Andrea Bocelli shares his passion for his homeland and reflects on the happiest moments of his life. Interview by Laura Schreffler
Andrea Bocelli’s life is the stuff of legend. After a life-threatening injury sustained while playing football left him blind at the age of 12, he turned to music to bring beauty into a world that he could no longer see. As a result, the Italian tenor is easily the top-selling classical music artist in history, with an assemblage of accolades including a Golden Globe, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the honour of becoming a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic to his name. Last Autumn saw the successful launch of Sì, his first recording of all-new material in 14 years; it is a celebration of love, family, faith, hope and reflection. The release of his 41st album coincided harmoniously with an equally momentous occasion: his 60th birthday. Bocelli now looks back on his life, reflecting on how a boy from the small Pisan commune of Lajatico became the global icon he is today.
What are your fondest memories of growing up in Tuscany, and how did growing up there shape the man you’ve become today?
I repeat it with certainty every time that it comes up: I strongly feel that I am a product of my region and thus the pure countryside setting in which I grew up. As a child, La Sterza was one big game – everything was exploring. I would watch the farmers work and I shared in the scents, the charm, the joy and the tribulations of country life. My happiest childhood memories have to do with spring and summer. The games of football organised in the courtyard of our house, the forays into the fields and rivers, armed with slingshots, are unforgettable. They were very happy times.
What were your childhood loves, and have you carried those loves with you into adulthood?
As a child I learned, from my parents first and foremost, the hierarchy of values which I then went on to build my adult life around. Within my family, I learned – through the extraordinary teacher that is provided by direct example – a sense of respect, of discipline and of the search for peace. And the importance of choosing, with every action, the option that does good.
As an illy ambassador whose slogan is to “live happily,” what makes you happiest in life?
Having a good coffee brightens up my whole day, it’s true. I can also say, without a doubt, that my children make me happy. However, if I had to talk about my life as a whole, I don’t like to aim for happiness, as for me it seems to be an elusive, liquid-like dimension, just like time that exists as it unfolds and not as it is – at least how we perceive it. I prefer to aim for a more reasonable and less precarious target: serenity. And as such, I am almost always serene.
On that note, what is the recipe to a happy life, in your opinion?
Choosing the option that does good, trying to put into practice those Christian values that our parents taught us and which are our responsibility to pass down to our children. Loving often, cultivating faith, having a clean conscience and knowing that you have done your duty, both in work and in your personal relationships.
Was there a particular person that has shaped the person you’ve become, or a person you consider to be the most influential in your life, and why?
In terms of morals, I was forged by my parents. However, there is a person who I like to mention often and who I always recall affectionately: it is Amos Martellacci, a master of life, a fellow Italian who oversaw my university studies with generosity and determination, until I got my law degree. Much of the little that I know, I owe to him (and I named my first born Amos in his honour). From a musical perspective, the biggest impact was the voice of Franco Corelli. He marked my destiny. As a child, I quite literally devoured his CDs, and as an adult I had the privilege of becoming his student.
But the biggest lesson that I have received in my lifetime, I find every day in the words of the gospel.
Is there a particular place that has been influential in shaping your life?
At the cost of sounding parochial, also in this instance I owe my debt to Tuscany, the region that is home to an incredible quantity of wonders (architectural, sculptural and landscape) and which has given life to extraordinary artists, also in music.
You still live in Tuscany to this day. What about Tuscany draws you back time and time again?
Fortunately, in Tuscany, traditions – especially in the small towns – are often kept alive and passed down, from generation to generation. I’m not saying that no time has passed in this region, but I feel that there is a certain respect for history and for the experience of our ancestors in our customs and traditions. Every time that I ride through my fields, in the middle of a region blessed with lush nature, perfect for finding silence and concentration, my thoughts are released from time, free to experience ancient sensations once again.
When you return to Italy after a gruelling tour, how do you unwind? Is it with your brother’s wines, good Italian coffee, time with your family, dogs, horses, etc.?
I can tell you that the question already contained the right answer. Only – in order of priority – in the first place there is always the joy of being able to reunite with my family.
How does being Italian set you apart?
I feel privileged to have grown up in a wonderful country, seeped in what I would define as the “culture of beauty” (of the panorama, art, inventiveness, food, feeling). And true beauty – in the sense of everything that inspires and, therefore, does no harm – is intimately connected to goodness.
What are your favourite Italian escapes (hotels, views, restaurants, vineyards, etc.)?
My home in Poggioncino, in the Tuscan countryside where I was born and raised and where I stable houses my horses. Or, simply, my normal residence, in Forte dei Marmi, overlooking the sea. Given that my life is marked by airplanes and suitcases, for me there is no better holiday than the one spent at home, together with my loved ones.
What are some Italian staples you can’t live without or always have with you on tour that remind you of home?
The operas of Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini and Pietro Mascagni, as well as that vast Italian repertoire, made up of real masterpieces, that I often perform and that I am proud to be able to share with audiences around the world.
Do you have a motto for life?
Male non fare, paura non avere. Do no evil, fear no evil.
How do you try to up the ante each year at your annual foundation event? How was this year especially impactful (noting that the piece will come out after the event)?
For five years now, in September, we have been organising the Celebrity Fight Night Italy, a charity marathon to benefit the foundation that carries my name and the Mohammad Ali Parkinson Center. Last year the peak of the benefit trip was an extraordinary opera concert at Verona Arena. Once again, all the energy and hard work put in by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation transformed into smiles and hope for many children, thanks to the educational projects we are advancing. For example, in Haiti (where we have built and manage five schools in the poorest and most remote areas of the country, offering continuing education to 2,550 children and medical care to five communities) but also within Italy, where – in the area hit by the tragic earthquake in 2016 – after the construction of a school in Sarnano (opened in May 2018 and constructed in just 150 days), we are building a new building in the municipality of Muccia, just a few kilometres away.
Tell us about your latest album. After 14 years, why did you decide to release all-new material now? What does the title refer to?
The title is an answer. It is a short, yet extraordinary word, that is poetic and almost magical. “Sì” is what each of us would always like to hear, when we ask for a kiss, a hug or forgiveness. My oldest son, Amos, had the idea to call the new album this, and out of the many ideas I thought it was the simplest, the most effective, the most coherent, to recount this adventure, this gamble that I am taking in returning to an album of unreleased songs. Sì is an artistic project that represents me and that I am proud of, because it reflects my sensitivities and the values that I believe in. The common denominator, beauty, is the main criterion that I used to select the songs. Because their quality can be easily measured based on the feelings they arouse, their potential is to bring a little lightness to life. Another denominator is love, in its completeness. Love that today I perceive in a fuller way, compared to when I was young. Sensual love, but also love for life, for beauty, for the fellowship that unites all of us who inhabit the world, and for the one who made the world. It will be a pleasure and an honour for me to be able to perform some of the new songs during the US tour in December, which will stop in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Pittsburgh, New York and Boston.
How do you specifically say “sì” to life?
By giving importance and intensity to every encounter, to every day that the good God grants me. I say “sì” to life by striving for goodness, with drive, commitment, courage and optimism in the certainty that every woman and every man has positive qualities that could truly perform miracles, every day, on this earth.