Andrea Bocelli on Ariana Grande, No. 1 'Cinema' Album & More: 'Each Song Is a Personal Movie'

Andrea Bocelli
Drew Gurian/Invision/AP

Andrea Bocelli poses for a portrait in New York on Oct. 29, 2015.

Andrea Bocelli had the idea for his latest album, Cinema, a long time ago, when he realized that many of his favorite songs from childhood made their debut on the silver screen.

"I loved these songs even before I knew that they were songs from movies," Bocelli tells Billboard through a translator. But he wasn't tempted to revisit the movies behind the songs -- including West Side Story, The Godfather and Breakfast at Tiffany's -- before recording his just-released 15th album, for fear of revising his own cinematic memory. "Each song is kind of like a personal movie for me, my own interpretation of what I remember. So I don't want to change it by watching the movie itself."

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The album, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Albums chart and at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, spans film and musical genres, as well as languages, with one song in Spanish and seven of the 13 tracks in his native Italian. One of those Italian songs is a duet with pop star Ariana Grande, a favorite of Bocelli's children.

"They inspired me to call her for this," he says of his partner on the Once Upon a Time in America song "E più ti penso," which soared to No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Digital Songs chart last month. "I heard her voice and I liked it very much, and so I called her. And I was very happy to work with her."

Grande was overjoyed to work with Bocelli -- tweeting "mille graze!" to the opera star when their song was announced in September -- and the feeling was mutual. "She said that it was an honor to sing with me, but I, too, had the privilege to sing with her," he says. "It was a privilege for me because she allowed me to have my voice heard by her young fans."

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He's also fond of the women behind the album's other two duets: Evita's "No Llores Por Mi Argentina" ("Don't Cry for Me Argentina") with Nicole Scherzinger and Top Hat's "Cheek to Cheek" with wife/manager Veronica Berti.

"I had the opportunity to sing onstage with Nicole in Los Angeles, and there I just discovered not only a beautiful voice, but a beautiful person onstage. Great femininity, just wonderful to listen to," he says. As for Berti: "I may be a bit partial to Veronica, seeing as she's my wife," he laughs. "I just wanted to do a demo with Veronica, but it turns out that her voice was so lovely that I wanted to keep it in the album."

Throughout his career, Bocelli has performed with everyone from Celine Dion and Luciano Pavarotti to Christina Aguilera and Mary J. Blige -- so how does he go about finding his duet partners? "Usually, I decide on a person that I'd like to work with just by listening to their voice and see what impression they leave on me," he says. "[But] I have no wish list. For me, the world is full of beautiful voices -- a new generation of voices that I'd love to discover. I loved working with Ariana Grande, and I also performed together with the talented Tori Kelly at the MTV [EMAs]."

Another frequent Bocelli collaborator is superproducer David Foster, who helmed Cinema along with Humberto Gatica and Tony Renis. There are a few reasons Bocelli and Foster make a great pair, the singer says. "First of all, he's a great musician. He's a very nice person, very pleasant to be with. And when you're working side by side with a person for a long time, you need that," Bocelli explains. "He's very smart, positive and upbeat. We're very close friends now. We understand each other on the fly."

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In an interview with Billboard last month, Foster explained that he's newly inspired by Bocelli every time they team up. "We've been working together for, gosh, almost 20 years now," Foster says. "He's just my favorite. He just moves me in a way that no artist does. … This is probably our fifth or sixth project together, but it's always exciting and he always inspires me -- always."

With the new album's top 10 debut, it seems likely that one of their next projects could be a Cinema sequel. If so, Bocelli already knows one song that will definitely be on the album. "I would've loved to have included 'Tonight' [from West Side Story], but I couldn't," he says (though he was able to include "Maria" this time around). "I will if I do another [Cinema]. That would be the first on my list."