On a sunny morning in late August, Billboard met with Andrea Bocelli at his large villa on the Tuscan coast. It was toward the end of Italy’s holiday season, and the tenor was looking relaxed in his spacious sitting room, full of paintings and sculptures. His awards, from prestigious international prizes to presentations by local societies, added to the decor.
With the release of his latest album, “Andrea,” set for Nov. 1 in Europe via Sugar/Universal Music Netherlands and Nov. 9 in the United States on Decca Records, Bocelli looked back at his career.
Is it true that you’ve been more hands-on than usual with this album?
Very much so. First and foremost, because I was freer. I began working in a moment of relative tranquility, so I had more energy.
Secondly, we had the good idea of recording it in the studio here at home-at least the voices. Incredible as it may seem, that was very important. It’s one thing to go into a studio and record at a prearranged time, it’s quite another to do it at home when the mood takes you and you feel inspired. So, because of that, this record is better than the previous ones, in vocal terms.
Is it different from your others in terms of personality?
That’s hard to say because the writers were pretty much the same: [Francesco] Sartori, who could now release a whole collection of songs performed by me; [Mauro] Malavisi, who wrote “Romanza,” wrote a couple of beautiful songs here; and [Pierpaolo] Guerrini, who wrote “Melodramma” for the previous album, wrote a [new] song with me.
Although the writers are essentially the same, times change, atmospheres change and the world moves on, as does music.
I can say, however, that from a musical point of view it’s more varied. There are some motifs where my classical vocality is allowed to flourish. For example, there’s a song that I really like by Peppe Vessicchio, called “Incanto.” There are others that are more radio-friendly, where my voice seems more like that of the early days.
Not having to follow the tight rules of classical music, I was able to take advantage of the imagination and instinct of the writers. It’s a very varied record, which is the way popular music should be.
Could you expand on that?
What I mean is that classical music has precise rules; it’s like a train that can’t leave its tracks. It’s “scientific,” it has a time-honored tradition and you have to study and respect the rules. With pop, there might be a basic talent, a musicality, that a writer employs in writing a song. So there are no fixed rules, and this enables you to use your imagination more.
It has been said that you don’t like the term “crossover.” Does that mean you consider opera and pop to be entirely different?
Yes, they’re two different languages, and there’s no need for them to cohabit. Once upon a time, back in Enrico Caruso’s and Beniamino Gigli’s day, people used to write songs for tenors and the vocality was for tenors.
Today, rock music, like pop and soul, has gone in a separate direction and a totally different language has been created. You have to learn the language, otherwise you may as well not bother.
“Andrea” has some songs written by such new Italian contributors as Mango and Giuliano Sangiorgi of the group Negramaro. Corrado Rustici is a producer. Were you attempting to give the record a more contemporary Italian feel or were these simply the best people available for the job?
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but one of the strong points of my records is the Italian element. I’ve always thought that the biggest mistake you can make is to try and imitate music from the other side of the Atlantic. You can’t do that, because the Americans will always do it better. As Italians, we have to follow a different path if we want to cross borders and find new markets. We have to find the courage to do “our music,” and for that you need Italian writers and musicians.
The album also has a Spanish element, with contributions from Enrique Iglesias and Mario Reyes of the Gypsy Kings.
Well, I’ve always tried to include a foreign element. And [I had] an encounter with Mario Reyes, who’s an amazing musician, [that] really struck me. He presented a song about his father, whom he had recently lost. I’d also lost my father relatively recently, so I really wanted to record this song in memory of my dad. Recording the song proved to be a great experience.
And there’s 12-year-old singer Holly Stell. What was it like working with her?
Sadly, the wonders of technology are such that you can now work with people without actually meeting them. Our voices were recorded in separate studios on separate sides of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, she has a very angelic, pure voice, and it was an interesting experience recording this song for the film [“The Lazarus Child”].
Was working on the song for “The Lazarus Child” coincidental, or do you see soundtrack synergies as essential these days?
I like doing soundtracks, even though I haven’t often had the chance. I like them because they revive an old tradition of Italian tenors singing on film scores. I’m thinking particularly of Beniamino Gigli, who used to do a lot of work in this area. I like that idea.
You’re said to be the best-selling classical solo artist in the history of the recording industry. How does that feel?
It’s great to think my voice is heard in many households, just as I used to hear the voices of the great tenors in the house where I grew up. Those voices really did change my life and helped give it a better quality. When I used to listen to these records, I’d dream that one day my voice would have the same effect on someone else — that it could make people feel better. So it really is a dream come true.
Some opera critics have often been harsh with you. Was that upsetting for you?
Yes, it was. Although I have to specify, for the record, that critics were kinder to me at the beginning of my career. They started to get tough when my success in the pop field took off, and they never forgave me for that.
This was hard for me at first, but when the public is on your side and you have too much work on your hands, rather than too little, then you come to terms with it.
I mean, when you think that they recently published a whole book containing the negative reviews that [soprano Maria] Callas received during the course of her career-an entire book!-then you realize that anyone living in the opera world has to deal with this attitude. It is a fact of life.
Some say the opera world is rife with snobbery. What do you think?
Opera was born as popular music, and people in the opera world have forgotten this. That’s the problem.
Opera was born for the people-companies would tour small towns and villages, and even play in the back streets. Opera’s true nature has been forgotten and we now have something that is elitist and snobbish. This is very harmful for the music, the artists and opera itself.
Do you feel that with your career you’re trying to bring opera back to the people?
No, I’d say I’m trying to bring opera back to its place among the people, which is different. I’m convinced that the emotions that opera can give to any person who listens are very strong. They are, as we say in Italian, fortissime.
Excerpted from a special section in the Nov. 6, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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