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Happy Birthday, Andrea Bocelli, Opera and Pop Singer

September 22, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
An idyllic farm surrounded by vineyards and olive groves in the Tuscan countryside was the setting for Andrea Bocelli’s childhood. But this soft-spoken singer, beloved by fans of both opera and pop music, has also faced challenges, tackling critics of his career moves, skeptics of his talent and his blindness with gusto.

Andrea Bocelli's Early Days

Born Sept. 22, 1958, Andrea Bocelli was involved in music from age 6 when he was first given piano lessons. Eventually, he learned to play the flute and saxophone, but always displayed a talent for singing. “I was one of those children who would always be asked to sing for my relatives. I don’t think one really decides to be a singer—other people decide it for you by their reactions,” Bocelli said. 

Despite the glaucoma that rendered him blind by age 12, Bocelli earned a law doctorate at the University of Pisa, and subsequently worked as a court-appointed lawyer for a year. That is, until he took a chance on his voice, approaching highly respected tenor Franco Corelli, who agreed to teach him. To cover the teaching fees, Bocelli sang in nightclubs and piano bars, where he met his future wife, Enrica.

Bocelli's Notable Accomplishments

Bocelli was “discovered” in 1992 by Pavarotti when the opera legend was sent a demo tape of a new song featuring Bocelli’s voice, thus launching a successful career. His fourth album, “Romanza,” was Bocelli’s first foray into pop music. The album, released in 1997, featured a duet with Sarah Brightman called “Time to Say Goodbye,” which became a big hit. Two years later, Bocelli released the Golden Globe award-winning song “The Prayer” with Celine Dion. More than 10 million copies of the song were sold, and its success led to Bocelli’s Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. 

Some so-called opera purists take issue with Bocelli’s pop star status, claiming he “drives greater talent out,” preventing fans from discovering gifted newcomers, according to an article in The New York Times.

But even the revered Three Tenors had “variety acts” beyond opera, which they claimed attracted “new audiences.” Critics did not buy that logic, and most brush off Bocelli’s similar claim. However, those who’ve fallen for opera simply by hearing Bocelli’s voice feel differently. Alaska data processor Laurie Eckhout told The New York Times, “I couldn’t stand opera before I heard Bocelli. He made me into a great opera fan.” Eckhout has since seen three performances at the Metropolitan Opera.

In an interview with CNN, Bocelli described how he approaches opera and popular music differently. He likens the genres to different languages, saying that for opera, he sings “for people that are very far from me,” while for a simple song, he imagines singing “in an ear of a child,” softly.

The Rest of the Story

Critics were less than pleased with Bocelli’s foray into the pop world. According to New Zealand newspaper the Sunday Star Times, Bocelli’s “insistence on singing saccharine orchestral ballads … has tainted his classical credentials” among opera’s elite. Some have also questioned Bocelli’s talent level. London opera critic Norman Lebrecht said Bocelli “is rarely in tune and never in tempo.”

However, Bocelli seems unphased by the jabs, calling critics’ qualms “a problem of theirs, not mine.” He focuses instead on the crowds of fans eager to see and hear him sing live. “The high points of one’s career are when you feel you’ve achieved the greatest sense of union with your audience,” Bocelli said.

Despite being visually impaired, Bocelli lives life to the fullest. He windsurfs and runs, has gone skydiving, and rides bikes with his beloved wife. This YouTube clip shows Bocelli at play in footage from a BBC documentary.

On Nov. 11, 2008, Bocelli released his album, “Incanto,” to coincide with the year of his 50th birthday. A DVD included with the album features documentary footage of an interview with Bocelli, and a music video showing Naples, Italy in 1950. 

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