Interview: Andrea Bocelli

Eva Mackevic

Andrea Bocelli has frequently been described as “one of the most beautiful tenors in the world”. Here, he talks to us about faith, the power of music during COVID and his favourite collaborations  

Reader’s Digest: Can you tell us the story behind the making of Believe. How did the idea come about?  

Andrea Bocelli: It’s a project I’d been thinking about for years, though it emerged very forcefully and became more pressing, in a way, this spring, during a difficult and painful period for my country and for the world. But the darkest moments accentuate the glimmers of light and point us in the right direction, separating good values from negative ones. Believe expresses my own modest contribution, in the desire to offer a moment of solace and optimism to anyone who wants to listen to my music. 

On the album I’ve tried to bring together pieces that I hope will act as a sort of tonic for the soul, including for those who don’t have the gift of faith… It’s an intentionally varied line-up: alongside pieces of universal worth (for example, those by Mozart, Fauré and Bizet), I present some new pieces, like the one Ennio Morricone wrote just a month before he left us, or like the prayer set to music by Puccini, or the Ave Maria that I composed myself (during lockdown, in fact)… Then there are the pieces from popular religious tradition and a repertoire that isn’t strictly sacred but is full of devotion, from “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. 

 

RD: Which song from the album do you consider to be most special for you and why?  

AB: Everything that I sing is close to my heart. To perform a song, I always have to fall in love with it: it has to thrill me first, so that I can, in turn, thrill those listening to it. In the case of sacred music, it’s the same idea multiplied several times over... However, in this case I’d mention two of the many tracks that I particularly treasure: “Amazing Grace”, a timeless prayer that I had the pleasure of recording for the album both as a soloist and in a duet with Alison Krauss, and then “Mira il tuo popolo”, a song that I carry in my heart partly because it takes me back to my childhood. I associate it with the face of my grandmother.  

 

RD: What do you hope the listeners will take away from this album?  

AB: Something that is often too big to be contained in the rational mechanisms of our minds. On the other hand, a musical phrase may be able to make us understand it or at least sense it. As someone said, the world of spirituality is for the courageous!  

I believe that now, more than ever, we need to reflect and to start up a dialogue with our souls again. The album’s ambition is to throw a pebble that will cause a wave, a wave that is good and positive and contagious. Believe feeds on hope, in the choice of each piece on the album and in the desire that every track on the album, I repeat, should be music that is good for the soul. 

 

RD: You have said in the past that you believe that music sustains us in our lives as human beings and that it “opens up our hearts and minds”. Have you felt this conviction during the pandemic, too? What type of music helped you to get through this period?  

AB: Definitely. Music is a universal language and it can express the inexpressible. As St Augustine said, those who sing are praying twice! And with great humility, I have offered my voice to pray together with others (and that’s why I agreed to sing in the cathedral in Milan on Easter Day, in the middle of lockdown). I sing to help those who need it in order to turn to the heaven that each of us has inside. And thanks partly to music—and, I would add, to prayer—our soul frees itself from the noisy presence of the ego and can show us the preciousness, the beauty, the fullness of life.  

As for what I listened to, I’ve always loved opera and classical music generally, and the period of enforced inactivity was no exception. During lockdown, I spent a lot of time at the piano, something I hadn’t done for a long time. And one day I remember getting the musical idea that led to the Ave Maria on the album, and that was the spark which brought about Believe.   

 

RD: You have also mentioned that Believe is based on three principal concepts: faith, hope and charity. Do you manage to live according to these virtues day by day?  

AB: I’m someone who decided many years ago to choose the side that is good. That doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes, I make them quite frequently. But as a Christian, and a practising Catholic, I believe in the power of these three remarkable words. These virtues are interlinked, because after all, without hope, we remain trapped in despair; without faith, life is a tragedy foretold; and without charity, there can be no faith and no hope.  

But they are virtues that need a crutch to support them, which can be summed up in the word “believe”. You need to believe in what you do, what you think, what you pursue. If we want to show charity, we need to do so with conviction, with a profound belief in what we’re doing. If we want to have hope, we need to believe in a better future. And faith is the quintessential definition of belief. Faith is also a crucial element in my life, a gift that I try to cherish and to enrich, and that spurs me on to apply, on a daily basis with my fellow creatures, the big lesson that I find in the words of the Gospel. 

 

RD: During your career you’ve collaborated with countless great artists. Are there any that you would like to work with again?  

AB: I’d go further than that: I’d work with nearly all of them again! Interacting with others is a crucial element for an artist, and for me personally, both with the many orchestral directors and players I’ve worked with and with other singers. As is well known, I love duetting. Singing together, whether in opera or pop, is a very rewarding experience.  

I’ve learned something from all of my colleagues, and an awful lot from some of them. Mixing two voices is a challenge, a gamble, an encounter between souls. Talking of that, I’m particularly happy to have recorded two tracks on the Believe album with my friend, Cecilia Bartoli: a remarkable musician and a dear friend.   

 

RD: What do you have in the pipeline for next year?  

AB: Theoretically, my diary is crammed with commitments… But like everyone else, I’m up against a complex and very uncertain situation. Our generation has never lived through such a time and I hope we never will again. I’m an optimist and I hope to be able to embark on the tours that have been scheduled. I really miss that direct “one to one” relationship that is normally created in live concerts. For me, contact with the public is key, and it’s also my way of thanking those people around the world who have followed me with such constancy and affection for so many years.  

Andrea  Bocelli’s  Believe  is out on November 13 on Sugar/Decca Records 


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