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"I only distinguish between beautiful and ugly music"

Andrea Bocelli.
Andrea Bocelli. / SUR
  • "Opera is a form of popular art," says the Italian tenor who returns to Starlite after postponing his first concert due to bronchitis

Andrea Bocelli follows the advice Luciano Pavarotti gave him one day: “Don’t grumble about having to give too many interviews. Worry more when you don’t get any!” That’s why, he says, it is a “pleasure” to answer the questions sent from Malaga prior to the Italian tenor’s concert at the Starlite festival. His performance this Sunday comes later than expected, after he postponed his initial date at the Marbella quarry site due to bronchitis. Originally from rural Tuscany and a devout Catholic, Bocelli says he is proud of his origins, defends his versatile musical career from opera to pop and goes to great lengths to avoid his blindness being considered a “disability”. “The human body is an unprecedented wonder and there are many channels of communication with the world.” In his case, he uses his voice.

I imagine that health problems affecting the voice are what a singer fears most.

As singers we have to contend with the most delicate musical instrument there is and it’s inside us: our vocal chords. Just like athletes, it’s important to take a series of precautions, lead a moderate life and don’t give in to excesses. We must use our voice correctly so that it doesn’t wear out and abandon us. “If a Stradivarius violin breaks, you can always try to buy a new one,” said my maestro Franco Corelli, “but you have only one voice, and if it breaks, you can never buy another one.” Fortunately it was a mild bronchitis and just required patience and a few days’ rest.

Some opera singers avoid popular music and only sing opera. However you include pop, Latin and classical songs quite naturally in your repertoire. Why?

The search for beauty guides my choices. My training is typical of an opera singer, but that doesn’t mean I reject pop. I follow both genres with as much honesty and quality as possible.

Has this earned you criticism from opera purists?

I have maximum respect for the opinions of everyone. Perhaps a small number of classical music critics didn’t understand at first, or perhaps they didn’t like, the unconventional direction of my career and the resounding response from the public. But if we look at the past, at artists such as Enrico Caruso or Beniamino Gigli it was totally normal to go from the theatre where they sang opera to popular songs in films or on records. The distinction between the two genres remains intact, but a great singer lends his voice to a great melody, be it opera or a popular song.

Has this versatility allowed you to reach new audiences?

What I hope is that it has succeeded in making my favourite opera pieces known in contexts that are normally focused on other repertoires and to large audiences. Opera is a form of popular art, it is not a repertoire for the elite and it is crucial for young people to be able to approach it without prejudice.

Do you approach an aria from Tosca in the same way as, for example, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina? To put it another way – do you think a lyrical piece has the same value as a popular song?

From a technical point of view, between the emission of natural voice (used for pop music) and opera, the differences are fewer than you might think. Having said that, personally I have always tried not to choose my repertoire giving in to genre prejudice; I look for quality, wherever it can be found. I prefer opera - that’s no secret - but every genre has its masterpieces that are capable of moving and entertaining. I only distinguish between beautiful and ugly music. And it’s easy to tell them apart, they have different consequences: beautiful music helps you grow and develop spiritually.

We are looking forward to the release of the film The Music of Silence, based on your biography. What did you think when they told you your life would be a movie?

I thought it was almost paradoxical that my existence could be considered interesting to the point of making a film about it! The film is based on my book La Musica del Silenzio.

–Have you seen the performance of Malaga actor Antonio Banderas?

Antonio Banderas is a great actor, versatile, intelligent, intense. I’m very happy that he has taken part in this film. I also feel that he has managed to fit perfectly into the skin of my singing teacher, the maestro Luciano Bettarini.

When you have reached the highest point of a career, what motivates you to keep going on stage to perform?

It is the generosity with which people follow me in hundreds of countries around the world that gives me strength to get back on planes after more than twenty years of career.   The only way of responding to the affection shown is to say thank you “in person”, to reach my fans wherever they are.

From a village in Tuscany you went on to travel the world with the best voices of the moment. How did you manage not to be dazzled by them?

I’m proud of having been born in rural Tuscany and being the fruit of a country working culture that has given me, through my parents, those values that have shaped my life and my choices. Values that perhaps I transmit now through song. As for my colleagues, I have always tried to learn something from each one.

They say that solitude comes with success. When the stage lights go off, you are alone. Do you feel like that?

I have a marvellous family and a lot of dear friends, thanks to God. Success is the sum, always provisional, of a series of variables. Fame, in itself, is not a value. I also think that success can be an obstacle, because it’s easier to lose contact with reality. And without having your feet firmly on the ground, there is a risk of getting lost. I am convinced that this is a risk that easily generates solitude and that fortunately I have always managed to keep away from that.

Once you said, “I’ve seen a hundred times more than those who always talk about my disability.” Are there still people who can’t see further than your blindness?

I respond with a reflection that I hope will make my thoughts clear: the human body is an unprecedented wonder and there are many channels of communication with the world. Everybody should embrace the tools that God has given them, trying to use their skills and talents.

I understand you don’t like talking about this but, don’t you think you are an example of personal achievement for others to follow?

I think every one of us has the responsibility to set a good example, representing a positive model for their children and for society through their actions. As a Catholic I think it is fundamental to put those values that our parents gave us into practice. As for the story of my life, if I can teach anything to the younger generations, I would say don’t lose faith, work hard and trust in the plan God has for you.