Italian opera legend Andrea Bocelli is already one of the most inspiring figures in the global music industry.
Blind since the age of 12, Bocelli's gone on to become one of the recognizable and iconic voices heard across the planet, sold millions upon millions of albums, earned several awards and nominations – including his performance of the Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee "The Prayer" – and received Order of Merit honors, aka Italy's version of knighthood.
And yet, even after all of that, perhaps his most inspirational accomplishment was yet to come, performing a live-streamed Easter concert on YouTube at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020 that broke classic music records on the social media platform and brought much-needed light and hope to dark times, particularly in his home country of Italy, which was ravaged in those early months.
A year and a half later, Bocelli's continuing to bring inspiration to audiences through music – no longer behind a computer screen, but back on stage in front of crowds as his "Believe" tour makes its way to Fiserv Forum on Wednesday night.
Before he takes the spotlight, however, OnMilwaukee chatted with the tenor extraordinaire via email about his plans for his upcoming show, his now-famous Easter performance and more – including a nod to Milwaukee's translated meaning, which I'm going to take as totally circumstantial evidence that Bocelli is a "Wayne's World" fan.
OnMilwaukee: Where did the idea come from for last year's Easter concert during the start of the pandemic? How much planning had to go into that to make sure it was safe and worked right? After all, it was early in the pandemic when we were still figuring out how to operate.
Andrea Bocelli: The invitation came from the Mayor and Archdiocese of Milan. I accepted without hesitation, because I strongly believe in its good purpose, doing with pleasure what I think was, first and foremost, my duty as a person of faith, as a Christian.
The idea was then developed, and the event grew bigger and bigger. For this, I need to thank all those who worked in the shadows for weeks, from management to the recording label, and especially those who, the world over, have shared this moment together, to stay truly united. I keep the memory of that unprecedented experience as the absolute dearest.
It’s true that the lockdown in those dark days reflected images of deserted spaces, but at the Duomo, we were actually there in the tens of millions, thanks to the internet, and especially the hearts of each and everyone of us – brothers and sisters who didn’t know each other together raised their hands to the sky. It was not a concert; my intention was to say a prayer for my family, myself and the rest of the world, something which had nothing to do with an artistic performance. It was just a prayer, but it was one of the most intense and emotional prayers of my life.
What do you think it is about these opera and classical songs that really spoke to people over the past year and a half?
Music is a universal language; it’s a powerful tool – one of the most beloved forms of expression of the soul. Music can educate, express peace and brotherhood, open our hearts and minds. It can help us overcome hardship. Art, in its entirety, is a gift of the heavens made to uplift our souls and thus to spread good. I think that good music – both classic-operatic, and pop or other genres – can be of comfort, express positivity and hope. And at times it can be an incentive to channel one’s own spiritual dimension.
One of the new pieces you have on your latest album is a new "Ave Maria," which you described in a previous interview as "gushed from my soul in the middle of lockdown.” What inspired that song gushing out of you, and what was that process like?
I need to point out that I do not consider myself a composer. I am, however, a musician and sometimes melodies spring from my mind, practically already complete with harmonization. Music that knocks on the door of the spirit that I willingly welcome and then let go, putting pen to paper. This is what happened in March 2020, during our first full lockdown. I wrote this music for a prayer – the "Ave Maria" that was later included in the “Believe” album. This was actually the spark that ignited the project, in the sense that the idea became clearer to me to make my contribution to this historic moment with an album that was a call to the reasons of the soul.
Many people took up new hobbies or took in new entertainments during the lockdown. Did you pick up anything new or watch, listen or read anything particularly inspiring or memorable during this past year that's stuck with you?
Despite the worry and sadness for what was happening, I lived a priviliged situation in lockdown, because I was with my family, in my home on the Tuscan coast. This forced pause enabled me to experience the warmth of relations more intensely, at home. In addition, I had more time to study, listen to music, and read. For example, I tackled the opera omnia of the mystic, Maria Valtorta, whose texts were much loved, among others, by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It was a spiritual adventure that kept me very engaged and, hopefully, improved me a bit. Also of great interest to me was reading the texts of the German mystic Anna Katharina Emmerick, a cloistered nun who lived between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, whose visions were transcribed by the poet Clemens Brentano.
Though you've performed other streams and such, what did you miss most about performing live over the past year and a half?
Singing live, to me, is like an embrace – a moment of encounter, animated by the pleasure of being together, breathing the same air, one in front of the other, sharing emotions. Records, just like streaming events, are wonderful tools that allow us to enter into the homes of our audience and express even the smallest – but always precious – part of the soundtrack of other people’s lives. But experiencing a concert is unmissable. I say this as an artist and as a man. It is precisely that direct contact, that “one to one” connection that is made during live concerts, that I missed.
Milwaukee marks one of your first tour stops in a long time. What do you have planned for this particular return to the stage?
The objective is to propose an evening dedicated to sharing beauty, together with good music and positive emotions. As for me, I will give it my all to offer a performance worthy of expectations.
The concert will have its usual format, with a first part dedicated to the most famous opera pieces and a second part tied to popular music and songs. Thus you will find the great composers that have given luster to my country – Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Umberto Giordano – as well as a French composer that I particularly love, Georges Bizet. The second part will feature many songs from "Believe," from “Amazing Grace” to “Hallelujah" to "You’ll Never Walk Alone." There will also be music and songs taken from other albums, all well-known and loved, that the audience expects to hear from me and which I will be delighted to sing.
Do you have any places or things you must do when you're in Milwaukee? Any restaurants or landmarks that are favorites to visit while here?
The concert in Milwaukee marks the first stop of a long U.S. tour. I am happy and excited about this opportunity I have, to start off "on the right foot" in the best way possible, accompanied by an extraordinary orchestra, such as the Milwaukee Symphony. I do not have any particular place already planned to visit, also because the concert agenda usually imposes a tight schedule. But I am certain it will be a wonderful experience – this experience I will live in Milwaukee, the city of the legendary Harley-Davidson. The name Milwaukee, if I’m not mistaken, once meant "good land."
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.