Share this article

print logo

THE PEOPLE'S VOICE
PASSIONATE ITALIAN TENOR ANDREA BOCELLI HAS EVEN NON-OPERA FANS SHOUTING 'BRAVO'

Andrea Bocelli

8 p.m. Saturday in HSBC Arena

Tickets: $75, $135, $195 and $350

Info: www.tickets.com or (888) 223-6000

Where in the world is Andrea Bocelli?

You'd think you would be able to hear him from wherever you are. Never has there been a more amplified tenor. No one has to go to HSBC Arena in order to be able to get a dose of Bocelli's silken high notes. His newest CD, "Sentimento," has just debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200 - "unheard of for a classical CD," a publicist claims.

Call him classical, call him pop, call him what you will, Bocelli is like the air. He's all around us.

He's everywhere - and then he's nowhere. That's the sigh of a reporter whose task it is to track the elusive tenor down.

First Bocelli was supposed to have been in New York, with a scheduled phone interview with The Buffalo News on a Sunday afternoon. Then Monday was deemed more convenient. Bocelli will be in London by then, a publicist explains, but he'll be in good shape. "He can sleep on the plane."

But Monday passes with no call from Bocelli, so, after much discussion, the interview is rescheduled for Wednesday.

Bocelli is in Italy by this time, in his hometown of Forte de Marmi. "It's on the coast," explains a different publicist.

The call will be a conference call, involving Bocelli, the reporter and an interpreter. On Wednesday, 10 minutes before the appointed hour, an AT&T representative with a broad Southern accent calls to get things rolling. He connects the interpreter, in New York, with the reporter, in Buffalo, and instructs both to hold for . . .

Bocelli! Where is he?

Ten, 15 minutes pass. "I'm sorry," the phone representative drawls, finally. "I haven't been able to reach him."

Half an hour later, though, we have liftoff: The tenor who was lost has been found, and there is much rejoicing. Reporter and translator, old friends by now, are reconnected. There's a burst of static and a distant flurry of Italian; the reporter, looking out the window at HSBC Arena, has a rush of bright, naive excitement.

And Bocelli is on the line.

"Basically, it will be the most classical concert of the Italian tenor," he is saying, in English, describing his upcoming Saturday evening concert in HSBC Arena. "At the beginning, I will perform some arias from "Sentimento,' my new CD, with a violinist. The second part, there will be opera arias, Neopolitan songs and then at the end, some surprises."

He says a few more sentences, and then a recording butts in. "Your conference is over," a woman's canned voice says. "Hang up now."

Everyone is disconnected, and the process has to start again.

Something about a tenor

What is it about the tenor voice that inspires such adoration? Though the phenomenon may have crested with Bocelli, it didn't begin with him.

As the Three Tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carerras and the hunky, honey-voiced Placido Domingo pretty much attained pop star status, selling out arenas and making "La Donna a Mobile" as well-known as a TV commercial.

By the mid-19th century, the mystique of the tenor was already established. Wagnerian Heldentenors (heroic tenors) performed towering romantic roles in "Tristan und Isolde" and "Lohengrin," engaging in rivalries with each other and mesmerizing the public. Italian tenors stirred up the crowd in high-flying Verdi roles that showed what their vocal instruments could do.

Italian tenors, florid and passionate, are a breed apart; in Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier," a role is identified simply as "The Italian Tenor." The biggest and baddest Italian tenor was, most people would agree, Enrico Caruso. Mario Lanza, with his natural gifts, broad appeal and relative lack of classical training, could be considered Bocelli's forerunner.

What is it about the tenor voice that bewitches people?

Bocelli offers an explanation. "First of all, in the opera the tenors are the most interesting parts because usually they are the lovers, the heroes and you know, the people who dream," he says, in English, when the call has been painstakingly reconnected.

"And the second reason is that a tenor's voice is the most - they are the riskier ones," he adds. "The tenor is always . . . He is always to the limit between the possible and the impossible."

The romantic wording brings out Bocelli's charm, and it's a memorable moment. Throughout the conversation, he isn't the dazzler a listener might expect him to be. He sounds tired, occasionally a little impatient, more than a little like a pampered pop star.

