Behind Andrea Bocelli's Easter Concert in a Locked-Down Italy: 'It Is a Strong Message of Hope'

Andrea Bocelli
Mark Seliger

Andrea Bocelli

LONDON — Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will deliver a solo performance at Milan’s historic Duomo Cathedral on Easter Sunday (April 12) to mark the religious holiday, a concert that will be live-streamed worldwide on YouTube.

Organizers hope that the special event, entitled “Music for Hope,” will act as a message of “love and healing” from one of the countries hit hardest by the global coronavirus pandemic. Since the start of the outbreak, more that 18,500 people have died from COVID-19 in Italy -- the highest number of fatalities in the world -- and live events in the country have been banned since March 4. On Friday (April 10), Italy announced it was extending its lockdown on movement and gatherings in the country until May 3.

In line with Italian government regulations related to the coronavirus, there will be no audience present for the performance, with Bocelli accompanied only by the cathedral’s organist, Emanuele Vianelli, and supported by a skeleton production crew. The City of Milan and the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo are promoting the event, which Sugar Music and Universal Music Group are producing in collaboration with YouTube.

“Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together millions of clasped hands everywhere in the world, we will hug this wounded Earth’s pulsing heart,” Bocelli said in a statement announcing “Music For Hope.” You can watch the performance streamed live on the tenor’s YouTube channel here at 1 p.m. EST/10 a.m. PST.

Ahead of Sunday’s concert, Billboard spoke with Rebecca Allen, president of Decca Records Group, and Filippo Sugar, CEO of Italian label Sugar Music, which represents Andrea Bocelli in partnership with Decca, about the challenges of putting on a live music event in a country on lockdown.

“The situation is unique,” says Sugar. “The message is unique. The way that we’re working is unique. Andrea is going to perform five songs that are all sacred arias. It’s going to have a humble and somber quality. It’s going to be very simple, yet very powerful.”

Billboard: How did the “Music for Hope” concert come about?

Filippo Sugar: Easter, in our culture, is a moment of joy, of celebrating the rebirth of Jesus. But it felt like it was going to be so sad this year. So I called a friend, who is councilor for culture in the city of Milan. I [asked] could we find a way to do something for Easter that’s symbolic of the idea of rebirth. He spoke to the mayor and the next day the mayor called Andrea. He said yes and then we started trying to see how we could put this together, which is a completely [unique] adventure because we are all working in isolation.

Rebecca Allen: When Filippo called and said the mayor of Milan has asked us to do this event, we jumped at the chance to support them and help amplify what they want to do. The mayor and the Duomo Cathedral wanted this to connect beyond just Milan and Italy. They wanted this to be a moment where Italy opened up to the whole world. So we have worked very hard with YouTube to ensure that as many people as possible are given the opportunity to share in this remarkable moment.

What are some of the practical challenges of putting on a one-off live event in a country on lockdown?

Allen: The hard bit is that we’re doing this remotely. This has all been planned by Zoom, which has its challenges. We’ve not been able to sit down as a team and do planning in the usual way. We’ve only met the production company virtually. We’re going to have to set this up on the day with nobody from our side on the ground -- or anyone from YouTube on the ground. So there’s lots of risk involved in this. There are risks to do with the health of Andrea and the people involved. We’re really praying that the situation in Italy continues to stabilize, so that this event is allowed to happen.

Sugar: We have had just one opportunity for our production team to physically visit the Duomo because of the constraints under which we are operating. Even bringing an audio person trusted by Andrea from Tuscany to Milan involves a series of permits, so that he can travel. It’s complicated, but people are being very helpful. Everybody has a sense that this is a beautiful thing and people are being very collaborative.

As in many countries, there are strict restrictions in place in Italy around social distancing and travel. How are you working within those measures?

Sugar: Overall, I think there will be a maximum amount of 40 people [involved in the performance]. All the audio mix and visual mix facilities will be outside of the Duomo. Inside, probably not more than 10 people at a time: four camera people, one lighting [person], one audio, Andrea, the organist, someone from the Duomo and the Mayor. Everybody will have masks and gloves and [maintaining a] social distance of at least two meters. We are really reducing the number of people to the minimum. I would love to be there, but I don’t need to be, so I’m not going. We have to be very careful.

Allen: For everything that we’ve been doing, the health and safety of Andrea and the team on the ground is absolutely the most important thing. These people are coming out of their homes to do this, which involves a level of risk for them.

Bocelli is not receiving a fee. Is there a commercial element to the livestream, at all?

Allen: There is no monetization happening. On YouTube there will be no monetization around the live performance. We’ve not involved any brand partners. We’ve been super sensitive to everything going on around this event so that it’s not seen as a commercial opportunity. This was an invitation from the mayor of Milan to Andrea and our role is very simple: We’re here to facilitate and amplify this moment.

What do you hope that people take away from the performance?

Sugar: I really hope it is a strong message of hope. For Andrea himself, going [to Milan] and doing this is a sign of courage because he could stay at home. There is a risk to moving around, so it’s a message of strength. A message of resilience and a message of hope from a city that has suffered and is managing now to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Allen: Andrea summed it up quite perfectly. He described this event as a prayer. Not a concert. Not a performance. But a prayer connecting people around the world in this one moment. I hope that it’s something that lives on and serves to remind us that we came together globally and as communities during these very difficult times… I hope that it brings people a moment of peace. A moment of reflection. A moment to spend with their families that enables us all to move forward.

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