February 14, 2006
New York City, US
Amore Under the New York Lights

How romantic…the moon—barely waning—was still up in the dawning sky as Jack and I pulled out of the driveway to begin the trek (again) to New York. It was clear that this would be a day for Amore! As we checked off the familiar landmarks of the route…Baltimore tunnel, Susquehanna and Delaware Memorial bridges, the "welcome to New Jersey" sign, and finally the New York skyline (sadly, dominated now only by the Empire State building)…we grew increasingly excited about the evening’s event: the XM satellite interview/concert with Andrea Bocelli.

New York was a crazy mix of winter wonderland and gritty slush, but the day was sunny and mild, the sky sparkling blue, and the New Yorkers had been cajoled into camaraderie by the challenges of the massive water jumps at every curb and obstacle courses of walled snow mounds left by the record snowfall the night/morning that Andrea and company had flown in to the city. Everyone you saw on the street seemed energized on this Valentine’s Day…or maybe it was just the excited charge of anticipation we felt at being part of the intimate radio broadcast about to happen.

When we walked into the studio in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex, nothing prepared us for the jaw-dropping spectacle that was visible from the studio’s floor-to-ceiling picture window wall— a magnificent panorama of snow-covered Central Park spread out before us, bordered at the far end by the New York skyline. We felt suspended in magic! This would be the stunning backdrop for Andrea’s appearance, and, as we waited for him to arrive, we watched transfixed as the scene changed from twilight to an animated kaleidoscope of enchanting city lights. It was perfect.

The forty lucky fans who had been given this opportunity were seated in tiered rows of red-covered tables and sipped the champagne that had been thoughtfully provided at the reception that kicked off the evening. When the staff came out for the audience warm-up and people began to call out where they were from, we realized just how far-flung this elite group was—from Oregon, California, and Florida, from Chicago, New Orleans, Washington, DC, Boston, Texas and, of course, New York—even from Canada, we pretty much covered the entire continent. Andrea had drawn us together… again.

George Taylor Morris was the host of the evening and for this regular XM satellite show called Artist Confidential. He had a classic radio voice, rich and mellow, measured and calm, with a quality that instantly put you at ease. It certainly seemed to do that for Andrea. The two sat on stools with homey oriental rugs spread on the floor beneath their feet. It felt like we were all just sitting together in our living room and Andrea had dropped in to chat. (Who among us hasn’t conjured up that daydream!) There was a good mix of questions from the audience and thought-provoking queries from George, and, throughout, Andrea seemed to be relaxed and enjoying the process, relying only occasionally on help from an interpreter.

The first questions delved into Andrea’s younger days. Was there music in his home? No his parents worked hard from early in the morning until 10:00 at night. There wasn’t much time for music until Andrea himself became the source of it around the house. What was his earliest inspiration? Andrea’s answer was the story many of us know so well about how he had cried a lot as a very young child, and his mother had discovered it was the sound of classical music that immediately stopped his tears. Did he buy a lot of records? He figured he made the stores in his town rich because that was how he spent a lot of his money. He remembered too how he would save up his money to buy a new instrument, another passion of his life.

Early on, someone—maybe the fan from Long Island—asked what Andrea liked most about New York. Our ever-diplomatic tenor unhesitatingly responded in Italian, "i New Yorkese" (New Yorkers). He explained further that he had grown up in the country, and that in general he was not overly fond of big cities because they are overwhelming for him, with too much traffic, too much noise, and air that is "different" from the countryside.

When George asked how he came to choose the songs for Amore out of the thousands of beautiful love songs, Andrea said he had sung many of these songs when he was "very younger" (about 19 or 20 he thought) in the "piano bar" days (no one on earth can say "piano bar" as adorably as Andrea…sorry, I just had to say that). What kind of place was this piano bar? Andrea said it had a space for disco dancing and a bar and was "very beautiful really" and he would sing until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and then go home and eat pasta. He admitted with chagrin that he had gained about 10 kilos in those days that way! At one point, he said he remembered singing Stevie Wonder songs and treated us with a bit of I just called to say "I love you". We tried to coax more of it from him, but he probably wasn’t really prepared with all the lyrics and grinned a little sheepishly. George asked specifically about Christina Aguilera and her involvement on the CD. Andrea repeated a story he has told before about how "Once upon a time, he was in a car in the United States—he couldn’t remember where he was going—and he heard a voice singing on the radio…an angel….and he asked who it was. He decided right there that he wanted to sing with her." At this remark, George asked just how that came about, suggesting puckishly, "Did you just pick up a phone and call her and say, "I’d like to sing with you"? Andrea laughed and noted that it would probably have been easier if it had happened that way, but that, in the end, it was a lot more difficult than that. This story also led to a question about Celine Dion and how she and Andrea had come together. He related that they had met in a restaurant in Italy and had talked for a long time together sharing good wine and, by the end of that time, decided they had to sing together.

One fan who had been reading Andrea’s "autobiography" asked him where he had drawn the strength to overcome all the obstacles he had faced in his life. The instant simple reply: "God." But Andrea also protested gently that he did not think he had that many obstacles to overcome, that he had been very fortunate in his life, and that most important he had had two parents who loved him very much and had been privileged to grow up in a beautiful, tranquil place.

