Andrea Bocelli: How a Star was Born

by Armando Gallo September 24, 2015

Bocelli meets the HFPA

Luca Celada/HFPA

Andrea Bocelli, in town to tape a special concert of his upcoming new album, stopped by the HFPA to talk about the record. Simply titled “Cinema” it's a tribute to the music of film featuring new arrangement of songs from such classics as Golden Globe-winners Cinema Paradiso and Gladiator. On the disc produced by his longtime collaborators Tony Renis, David Foster and Humberto Gattica the singer performs music by masters like Ennio Morricone and Leonard Bernstein and duets with Ariana Grande. HFPA music specialist Armando Gallo looks at how Bocelli went from unknown in his native Italy, to one of the world’s true superstars. Andrea Bocelli was performing in a small piano bar in Massa Carrara, a little town on the coast of Tuscany, when Italian pop star Zucchero heard him and asked him to do a demo. “I wrote a song with the intention of having Pavarotti sing a duet with me,” recalls Zucchero, “and Andrea’s voice was perfect for what I needed.”. The song was Miserere a courageous effort by the Italian blues-man to follow up his 1989 breakthrough album Oro Incenso e Birra. The demo was played to Pavarotti who found the voice of Bocelli perfect for the song. “Why do you need me?”, the Maestro told Zucchero. “You already have the right singer.” Zucchero, in a dramatic move threw the cassette tape into the huge burning fireplace of Pavarotti house saying. “If I can’t have you, I’d rather burn it!” The trick worked. Of course Zucchero had other tapes … That’s how Bocelli’s voice was instrumental in starting the friendship between Zucchero
and Pavarotti. The tenor recorded Miserere with Zucchero and together they promoted Pavarotti & Friends for many years. As a gesture of appreciation Zucchero took Andrea Bocelli on his next tour, playing keyboards and giving him the chance to sing the live duet of Miserere. The huge crowds of Zucchero, who by this time had started headlining stadiums, showed so much love for the young tenor that Zucchero asked him to also sing Nessun Dorma, from Puccini’s Turandot. Legend tells of Caterina Caselli, head of the Sugar record company, who heard Bocelli sing at Zucchero’s birthday party and immediately signed him. In the meantime a band from Venice, Le Orme, were recording a new album and their new keyboard player, Francesco Sartori, proposed a song that he had written. The others thought the song too “light” for the band’s sound and rejected it. The song was called Con Te Partiro. At the same time, in Florence, Mario Manzani, the guitarist songwriter for pop star Marco Masini wrote a song called Vivo Per Lei that Marco found not suitable to follow up the huge hit he had at the San Remo Festival. Mario recorded it with his band O.R.O. for Sugar. Both songs were picked up by Caselli, herself a pop singer in the 60s, for the launch of Andrea Bocelli on the international market. The impact that Andrea Bocelli had with these two songs in the world was huge, and as they say, the rest is history. Last week Bocelli performed his entire new CD for a special live recording for PBS at the prestigious Dolby Theater in Hollywood. The CD called Cinema is a wonderful collection of Andrea’s favorite songs from movies of past and recent years. These songs are etched in the culture and hearts of several generations including epic theme songs featured in films such as Doctor Zhivago, Love Story, The Godfather, Life is Beautiful, Il Postino, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and many more, as well as popular songs from stage musicals, immortalized by their film versions, such as West Side Story and Evita. As a special bonus, there’s a brand new song fashioned from the popular Gladiator score. Hollywood luminaries John Travolta, Ryan O’Neal, Ali McGraw, and Andy Garcia joined Bocelli onstage to speak about the films from which the songs derive. The special airs on THIRTEEN’s Great Performances Friday, November 27, as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival. Bocelli met the Hollywood Foreign Press and answered questions for over an hour, telling us that “film music is an exceptional artistic treasure trove.” Shortly thereafter he flew to Philadelphia to perform at the special concert for Pope Francis. Cinema will be released in mid-October.