Being appreciated is undeniably a reason for satisfaction, yet popularity in and of itself does not lead to anything, it is not a trait and it is always temporary: nothing is forever. Today you are famous, tomorrow you may not be. I think that God has lent me a tool that allows me to express what I feel. My only credit, if you can define it as such, lies in the fact that I have tried to honour this talent with discipline and perseverance. I am proud that I am able to offer my voice to anyone who seeks emotion in music and a relief from the struggles of everyday life. Reality has exceeded all my dreams, even my most daring one. Success arrived after many doors were closed in my face, sometimes in an ungracious manner. The opportunities to make it were truly few and far between: I was born on a farm in the country, in an area far from the towns where you can study music, go to the theatre, listen to operas and gain experience. Then, when the hope of earning a living from my main passion were ever-diminishing, in the end, music gave me a life filled with satisfaction.
What is like performing for a Middle East audience and, apart from the show, what else do you like to do when you're in the UAE?
My relationship with the public in the United Arab Emirates is solid and widely established. I am always happy to return, because I feel surrounded by love in your country and I feel comfortable, like I am at home. When in concert I feel an affinity with the audience that is extremely intense. And I have also had the chance to see how a refined culture of hospitality is part of your very DNA, which can even be gleaned from the small things. This is another reason why I cannot wait to visit the UAE again and to return to experience the powerful emotions that your country has to offer, amidst the mighty nature and the strong trace of man, in the innovation, art and architecture. Last but not least, I think that from a climate perspective, the weather you have been experiencing in recent weeks makes it the absolute perfect period to go to Abu Dhabi.
We're sure it is almost impossible to choose, but do you have a preferred piece to perform and a stand-out performance memory?
Indeed, in the more than a quarter of a century that I have been performing steadily, the memorable moments that I carry in my heart are truly numerous. More recently, I like to remember the double recital I gave in February at the Metropolitan in New York. Despite the fact that I am, by nature, always a little nervous before a performance, in that instance I was particularly calm. And I wanted to perform Ah, tout est bien finí... Ô, Souverain from Massenet's Le Cid as the opening song. This is an aria that has a powerful spiritual dimension and opens with an "a cappella" section. Well, such an opening in the silence of the packed audience of the "Met" was extremely emotional.
What makes you decide on collaborating with an artist for a duet? What qualities must they have?
I've been lucky enough to be directed by great conductors, such as Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Zubin Mehta and Myung-Whun Chung. I've duetted with great voices, in pop (ranging from Céline Dion to Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder to Tony Bennett) as well as in opera (from Plácido Domingo to José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti). Harmonising two voices is a challenge; an exciting venture. The world is filled with outstanding artists, with whom I hope to one day collaborate. Regarding the qualities required, it is impossible for me to give a single answer because every artist is a world unto themselves. And the choice of a vocal partner is both a question of reason, as well as of "heart". As a painter evaluates whether two colours will go well with one another, and what nuances they will produce when combined together, so we singers do when looking for fellow vocal artists - who are perhaps also very far from us in terms of their vocal style. We should be able to create this alchemy, mutually exalting and enhancing the expressive qualities within the magical and "suspended" moment that is a duet.
What can we expect from your UAE show?
As I often emphasise, my main aim and wish for the people who place their trust in my voice and the music I perform is that they have a celebratory, optimistic and joyful experience during my concerts. I always want to put on an upbeat show that is able to communicate positive values. The repertoire is the same one I have always performed, the quintessential repertoire of the Italian tenor, for whom so many wonderful arias were composed. There will also be room for popular romanzas and the most loved songs, tracks that the audience expects to hear from my voice and whom I will be glad to not disappoint. Of course, every concert follows a set list that has its own distinctive features: for the concert in Abu Dhabi I will perform - amongst others - arias from Verdi, such as La donna è mobile and Di quella pira, and pieces from Puccini like Donna non vidi mai and O soave fanciulla. In terms of pop, there will be many songs and romanzas, including Granada, Funiculì funiculà, O sole mio and tracks from my latest album.
As an Italian, does it make you proud your homeland is so revered? What aspects of home do you take with you when you're on tour?
"Italian-ness" is the significant common thread that runs throughout practically all of my concerts. The world thirsts for Italian culture and for me - a fervent patriot - it is a privilege and also, I think, a duty, to spread the civilisation of beauty that our country expresses. During every concert I can see how the arias of Verdi, Puccini and Mascagni, as well as the great popular romanzas, are able to touch the hearts of everyone, overcoming every barrier. Italy is a country whose natural beauty and wealth of artistic masterpieces never cease to amaze me. We have an extraordinary history behind us, excellence in every field, an impressive number of treasures that we can enhance, lovely traditions and a widespread food and culture. Of course, it is no simple country and has some contradictions, however it is still a wonderful place. Italians have the privilege of being able to grow up surrounded by beauty (of the panorama, the art, the ingenuity, the food and the sentiments). And true beauty - in the sense of everything that inspires and, therefore, does no harm - lies in being able to understand and appreciate it deeply, and is intimately connected to goodness.
Does your practice regime increase or decrease with time? Do your vocal exercises become easier when you're halfway through a tour, or is it a consistently tough schedule?
Study is a crucial factor in the everyday life of any singer. You must train constantly, just like an athlete. The day when I stop studying, I will no longer be a singer. The challenge is to continue, day after day, to reflect on your vocal technique and to improve by learning from every mistake. During a tour, my voice is put through a tour de force and thus I try to concentrate the study sessions and not work my vocal cords too hard. Thanks to my study and diving deep each day (and also thanks to some precious technical advice received in the past from Luciano Pavarotti) in my later years I have developed an ease for hitting the high notes that I did not have as a young man.
What is one aspect about you of which you don't believe people are aware? Do you also have a hidden talent for something else you have not shared with the world?
I couldn't tell you, not least because, due to the longevity of my career, the media has had numerous occasions to look into my private life. I think I am a completely normal person, in my habits and relationships, despite my unusual profession. Music is my daily bread and I also love to sing, play and listen to music during my free time. Of course, I have many other interests. I like to converse, listen to others, exchange views, practice sport and meet my friends. I am a decent chess player, I am a connoisseur of good food and good coffee and I am a fan of football and boxing. Perhaps not everyone is aware of another passion of mine, that runs parallel to music: poetry. I strongly believe in poetry. I think that it is medicine for all of us and that it makes the world a more beautiful place. I could call my verses "old-fashioned", in the sense that I like to write poetry by following the rules of rhyme and rhythm metrics - which I think still hold true today and are useful. Often - also to keep my brain in shape - I write when I'm in the dressing room, waiting to go on stage.
A few tickets for Bocelli's show remain on ticketmaster.ae