Faith is a powerful thing.
Combine it with music and it can move audiences around the world.
Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli proved it with his emotionally charged Easter 2020 performance of “Amazing Grace,” at the height of the pandemic shutdown of his beloved Italy and the world at large. There was no physically present audience – just Bocelli, a microphone and an organist for accompaniment. And a performance that was broadcast live simultaneously by three million YouTube viewers, and 28 million more in the first 24 hours.
It was a “Music for Hope” event, designed to remind the world that even during one of the darkest times in history, music could uplift the spirit.
Seven months later, Bocelli released “Believe”, his 17th studio album and a deeply introspective journey into his own spirituality, with songs such as “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rodgers and Hammerstein and a duet of “Amazing Grace” with Alison Krauss, among others.
Bocelli is now on tour, returning to the in-person concerts that have become the hallmark of his critically acclaimed musical career, a career that includes six Grammy nominations, performances for four US Presidents, three Popes, the British Royal Family and the 2006 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony in Turin, Italy.
The tour arrives at the Allstate Arena on Thursday evening.
Here’s an edited email interview with the 63-year-old singer.
Q. You performed your music during the pandemic in two deeply moving performances. One was the concert at the Duomo in Milan, the other during the performance at the Teatro Regio di Parma. Both were done without an audience. How was it felt (because you perform in front of tens of thousands of people in one concert)? Did you feel a void at some level because there was no audience? And why was it important to do these performances?
A. The Milan event was not a concert but an opportunity to pray together (because, as Saint Augustine would say, “To sing is to pray twice.”) And to reaffirm the power of the Christian message of rebirth and life which triumph. The Duomo was empty, but my “loneliness” was only apparent: there were tens of millions of us – and although virtually, we were deeply connected. It was incredibly moving to feel, in this forced separation, so much unity and solidarity. As for the Christmas concert at the Regio di Parma, in this case, the public response has exceeded my wildest expectations, further proof that people crave beauty and spirituality; they need more than ever to start talking again with their own soul.
Q. How does it feel to come back to live performances?
A. I am extremely happy. I have found it difficult to be without the connection that you can make during a live performance. Live streaming is an interesting alternative, but the magic of a crowded auditorium is incomparable. Direct contact with the public remains fundamental for me and it is also my way of thanking those who, throughout the world, have followed me with constancy and affection for many years.
Q. The title of the new album, “Believe”, is a powerful word. What do you hope people will believe especially in these difficult times the world is facing?
A. The album is a kind of spiritual autobiography. It presents a journey interspersed with songs that can speak to the soul, offering the listener an incentive to encounter their own spiritual dimension and understand its driving force. The project revolves around three concepts, the first of which is precisely faith. With hope and charity, it constitutes the theological virtues: the foundation of Christian action. I see it as a bet, a challenge to be taken up.
Q. How important is faith, a belief in God, in your life?
A. Faith is my personal guide, my strength. It is a fundamental part of my life; an invaluable gift that sustains me day after day. Those who have faith improve their lives and the world. To have faith is first of all to believe in the power of good, and at each crossroads, to take the direction that leads to good. Conscience always knows how to respond correctly, because God is always speaking to our conscience. It all depends on whether you have the courage to listen to it.
Q. How was the duo with Alison Krauss born?
A. I had been following his career for years. And it was a pleasant surprise to be able to combine our voices in a new version of one of the most fascinating songs of all time: the anthem of thanks.
Q. Your music also becomes a family affair. Your young daughter Virginia played a duet with you of ‘Ich Liebe Dich’ (she is also a very accomplished pianist!) And your son Matteo is about to release his first solo album. Have you encouraged your children to play music? Did you teach your daughter to play the piano?
A. I was certainly encouraging them not to make music a profession, but to study it and associate with it. All my children did it, even my oldest, Amos, graduated from the conservatory where he studied piano, although he then preferred to pursue a scientific career by obtaining an aerospace engineering degree. The language of music has the ability to improve people, impact our consciousness, and contribute to spiritual evolution. The study of music offers a wealth of experience which enriches the soul; music is a friend that accompanies you throughout life. Virginia is studying the piano not with me, but with a good teacher.
Q. Did you give your son Matteo any advice on the music business? If so, what was it?
A. I warned him with great clarity from the start, about the difficulties that I know well, telling him how complex show business is. But it was his choice, and what’s more, he has something that you can’t learn: talent. A talent that I think he demonstrated recently, with his first single, “Solo”. Being the son of an artist is a double-edged sword; having a famous last name gives a first advantage which one pays however later, which risks becoming a disadvantage. I am very happy to see Matteo independently looking for his own style, according to his personality and his sensitivity.
Q. You recently re-released your live album “Central Park” at a concert you originally dedicated to your father? What do you think your father would have thought of your music, of your fame? What did he teach you about fatherhood?
A. Many times over the years I wished he was near me, if only to show him the expressions of affection and appreciation people had for me. I owe him a lot. Unfortunately, he left us too early, even if I was able to share with him the first years of my career, my first successes. In terms of personality, we were different, but I think what linked us was a certain humanity, a shared way of feeling. My father taught me the hierarchy of values that I myself tried to instill in my own children. I learned dedication to work, honesty, consistency and love for my homeland. I also learned from my father the incredible responsibility of fatherhood and the power of example as a teaching tool.
Q. What was it like playing with Tony Bennett? (In addition to the performances mentioned below, the two recorded “Stranger In Paradise” on Bennett’s “Duets II: The Great Performances” in 2011.)
A. It was a great honor. I remember with renewed emotion the Central Park concert, and the pleasure of having shared the stage with him at Radio City Music Hall in New York, on the occasion of the show celebrating his 90th birthday. Tony Bennett is a great artist, a living legend, the last of the great crooners and a dear friend. I take the opportunity, through this interview, to give him the biggest hugs.