Some of the questions evoked comments about his boys. Andrea began by noting that they were now 11 and 8, and they ran around the house and shouted a lot and were very noisy. But when asked if they were musically inclined, he said that just a week or so ago he had recorded them and that he was happy to say they were "in tune." I admit that at first I had this image of proud Babbo holding a little microphone for Amos and Matteo with the tape recorder in his lap…until it hit me that the man had a full-scale professional recording studio in his home and the boys were probably fitted out with the headphones we often see on their famous dad and that their boyish tones were captured forever by the complex equipment we’ve seen on the other side of that soundproof room where daddy floats those tones that stop our hearts!!! He said that it is very difficult to go off on the road tours now when the boys plead "no, don’t go" and ask when he will be back. He added that he hoped one day they would say "Thank you Daddy."

There were some great questions about his own vocal training—he explained that the vocal cords are a muscle and have to be exercised, you have to keep fit. But it is difficult, and of course requires discipline, he says, because he loves pasta and wine, and they call to him. Bottles of wine, he said, are bottles of happiness. But he must try to resist. At one point he quoted an Italian saying, which translated is "Wine makes you sing, but it doesn’t make you sing well!" There was a question from George about Andrea making his own wine. Andrea said that his father had always made wine, but in a simple, traditional Tuscan country way. As Andrea had traveled more and tasted fine wines, he decided with his brother to try to make a good wine of their own. And now they think they have succeeded with a wine from the Sangiovese grape typical of Tuscany.

I think it was George who asked Andrea whether he was more comfortable with opera or pop. Andrea chose opera. It is easier in a way, he explained, because there are strict rules and you follow these rules, whereas, you are left more on your own with pop because you have to depend more on instinct (After hearing Amore…over and over…I’d say his instincts are right on!)

A fan asked what Andrea looks for in a new singer, what makes a good singer stand out. Andrea answered that there are many finely trained and technically perfect singers. But they sound very similar, one to the other. There is nothing that distinguishes them. What makes a great singer is a distinctive quality to their voice…when Pavarotti sings, he said, with the first two notes you know exactly who it is. I know there couldn’t have been a single person in that room who wasn’t thinking "And when Bocelli sings, with the first note you know exactly who it is!!!" Then someone asked what Andrea would recommend as a first opera to someone who was just newly interested in it. He responded fairly quickly, "Probably Cavalleria Rusticana." He explained that it was written by Mascagni who was a Tuscan, but that this wasn’t the only reason to recommend it. He said that it was not too long and that "from the first note until the last, the music was very beautiful."

The question about where he imagined he would be with his career in 10 years made me sit up to listen for the response. But Andrea began by saying that a very good and wise friend, who was no longer living, had said that it was not good to look to plan more than 24 hours ahead. He did go on to add that he hoped he would still have a good voice that would allow him to continue to sing at this point in his life. I wish that I had a photographic brain for sound at the moment when he spoke about what it means to use your voice in the craft of singing. He answered in Italian so he could express his thoughts precisely in the way he wanted. He compared the art of the voice to trying to interpret something about a person from his handwriting. He said that a singer uses his voice the way an artist uses his brush or a sculptor his sculpting knife. It was really far more articulate and poetic, and hopefully many of you will be able to hear it when the show is finally aired.

They touched on his first break singing Miserere with Zucchero; he disclosed good-humoredly that when he had time to relax he stayed in bed a lot and liked to read and listen to music; he talked about the plans for the "theater of silence" in Lajatico (which Andrea assured us would be completed by this summer—somehow really convinced it would be very easy to make it out of a nearby hill—and invited all to come); he expressed his gratitude to David Foster, Tony Renis, and Umberto Gattica for the creation of Amore; he shared his hope that his voice could be as meaningful for others as music was in his own lifeI’m sure I am forgetting questions and responses—and of course, we could have listened forever.

The interview and question sessions were divided by the three songs from Andrea: Besame Mucho, Can’t Help Falling in Love, and Because We Believe. This last was introduced by George as a "song for the ages." Andrea said that it only took a "few minutes" to write the lyrics because he knew what he wanted to say to the athletes. He was in spectacular voice for all three songs…strong, melodic, controlled, but emotionally intense. Not for the first time since this CD came out, I thought to myself as I listened that no other tenor on the planet can even come close to singing these classic love songs and the technically challenging operatic arias of works like Tosca and Werther with equal capability as this man can. It makes me grin like an idiot with glee! The accompanists were looking really happy too and seemed to be genuinely appreciating the chance to "back up" this man and to be enjoying the fan reaction, which was uninhibitedly ecstatic at this unprecedented chance to hear Andrea perform in such an intimate setting.

Before we knew it, the time with Andrea was over. His final thought was that he hoped Amore would help St. Valentine to work his magic for everyone on this Valentine’s day. Then he stood and walked away, giving that last characteristic little backward good-bye wave…and he was gone.

As we drove away from New York, that moon was back in the night sky, riding above the famous skyline that was punctuated by the brightly red-capped Empire State building, specially decked out for this Valentine’s evening. But the mental valentine in my head was that familiar tenor voice of Amore working its magic in our minds and hearts as Jack and I sat together inside the car on our way home…How romantic.



I did my best to remember as much as I could from memory of this wonderful event (who could take notes with Andrea standing so close in front of you singing Can’t Help Falling in Love?!!). I know this is far from perfectly reported. If you can find a way to hear the actual broadcast, it would surely be worth it. If nothing else, you would get to hear Andrea’s deadly accurate imitation of New Yorkers saying "watah" (water) and "buttah" (butter).


by Cami McNamee


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