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,” during the height of the pandemic shutdown of his beloved Italy and the world at large. There was no audience physically present — just Bocelli, a microphone and an organist as accompaniment. And a performance livestreamed 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 periods in history, music could lift 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 Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and a duet of “Amazing Grace” with Alison Krauss, among others.
Bocelli is now on tour, returning to the in-person arena concerts that have become a hallmark of his critically acclaimed music career, a career that includes six Grammy Award nominations, performances for four U.S. presidents, three popes, the British Royal family, and the closing ceremony for the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.
The tour arrives at the Allstate Arena on Thursday night.
Following is an edited e-mail 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 at the performance at the Teatro Regio di Parma. Both were done without an audience. What was the feeling like (because you perform before tens of thousands of people in a single concert)? Did you feel an emptiness on some level because there was no audience? And why was it important to do these performances?
A. The Milanese event was not a concert but an occasion to pray together (because, as St. Augustine would say, “To sing is to pray twice.”) and to reaffirm the power of the Christian message of rebirth and life that overcomes. The Duomo was empty, but my “aloneness” was only apparent: there were tens of millions of us — and albeit virtually, we were profoundly connected. It was incredibly emotional 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 response of the public went beyond my wildest expectations, as further proof of the fact that people hunger for beauty and spirituality; they need, now more than ever, to begin, once again, to dialogue with their own soul.
Q. How does it feel to return to live performances?
A. I am extremely happy. I found it difficult to be without the connection you can establish during a live performance. Live streaming is an interesting alternative, but the magic of a packed auditorium is incomparable. Direct contact with the audience remains fundamental to me and is also my way to thank those who, throughout the world, consistently and affectionately have been following me for many years.
Q. The new album’s title, “Believe,” is a powerful word. What do you hope people will believe in especially in these difficult times facing the world?
A. The album is a sort of spiritual autobiography. It presents a pathway studded with songs that can speak to the soul, offering the listener an incentive to encounter one’s own spiritual dimension and understand its driving force. The project is hinged on three concepts, the first of which is precisely faith. Together with hope and charity, it makes up the theological virtues: the foundation of Christian action. I see it as a wager, a challenge worth taking up.
Q. How important is faith, a belief in God, in your life?
A. Faith is my personal guidepost, my strength. It is a basic element of my life; a priceless gift that supports me day after day. Those who have faith, improve their lives and the world. To have faith means, firstly, to believe in the power of good, and at every crossroad, take the direction that leads to good. The conscience always knows how to respond correctly, because God always speaks to our conscience. It all depends on whether you have the courage to listen to it.
Q. How did the duet with Alison Krauss come about?
A. I had been following her 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 compelling songs of all time: the anthem of giving thanks.
Q. Your music is also becoming a family affair. Your young daughter Virginia performed 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. Did you encourage your children to pursue music? Did you teach your daughter to play the piano?
A. I encouraged them certainly not to make a profession out of music, but to study and frequent it. All of my children have done so, even my eldest, Amos, graduated from the conservatory where he studied the piano, although he later preferred to pursue a scientific career, earning a degree in aerospace engineering. The language of music has the capacity to improve people, to impact our conscience and contribute to spiritual evolution. Studying music offers a wealth of experience that enriches the soul; music is a friend that accompanies you through life. Virginia studies the piano not with me, but with a good teacher.
Q. Did you give your son Matteo any advice about the music business? If so, what was it?
A. I cautioned him with great clarity from the very start, about the difficulties I am well aware of, telling him how complex show business is. But it was his choice, and what is more is that he has something you cannot learn — talent. A talent I think he has demonstrated recently, with his first single, “Solo.” Being a son of an artist is a doubled-edged sword; having a famous last name gives an initial advantage that you pay for, however, later, which risks becoming a disadvantage. I am very happy to see Matteo seek out his own style independently, according to his own personality and sensitivity.
Q. You recently re-released your live “Central Park” album in a concert you originally dedicated to your father? What do you think your father would have thought of your music, your fame? What did he teach you about fatherhood?
A. Many times throughout the years, I would have wanted him near me, even if just to show him the expressions of affection and appreciation people had for me. I owe him a great deal. Unfortunately, he left us too soon, though I was able to share the first years of my career, my first successes with him. Personality-wise we were different, but I think what bonded us together was a certain humanity, a shared way of feeling. My father taught me the hierarchy of values that I, myself, have then 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 awesome responsibility of fatherhood and the power of example as an educational tool.
Q. What was it like to perform 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 emotions the Central Park concert, and the pleasure to have shared the stage with him at Radio City Music Hall in New York, on the occasion of the show honoring his 90th birthday. Tony Bennett is an immense artist, a living legend, the last of the great crooners and a dear friend. I take this opportunity, through this interview, to send him the biggest of hugs.