Andrea Bocelli Aims For Latin Favor

How does one explain the success of Andrea Bocelli with Latin audiences? The Italian tenor does not speak Spanish (unlike Laura Pausini) and has yet to record an entire album in that language (unlike

How does one explain the success of Andrea Bocelli with Latin audiences? The Italian tenor does not speak Spanish (unlike Laura Pausini) and has yet to record an entire album in that language (unlike Pausini, Eros Ramazotti, and Nek).

Yet Bocelli's past two albums have sold millions of copies in the Latin region on the strength of merely a few Spanish tracks each. And he is expected to repeat that feat with the upcoming "Cieli di Toscana" (Sugar/Polydor), due Oct. 15 worldwide.

The version being released to the Latin region, including the U.S. Latin market, will include four Spanish-language tracks. The Latin-region release of "Romanza" in 1997 included five Spanish tracks, while 1999's "Sueno" included two.

"I've recorded in Spanish because Italian songs work well in Spanish, given the similarities between the two languages," Bocelli tells Billboard, speaking on the phone from his home in Italy. In choosing what songs from "Cieli" to translate into Spanish, including the single "Melodrama," Bocelli says he focused on those "which lent themselves better to Spanish and those that had a more significant text, a richer content."

Singing in Spanish, he says, is essentially no different from singing in Italian, because "inspiration comes from the melody." Beyond that, Bocelli won't speculate on just what it is about him that Spanish-speaking audiences like. "Record sales are not my problem," he says with a laugh. "They're the record label's problem. When [artists] dwell on that, it [leads] to problems."

According to Robbie Lear, director of Latin artists' marketing for Universal -- which will work "Cieli" in the Latin region -- Bocelli's "Romanza" sold half a million copies in Argentina, 900,000 in Brazil, and 120,000 in Chile.

"It was interesting because he hit first in Argentina, then Brazil, and finally Mexico," Lear says. "It took quite a few months for Mexico to react to Bocelli, but once it did, ['Romanza'] sold over 650,000 copies there. The album really crossed over to all generations."

It's not surprising that Bocelli entered the Latin consciousness via Argentina, a country with an enormous population of Italian descent. Moreover, Lear says, there was nothing even comparable in the market at the time. Nor is there now.

To promote the album, Univision.com launched two weeks prior to the album release to specifically reach out to Latin consumers through special downloading and streaming offers. Bocelli will host a release party Oct. 4 in Venice, Italy. The tenor will also be touring the U.S. in November and December, and he plans to tour Latin America starting next March.

Still, it's not likely that Bocelli will be fluent in Spanish by then. "I'd like to learn Spanish, but it won't be easy," he says. "I'd like to learn in order to be able to read Borges, instead of to promote and sell an album."