Somehow, amid his hectic touring schedule — including his return to the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 5 — and the general demands of being a household-name opera star, Andrea Bocelli makes time for extensive charity work. As well as founding the Andrea Bocelli Foundation in 2011, the Italian tenor performs at charity concerts and fundraising events worldwide.
"For me, philanthropy means substantially the joy of sharing," said Bocelli in an email interview. "Solidarity is not a matter of generosity. It is not only a moral duty — it is an act of intelligence. It is a path that we all, within the limits of our means, should perceive as something with no alternative."
As long ago as 1994, at the beginning of his singing career, Bocelli performed at the annual Pavarotti & Friends charity gala concert hosted by late operatic legend Luciano Pavarotti in Modena, Italy. Since then, Bocelli has appeared at benefit concerts from Rome (Music for Asia, 2005) to Toronto (the David Foster Foundation Miracle Gala, 2013), from Turkey (last year's TEMA Foundation 20th anniversary) to Thailand ("A Magical Night with Andrea Bocelli" in Bangkok in April).
Bocelli started his eponymous foundation with the aim of supporting people in need due to illness, poverty and social exclusion. It has transformed schools and provided clean water in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, delivered necessities to hundreds of refugee families in Iraq and made daily showers available to Rome's homeless.
In June, Bocelli and his wife, Veronica Berti, were honored for their charity work at the star-studded 19th annual "Power of Love" fundraising gala at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, which raised $4.4 million for the city's Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Bocelli sang a duet with Vegas headliner Celine Dion in front of an audience that included actress Sharon Stone, singers Robin Thicke and Martina McBride, Vegas legends Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn, and 2014 honorees Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
"We were delighted with the very cordial welcome we received," Bocelli said. "We were also surprised to be the recipients of a symbolic gesture that has moved all of us, and that is the naming of an area inside the [Lou Ruvo] Center in the memory of my wife's grandfather, Rolando, who fought against Alzheimer's disease for 12 years."
Among the prizes auctioned at the gala was a trip to Italy for an event at Bocelli's home to raise awareness and funds for his charities. The 12 couples who ended up pledging $200,000 a piece for this unique experience were more than anticipated, but Bocelli was only too happy to host them all.
"There is nothing more enjoyable and challenging than receiving at my home people who have, evidently, chosen the path of goodness and solidarity," he said. "I am pleased to talk to them, sharing the intimacy and the simplicity of home in a genuine family atmosphere."
One of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation's projects is particularly personal to the singer, who lost his sight at age 12 following an accident while playing soccer. It is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a project called "Fifth Sense," which is developing wearable devices for blind and low-vision people.
Bocelli returns to the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 5 as part of his annual holiday season tour and to highlight his fall release, "Cinema." The new CD, produced by 16-time Grammy winner David Foster, debuts on Oct. 23 and features Bocelli singing some of the most beloved movie themes of all time.
"Every time I get back [to Las Vegas] I feel as if I were recharging my batteries. I feel an energy that makes this place absolutely unique," Bocelli said. "I know I will have in front of me a lively and sensitive audience, able to appreciate beauty, to have fun and enjoy good music."