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Andrea Bocelli at the MGM Grand

"If God would have a singing voice, he would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” So said Las Vegas headliner Celine Dion of the celebrated Italian tenor with whom she dueted on the 1999 hit single “The Prayer.”

Bocelli, whose 80 million albums sold worldwide make him the best-selling classical music solo artist of all time, begins a much-anticipated U.S. tour with a concert at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Dec. 7.

An unlikely start to stardom

While he’s now a household name and a fixture on the world’s greatest stages, Bocelli’s rise to superstardom was an unlikely one. Growing up in rural Tuscany, he was born with poor eyesight and lost his vision altogether following a soccer accident as a youth.

Starting piano lessons at the age of 6 and later learning the flute and saxophone, the young Bocelli did not appear destined for a career in music. He studied law at the University of Pisa, where he supported himself by performing in piano bars, and became a court-appointed lawyer.

But Bocelli’s life took a dramatic turn in 1992, when Italian rock star Zucchero Fornaciari was seeking tenors to record the song “Miserere,” which he had co-written with U2 vocalist Bono. After acing the audition, Bocelli recorded “Miserere” with legendary Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti and the rocketing rise to fame began.

Crossing over through collaborations

“Miserere” became a hit across Europe and was the first of many collaborations that boosted Bocelli’s musical career. Bocelli hit the road with both Fornaciari and the likes of Bryan Adams, Bryan Ferry and jazz singer Al Jarreau, who later said of his performances with Bocelli, “I have had the honor to sing with the most beautiful voice in the world.”

Bocelli’s early recordings embraced both opera and traditional Neapolitan songs before he hit pop pay dirt with his fourth full-length album, “Romanza.” “Time to Say Goodbye,” a duet with English soprano Sarah Brightman, became an international chart-topper, and the 20 million-selling “Romanza” remains the best-selling Italian album of all time.

His most recent album, “Passione,” keeps up the tradition of inspired musical combinations and features performances with pop sensations Nelly Furtado and Jennifer Lopez. It also includes a version of “La Vie en Rose,” which was mixed with the late Edith Piaf into a virtual duet.

From opera star to pop icon

Bocelli’s career has remained stratospheric since his discovery. He humbly holds the unofficial title of opera’s biggest rock star, crushing sales benchmarks and performing at the most important events on the world stage. His fans number in the millions, and his diverse audience has included as many as 100,000 spectators at a single performance.

With untouchable record sales, Bocelli not only reigns as the highest-selling musical artist to come out of Italy but also holds a Guinness World Record for simultaneously occupying the first, second and third place on the American classical music charts.

Returning to Las Vegas

Launching him from humble beginnings to iconic status, Andrea Bocelli’s genre-straddling style and inimitably romantic timbre have helped classical music cross over into the mainstream. The appreciation of his art will continue in Las Vegas, where nearly 17,000 fans will make their devotion loudly felt at the MGM Grand in December.

Bocelli will be joined by conductor Eugene Kohn, soprano Svetla Vassileva, and world-renowned guest vocalist Heather Headley for an unforgettable welcome to the holiday season.

Memorable Andrea Bocelli Performances

Madison Square Garden
New York City, 1998
Bocelli’s rapturous reception at this legendary 20,000-capacity arena on his debut U.S. tour announced his arrival as a cultural force in the North American market in grand style.

World Trade Center Site
New York City, 2001
Performing at the invitation of then-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, Bocelli sang Schubert’s “Ave Maria” at the hugely moving memorial concert for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Lake Las Vegas Resort
Henderson, Nevada, 2005
Bocelli’s first full contemporary music concert, performed on a floating stage with the Las Vegas Valley as a backdrop, was filmed for a nationally televised PBS special and released as his “Under the Desert Sky” DVD.

"Concert for Diana"
London, 2007
Bocelli sang “The Music of the Night” from “The Phantom of the Opera” at this mass emotional outpouring at Wembley Stadium honoring the late Diana, Princess of Wales, on what would have been her 46th birthday.

Expo 2010 Opening Ceremony
Shanghai, 2010
In front of 20 heads of state and government officials, including Chinese President Hu Jintao and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bocelli delivered an exquisite rendition of “Nessun Dorma” at this spectacular world fair.

"One Night in Central Park”
New York City, 2011
Joined by guests Bryn Terfel, Celine Dion and Tony Bennett, Bocelli performed for an audience of 70,000 in Central Park. With accompaniment by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, this historic concert became a CD and DVD distributed in over 70 countries.

For tickets, visit ticketmaster.com.

  —Paul Rogers, Brand Publishing Writer

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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