Tenor Andrea Bocelli shares his hope, joy and generosity

After his Hollywood Bowl appearance, tenor Andrea Bocelli chats about his voice, music choices and philosophy

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 flurry 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 independently.

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 the age of 40. He didn't win, but "Bocelli-mania" 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 court-appointed 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 3-year-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?"

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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