Andrea Bocelli on His Improbable Journey, the Trump Inauguration, and That Ed Sheeran Duet
The famed Italian tenor opened up to Marlow Stern about his new biopic ‘The Music of Silence’ and so much more.
It’s a defying-the-odds story tailor-made for the big screen: born with glaucoma, a shy and withdrawn Italian boy is stripped of his eyesight at the age of 12 following a freak soccer injury, only to grow up and become a world-renowned singer.
Such is the journey of Andrea Bocelli, the 59-year-old Tuscan tenor who sold over 80 million albums worldwide, performed for presidents and popes, and had his timeless classic, “Con Te Partiro,” memorialized on the greatest television show ever: The Sopranos.
Now, Bocelli’s been given the biopic treatment in The Music of Silence. Directed by Michael Radford (Il Postino) and adapted from Bocelli’s memoir of the same name, it stars Game of Thrones’ Toby Sebastian as the Bocelli proxy Amos, a blind youngster who, with the help of a Maestro (Antonio Banderas), achieves fame and fortune beyond his wildest dreams.
The Daily Beast spoke to Bocelli—through a translator, mind you—about the film based on his life, his unique modus operandi, and whether or not he backed out of performing at the president inauguration of his longtime pal, Donald J. Trump.
Let’s talk about The Music of Silence. How did they convince you to make a film about your life, and did you have any say in who portrayed you?
Well, no, I gave no input in terms of the casting of the actor that was going to play me because the cinema is not my world, so to each his own! Let the professionals do their job. And convincing me to do the movie was real easy, because the world of movies is a new experience for me and I’ve very curious to get to know it better.
I read that when you were born, the doctor advised your mother to abort you, and that’s why you oppose abortion—because you wouldn’t be here today if your mother had listened.
My mother tells this story, so I have no reason to doubt it. But I’ve never positioned myself against something, so I never said that I was against abortion. I always try to say that I am “in favor” of something, and so what I’ve been saying is that I’m in favor of life.
The film briefly explores your injury and subsequent blindness at the age of 12. In the film, everything goes black. What was that experience like for you, to lose your eyesight at such a young age?
You have to consider that in the movie the character after the accident sees all black, but that was only something to give the perception to the people that are watching the movie—an effect. In real life, when someone is blind, they don’t see darkness.
Do you have a catalog of images that you can summon, from your early years before the accident? And do you perhaps have favorite images that you find yourself returning to?
Yes, definitely. The things that you learn—that you perceive as a child—you never forget. But no, I wouldn’t say that there are special images that come back more often than others in my memory, but whenever I want to go back into my memory, yes, those images appear.
When did you know that you had a special voice, and how did you discover that gift?
When people started to ask me to sing anywhere I went!
And they still do that, I’m guessing.
[Laughs] Luckily, yes, they still do!
I’m curious about your musical process. Do you read sheet music in braille or mostly do it by ear?
If I have to study classical music—opera—I have to start from the sheet music and study it before I do anything, but if it is a contemporary piece then I can often just listen to it.
What kind of influence did Pavarotti have on you, having taken you under his wing a bit not long after you were discovered?
I believe that artists in general, and particularly singers, recognize one another because they speak the same language. It’s a little bit like if you have two people from Sweden who are in the same room or on the same train, they hear each other’s accents, and they understand that they come from the same place. Between artists, it’s the same thing—you can recognize each other’s voice and you can understand if that voice is destined to occupy a space in the world of music.
In the realm of pop music, are there any voices that you admire? Do you consider yourself a Beyoncé or Taylor Swift fan?
I am mainly a fan of opera, and then right after that of classical music. Of course, I appreciate voices, and I believe that all the voices that have been successful in music were successful not by chance, but because there is real talent there. I believe there are many great voices out there.
How about an Andrea Bocelli x Adele collaboration? That would be massive.
[Laughs] It’s possible, who knows! Never say never!
And what was it like collaborating with Ed Sheeran on an orchestral version of “Perfect?”
He was so kind to ask me to sing that song that he wrote, and I had heard about him from my children because they are fans of his. So he came to visit me in my home, and my children were completely in awe when he came, so I know it was a big gift for them as well to get to know him and hear him live. And in every situation in which you have a good basis, the things turn out well—and they keep turning out well, because I understand that there are many other realizations on YouTube, Spotify and elsewhere.
You’ve performed for popes, presidents and royalty. Do you have a favorite show you’ve performed? One that’s really stood out for you?
[Laughs] Well, I have to say it’s hard to choose! Because performing in front of the pope or in front of the President of the United States is an extremely amazing experience.
You almost performed for the current president, but reports said that you backed out of performing at President Trump’s inauguration.
At this point, a publicist rejects the question.
I just wanted to get to the bottom of it, because conflicting reports came out.
Yes, I would frankly prefer not to go back to this subject because it’s something that really created a lot of issues.
Right. Initially, it was reported that President Trump tried to get you to perform and you declined, but then his team came out after and said that you offered to perform and they turned you down, which seemed, well, highly unlikely.
I really would like to leave things the way they are, and leave everybody free to think whatever they want.
Haha, alright. It’s been a few years since your last album. Do you have a new one cooking?
Oh yes, there’s always something cooking in my kitchen! I’m cooking something that nobody has ever tasted—or heard—and that you will be able to hear in just a little while.
“Con Te Partiro” is one of your most enduring songs. What did the song mean to you when you first performed it, and what does it mean to you now?
I have to say that all the songs that become evergreen, so to speak, are not always understood at the very beginning. That song was given to me so that I could bring it to [1995’s] Festival di Sanremo, and I thought it was not the right song for a festival. But I thought then—and I still think now—that it’s a timeless song; it’s a song that goes beyond, and that’s really like no other. It doesn’t have anything similar to other artists, or other songs, or other composers, and I think that’s the reason why the audience liked it then, and still likes it now.
You’ve accomplished so much already. Do you have a grand musical undertaking that you’ve yet to realize? Say, performing at the Pyramids or something?
Well, you know, I’ve sang a little bit I would say everywhere. I even sang in space—my voice was broadcast to the astronauts—so I think the best thing for me to do at this point is just hope that I can leave a good memory of me.