Tenor Andrea Bocelli: ‘I fear it is a cliché to say that today it is harder to get noticed, with respect to the past’

Italian tenor and mega-selling recording artist Andrea Bocelli returns to Abu Dhabi for a concert featuring songs from his latest album. He talks to us about his childhood, coping with criticism and how his faith supports him.

Andrea Bocelli will perform in the capital on Friday. Courtesy Flash Entertainment
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Andrea Bocelli’s performance at du Arena will be a dream come true for many in the audience. But that is not a feeling limited to the Abu Dhabi crowd — the celebrated tenor says he has been aware of this every night of his current tour.

After conquering hearts and charts with 15 albums featuring a wide range of classical styles, from arias and Italian folk songs to pop music, the 57-year-old’s latest project focuses on the magic of the silver screen.

Released last year, Cinema is a compilation of songs from movies. On the surface, it seem like a safe selection, including West Side Story's Maria and Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Dig deeper, however, and the album holds a few welcome surprises, the biggest of which is an unlikely duet with pop star Ariana Grande on the majestic E Più Ti Penso, from Sergio Leone's classic gangster film Once Upon a Time in America.

It may not seem like it but Bocelli — who lost his sight at the age of 12 — confirms that the album is a deeply personal project.

“It crowns a dream I have always had since I was a young boy. For its peculiarities I have always been attracted by this repertoire,” he says.

“Movies are a ‘dream factory’ — the music that supports them often keeps and concentrates in itself all their magic and sentimental vitality. The scores created for cinema are free and potentially very creative. It is like a vast prairie that composers can space as they see fit, according to their inspiration.”

With so many film songs out there, what did you look for when choosing the final 13 that made the album?

The selection was quite ­difficult. In the beginning, we listened and evaluated ­several hundreds of songs, drawing on a vast repertoire, with no limits of time and place. In the end I decided which songs excited me the most.

How did you apply your interpretation to these new songs?

I have to say that I have tried to take into account, in the choice of the songs, the ones that were more suitable to my voice. Of course, along with my ­collaborators we ­listened to original versions and to the most popular edition of each single song and then we gradually built my own ­interpretation, on the basis of the best arrangement found.

Your success has prompted criticism from some critics who suggest that you are not the most technically gifted singer. Does that bother you?

In the history of every opera singer there is positive and negative criticism, it is part of the game. Probably a small ­minority of classical-music ­critics, in the beginning, did not understand, nor welcome, the unusual path of my career — as well as the sensational response from the public. For my part, I try to be as careful as possible in my artistic choices and in the discipline necessary in my profession.

Is it true that your father initially hated opera? When was he convinced that you could go all the way with your talent?

My father did not hate opera, simply it was a genre of music he had not had the time to cultivate because he has always worked very hard and has never had the time to deepen his knowledge of the operatic repertoire. In my younger years, his apparent scepticism about my passion for opera was exclusively generated by the understandable concern of a father thinking of his son’s future. His concerns gradually started to diminish accordingly with my first successes.

How competitive is the opera field. Is it getting tougher for new talent to be spotted?

I fear it is a cliché to say that today it is harder to get noticed, with respect to the past. It is not like that. Talent shows, for instance, represent an interesting opportunity — they increase the possibility to be noticed and they also stimulate a healthy competition. They may be an ­opportunity to make other ­people find out what sort of service a young man can give to society through his work and his art.

As a child you were called The Earthquake due to your ­energetic personality. Have you mellowed out with age?

As a child and then as a boy, it is true, I was restless. I had a particular taste for challenges. Basically I was doing — if possible better than others, even at the cost of great sacrifices — all that I was not allowed or discouraged to do. As a young man with few responsibilities, I did not miss out the excitement of waterskiing and parachuting, as well as the thrill of speed. Today I am a bit wiser and cautious.

You are a spiritual man and have gone through your own challenges in life. What has faith given you?

Throughout life I have learnt the fundamental importance of faith and of a life set in the respect of others. I try therefore to put into practice those values — bright examples, in private as in public and social — that my parents taught me and that I try to pass on to my children. My faith was born in adulthood when some existential questions became urgent — it is really a priceless gift that I have tried to preserve and increase, and that supports me day after day.

Andrea Bocelli performs at the du Arena, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, on Friday, April 22. Tickets cost from Dh395 at www.ticketmaster.ae