Tenor’s gift of joy and hope

An­drea Bo­celli chats about per­form­ing, mu­si­cal styles and a life of op­ti­mism.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Rick Schultz

The day af­ter a sold-out Hol­ly­wood Bowl con­cert this week, Ital­ian tenor An­drea Bo­celli ar­rived at the chilly li­brary of a Bev­erly Hills ho­tel wear­ing shorts, a dark blue polo shirt and sun­glasses.

At 58, Bo­celli looks trim and fit. But to­day he’s slightly ag­i­tated. The room was too cold.

“No, no, this is un­sat­is­fac­tory,” Bo­celli said, hur­ry­ing out of the li­brary.

Af­ter a f lurry of words in Ital­ian be­tween Bo­celli and Veron­ica Berti, his wife and manager, the con­ver­sa­tion ad­journed to a ta­ble out­doors, where the day’s warmth posed no threat to the tenor’s pipes.

“The ques­tion of tak­ing care of my voice is very del­i­cate,” Bo­celli said. “It’s al­ways re­ally mat­tered, and that’s still the case. I don’t smoke, and there’s no al­co­hol. You want to reach a tour in great shape.”

Given the many projects the tenor is jug­gling th­ese days, his re­solve to keep his voice strong is not sur­pris­ing.

He re­cently recorded Puc­cini’s “Tu­ran­dot” with con­duc­tor Zu­bin Mehta. His new CD of pop songs is due out in Oc­to­ber, and Bo­celli is sched­uled to pre­view songs from that disc at the Dolby Theatre in Hol­ly­wood on Sept. 18.

He and Berti also run the An­drea Bo­celli Foun­da­tion, which was launched in Los An­ge­les in 2011. One branch sup­ports pro­grams to help eco­nom­i­cally de­prived coun­tries such as Haiti, and an­other sup­ports re­search for as­sis­tive tech­nol­ogy to in­crease the abil­ity of the dis­abled to live in­de­pend- ently.

At the Bowl con­cert Sun­day, the cou­ple re­launched the foun­da­tion’s re­designed web­site, which they in­tro­duced to the au­di­ence.

Bo­celli ar­rived in Los An­ge­les from Pisa, Italy, at 4 a.m. Sun­day for the con­cert at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl, the first of three this month: He will ap­pear in Sacra­mento on June 10 and in Van­cou­ver, Canada, on June 14.

Pre­sented in a va­ri­ety show for­mat, the con­cert fea­tured Bo­celli with so­pra­nos Maria Aleida and An­gel Joy Blue, singer and Broad­way actress Heather Headley, vi­o­lin­ist Caro­line

Camp­bell and flutist An­drea Grim­inelli. The Los An­ge­les Fes­ti­val Orches­tra, con­ducted by Eu­gene Kohn, was joined by the Cal State Uni­ver­sity Fuller­ton Singers.

To say Bo­celli’s voice is still strong as he en­ter­tained an au­di­ence of 17,348 is an un­der­state­ment.

Con­sis­tently reach­ing the re­quired high notes over the course of the two-hour con­cert, Bo­celli re­turned to the stage for a fi­nal en­core, “Nes­sun Dorma,” the tenor aria from Puc­cini’s “Tu­ran­dot.”

When Bo­celli sus­tained the thrilling high notes at the end, the au­di­ence stood and roared.

Af­ter the opera arias and duets, Bo­celli turned to pop songs in the con­cert’s sec­ond half.

His strong will man­i­fested it­self when he re­fused to let his ac­com­pa­nist and pro­ducer, David Foster, coax him into telling a story about Elvis Pres­ley af­ter singing “Love Me Ten­der.” It made for an awk­ward but gen­uine mo­ment.

“I hate to talk when I have to sing,” Bo­celli said dur­ing a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, speak­ing at times in English and at times in Ital­ian (with Berti trans­lat­ing). “It dis­tracts me, be­cause I need to get into the char­ac­ter of what I am singing.”

Bo­celli’s in­ter­na­tional ca­reer be­gan to take off in 1999 af­ter the song “Sogno” be­came a world­wide hit. It didn’t hurt that his duet “The Prayer” with Ce­line Dion on that al­bum won the Golden Globe Award for best song.