Which, after all, is what he is. Brooding, handsome and blind since he was a child, Bocelli has captured the public's imagination in all kinds of tender and wonderful ways. Critics have lamented his lack of sufficient classical training, but such concerns seem pointless when one considers his stupendous success.

And if he is the first classical tenor to be able to take advantage of the full force of the modern publicity machine, if there are voices more deserving of large-scale ovations than his - well, a fan might argue, so what? Bocelli has still managed to bring Verdi, Puccini, Liszt and a host of other names out of the concert hall and into the great room. That's no mean achievement.

Discussing opera's appeal to younger listeners, Bocelli plays down his hand in the matter.

"Well, I think that every child, if he or she is introduced to opera pretty early, loves opera. It's a natural thing," he says, speaking now through the interpreter. "I've discovered that even more so with my children. When I took them to "Butterfly,' they were interested not only in the singing, but the story. A lot of operas are a lot like fairy tales."

"I'm better now'

When the subject of his classical training is raised, Bocelli grows a little defensive.

"Well, I think that my training is above average, if you consider all the singers that sing in theaters," he says, through the interpreter. "I started to train when I was a kid. I studied piano and I think that I was pretty well trained."

End of comment. (When an interpreter is required, answers tend to be regrettably brief.) Prodded about whether he will pursue further vocal study, however, Bocelli seems to brighten.

"I'm studying with a maestro who has a chair at the conservatory in Milan," he says. "It doesn't change my style. But it has an influence on the way I emit my voice."

Bocelli wrote a memoir called "The Music of Silence." In it, he tells about a master class he attended led by the eminent Italian tenor Franco Corelli, a boyhood hero.

"He really told me a lot, but he didn't say much to encourage me," Bocelli explains through the interpreter. Corelli, he hints, saw singing as a cruel vocation. "He feels that he's a victim to all the doubts that he had during his career."

Bocelli feels the same doubts, he suggests. "There is this fear that prevails over all, because when you go and you present yourself to the public, you never know what your voice is going to do."

In his memoir, Bocelli writes candidly about stage fright. The book's hero, Amos (Bocelli wrote the book in third person, giving himself a different name) suffers from constant nerves.

Is it really that way for Bocelli, one of the world's most adored singers? Endearingly, Bocelli says it is. "The most fearful fear is that of not pleasing ourselves," he says. "When you can't please yourself, you don't please the public either."

When Bocelli steps out to face the audience in HSBC Arena, how will he conquer his nerves?

"There's nothing to do," he says. "I go." He laughs. "I don't take medicines or anything." He pauses, waits for the translator, and adds: "I have a quality which means I have a very long breath. And so I'm able to control nerves pretty well."

Bocelli's brief statements reveal occasional impatience, and occasional humor.

On singing for the pope: "I am deeply religious, so I will let you imagine how much emotion that gave me."

On operatic roles he'd like to take on: "There are many I'd like to sing. Among the ones I've already performed, I would like to redo "Werther.' "

On singing "Nessun Dorma" before a stadium: "It's mostly terrifying, because "Nessun Dorma' is very insidious."

As the interpreter translates this last remark, Bocelli can be heard yawning a big tenor yawn.

He is a bit less blase when prodded about personal subjects.

Asked why he chose to write his memoir in the third person, his answer is bit of a riddle.

"Because this book is not an autobiography. It's fiction," Bocelli says. "There is more reality than in an autobiography, because only by telling a fiction I can say the truth."

What about Bocelli's family life? Rumors have it that he and his wife, whose loving marriage is recounted in "The Music of Silence," are on the brink of divorce. Does Bocelli's travel take a toll on his personal relationships?

It's clear that the question has occurred to him before. "Unfortunately, I don't have much time," he says. "But when I have time, I see my family. It's very pleasant."

Finally, what about Bocelli's critics? Again, this matter is nothing new.

"Unfortunately, it does happen to me that I listen to them," Bocelli says. "I'm very critical of myself, and all I think is I have improved a lot.

"The soul, you know, the style is the same of course. But technically speaking, now I'm much better."

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com