Beloved Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will perform in person in front of a live audience for the first time since a pandemic-driven pause in his touring schedule with a show Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum, accompanied by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Bocelli, 63, expressed excitement about finally embarking on a tour that originally had been scheduled for last year. He hopes his return to performing will bring much-needed comfort and deliver a message of hope to audience members still struggling because of the ongoing worldwide health crisis. No stranger to adversity, Bocelli was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma a few months after birth and has been blind since age 12 because of a soccer injury.
During the time off from performing, Bocelli worked on a new album, caught up on his reading, enjoyed quiet time with his family and performed a concert at an empty cathedral in Italy that turned out to be one of the largest livestreamed musical performances ever and continues to rack up views on YouTube.
Bocelli spoke with Milwaukee Magazine via email about his upcoming Milwaukee show and U.S. tour, how he has navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of art and culture in these troubled times.
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Milwaukee Magazine: You offered online performances during the pandemic. Why was that important for you?
Andrea Bocelli: Music is therapeutic. It can help us overcome hardship and let positivity and trust in others grow within. I believe that hope, in this historic moment in time, is the true element to tip the scale of existence. Good music, with its impetus toward beauty, is like a precious “tonic” that restores faith and helps us think of the future with optimism. That is why I thought it important to make my humble contribution.
MM: Your Easter show in 2020 from the Duomo di Milano has been watched by millions of people. Why did that resonate?
AB: I think that this was proof that people, now more than ever, hunger for beauty and spirituality. They need to start anew with higher values and dialogue with their souls. I chose to be in Milan during the severest phase of the first lockdown, and on the day of Holy Easter, to pray through song, to pray together and reaffirm the power of the Christian message of rebirth, comfort and redemption.
MM: How did you occupy your time when you weren’t able to tour?
AB: It was an undeniably difficult time. I was very saddened when thinking about the suffering of so many people less fortunate, not to mention the grief of those who lost their loved ones or who could not take care of them. I however, lived a privileged situation in lockdown because I was able to share this time with my family. And, as I usually travel for more than half the year, this forced pause enabled me to more intensely experience the warmth of relations at home. I also had more time to study, listen to music and read. I was able to tackle challenging reads that my tight work schedule would not allow me to do before with the necessary calm and concentration. In particular, I read with great interest, the opera omnia of Maria Valtorta, a mystic who lived in the early 1900s.
MM: You recorded the religious album Believe during the pandemic. Tell us about that?
AB: I felt the need to create a project dedicated to the soul, offering my contribution to what I feel is a need that is ever more compelling, and that is, the will to seek out one’s own inner world. Through introspection (and for those who have the gift of faith, through prayer) people feel the need to newly inhabit their inner-selves, and, with that, inhabit harmony and serenity, which for many months, unfortunately, have been put to the test. I like to think of this album as a sort of medicine for the soul, a sequence of sung prayers that can offer solace and trigger optimism.
MM: What are you expecting when you finally get to reconnect with your fans and get back to touring?
AB: It will be like finally being able to hug many friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I have the extraordinary luck of being long appreciated in the United States as in other countries throughout the world, and I cannot remain indifferent to so much – and never enough deserved – affection.
MM: You are coming to Milwaukee for your first show on this tour. What can fans here expect at the performance?
AB: I have this concert – that will be inaugurating my U.S. tour – very much at heart, and I am happy to have the opportunity to sing with an instrumental ensemble of the highest quality, that is, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The concert’s format will be the usual, with a first part dedicated to the masterpieces of operatic repertory (by composers, such as Puccini, Verdi, Giordano, Bizet) and a second part that will feature many ultra-famous excerpts from my latest album along with a number of well-known songs people traditionally associate with my voice.
MM: Is there anything especially special or challenging about a first appearance on a tour?
AB: I am like an athlete at his first competition after a long hiatus from the stadium. I am therefore happy, excited and even a bit apprehensive. I know well, however, that the audience’s warmth, the first applause it directs to me as I take to the stage, will give me the necessary energy to perform the best that I can.
MM: What’s it like performing for an American audience?
AB: For years I have made no secret my affection for the American public because they go to concerts fundamentally to share in the joy of listening, celebrating all that music can offer, because it is a generous audience – engaged and lively.
MM: Are you nervous, if that is the correct word, about getting back in front of a live audience after an extended break?
AB: I always bank on a bit of nervousness, and this time there may be a little more. It’s the price you pay for being an emotional person. Even after 25 years in this profession, the first moments on stage are never easy, precisely because I want to be worthy of the trust given to me by those willing to spend their time and money to listen to me.
MM: A friend of mine still talks to this day about your appearance on Sesame Street years ago. His children were enthralled with you. How important is it to expose younger audiences to opera?
AB: I believe it crucial. Opera is a form of popular art, capable of triggering profound feelings. It elevates the spirit and enables the inexpressible to be expressed. It is drawn from a human passion, and is therefore perennially relevant and universal, able to spark instinctive emotions, with an intensity that can break down any cultural and generational barrier. It is important, however, that anyone be able to approach this world without feeling intimidated. We opera insiders have the duty and honor to take the first step. If necessary, even going beyond the theater to bring it to schools, arenas, town squares and to television.
MM: What role do you see opera, and music and art in general, playing in a world trying to return to some sense of normalcy after dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?
AB: Art is a gift from the heavens, a gift that aims to uphold the spirit. When we neglect to uphold the spirit, the risk is that it will retreat. Without culture, nothing can be resolved. It is a grave mistake to penalize culture or think that it is something we can do without, as, unfortunately, has happened in the course of the health crisis.