Although Andrea Bocelli has heard the criticism from the classical music press -- which mostly concludes his voice is small, technique limited, and recordings undistinguished -- he doesn't care. He's

Although Andrea Bocelli has heard the criticism from the classical music press -- which mostly concludes his voice is small, technique limited, and recordings undistinguished -- he doesn't care. He's the best-selling classical artist in the world.

"I prefer when somebody tells nice things about me," he said. "When a tenor becomes very famous, there is this problem. At the beginning, I was a little disappointed. But now I'm used to it. I read everything because I'm curious. But when I'm home, I enjoy a nice bottle of wine and it's finished."

Bocelli, who appears in staged operas despite blindness, starts his fifth North American tour tonight (March 22) at the National Car Rental Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and soprano Cecilia Gasdia.

The eight-date trek will play arenas and the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, and wrap April 6 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. He will also perform this summer in London's Hyde Park.

But he has not sung at Milan's La Scala, London's Royal Opera, the Paris Opera, the Vienna State Opera, or New York's Metropolitan Opera, the stages where singers have made their places in history.

"For me it is very dangerous," he said during a telephone interview from Italy earlier this month. "Every newspaper will be there. Every television [network] will be there. Every mass media will be there. I don't want at this moment to risk too much. I say, why not? But now, my first goal is to leave the highest number of recordings."

Bocelli's new recording of Puccini's "La Boheme" (Phillips Classics) with Barbara Frittoli as Mimi, has sold 37,000 copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan. His 2000 collection of "Verdi" arias has sold 561,000, while his 1997 international debut "Romanza," has sold more than 3 million copies, and 1999's "Sogno," 1,976,000.

Philips Classics will release a Verdi Requiem this month that has Bocelli singing among some of classical music's biggest stars. The cast features Renee Fleming, Olga Borodina, and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, and conductor Valery Gergiev. And Bocelli has just recorded "Tosca" with soprano Fiorenza Cedolins, baritone Carlo Guelfi, and conductor Zubin Mehta; in May he is to record Verdi's "Il Trovatore."

"Everyone wants to work with me because I'm a good singer and I'm a good colleague," he said. "When I say I'm ready for a recording, I'm really prepared. They also know that our recording will be the most-sold in the world."

Here are Andrea Bocelli's tour dates:
March 22: Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (National Car Rental Center)
March 24: Las Vegas (Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino)
March 25: Philadelphia (First Union Center)
March 28: Columbus, Ohio (Schottenstein Center)
March 30: East Rutherford, N.J. (Continental Airlines Arena)
April 1: Boston (FleetCenter)
April 4: Hartford, Conn. (Hartford Civic Center)
April 6: Toronto (Air Canada Centre)
July 21: London (Hyde Park)

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