He was also nom­i­nated that year for a Grammy as best new artist at age 40. He didn’t win, but “Bo­celli-ma- nia” had be­gun.

Though Bo­celli sings both pop and clas­si­cal, he said he doesn’t like be­ing called a cross­over artist.

“In my mind, that’s a mix of two dif­fer­ent lan­guages,” Bo­celli said. “It’s what I never have done. If I sing clas­si­cal, I sing clas­si­cal, and I’m strict about it. If I sing pop, I for­get clas­si­cal lan­guage, or try to. I like the pu­rity of each [mu­si­cal] lan­guage.”

Bo­celli said that one of his early clas­si­cal men­tors, opera tenor Franco Corelli, “gave me the keys to my singing. He was a very kind per­son who loved my voice.”

The other great life in­flu­ence was a man in his small town of La Sterza named Amos.

“He was a gi­ant in my vil­lage and had a huge cul­ture. He taught me moral val­ues and helped me in my stud­ies.”

Amos re­fused to let Bo­celli, who be­came blind at age 12, give in to his dis­abil­ity. “Ev­ery day he came to my house and never asked for one dollar.”

Bo­celli named his first son Amos.

Mu­sic wasn’t Bo­celli’s first ca­reer. He stud­ied law in school and be­came a cour­tap­pointed lawyer in Italy for a year.

But he found it bor­ing, so he sang in pi­ano bars.

“I thought it was an in­tel­li­gent way to get some money and meet some girls,” he said.

“That was his real aim,” wife Berti said with a smile.

Bo­celli has two sons from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage and a 3year-old daugh­ter with Berti.

Ac­cord­ing to Berti, Bo­celli has been a ded­i­cated fa­ther and will do con­certs for no more than two weeks at a time.

“You can’t imag­ine how much money I’ve lost to stay at home,” Bo­celli said. “But I have no re­grets.”

Stay­ing home has other com­pen­sa­tions for Bo­celli. “I love the si­lence of the coun­try, and I have three beau­ti­ful stal­lions.” Berti said, “In the mid­dle of the night, he rides horses. He’s crazy. He’s an artist.”

As Bo­celli’s ca­reer shows — more than 100 mil­lion al­bums sold, a star on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame — suc­cess of­ten hides the time and ef­fort that goes into cre­at­ing it. Bo­celli, al­ready 34 when his ca­reer be­gan to get a foothold, sees a new “Amer­i­can Idol” gen­er­a­tion look­ing for fast, easy suc­cess.

“It’s danger­ous to reach suc­cess that way,” Bo­celli said. “It’s more im­por­tant than ever to study and de­velop the ca­pac­ity to sac­ri­fice your­self. What gives me joy is this is a life I have made with my au­di­ence. Oth­er­wise, you are build­ing a cas­tle made of sand.

“To­day it is eas­ier to com­mu­ni­cate my feel­ings to the au­di­ence than it was 20 years ago,” Bo­celli con­tin­ued in English.

“Ev­ery day you make ad­just­ments to im­prove. I’m crit­i­cal of my­self, and I ask much of oth­ers. I know my fragili­ties and lim­its and have no prob­lem talk­ing about them.”

He says he likes singing to large crowds like the Bowl au­di­ence but misses the in­ti­macy of smaller venues. “The best way to per­form is with­out am­pli­fi­ca­tion, but the mi­cro­phone al­lows me to reach the hearts of more peo­ple.”

Bo­celli can be sen­ti­men­tal when he talks about his foun­da­tion and try­ing to leave the world a bet­ter place, but his sen­ti­ments are gen­uine. He loved Giuseppe Lampe­dusa’s fa­tal­is­tic 1958 novel, “The Leop­ard,” as a young man but said the au­thor was a man with­out hope.

“I am op­ti­mistic. To me it’s al­ways strange that peo­ple with no hope have to share that feel­ing. Why not spread the news of hope and joy?”

Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

AN­DREA BO­CELLI re­launched his char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion’s web­site dur­ing his Hol­ly­wood Bowl show.

Ti­mothy Nor­ris

AN­DREA BO­CELLI gets a laugh from the Bowl orches­tra at Sun­day’s show.

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