When Andrea Bocelli was a teenager, he spent six nights a week working as a piano player and singer in the piano bars of his hometown of Tuscany. Every night, someone would inevitably request Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Girl From Ipanema” or “Corcovado,” Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” Italian hits such as “Era Già Tutto Previsto,” and “Champagne,” or Neapolitan songs like “Anema e Core” and “Mala Femmena.” “It often happened that a beautiful girl who could sing in tune would come up and ask to sing something with me,” Bocelli recalls. “It was a good time and perhaps it is to that time that I owe my peace of mind and serenity of today.”
Of course today Bocelli is an international superstar with a myriad of breathtaking career achievements to his name. The Italian tenor is the most successful classical solo artist ever and one of the best-selling artists in music history, period, with more than 80 million albums sold worldwide. He is also credited with enabling the core classical repertoire to cross over and find a home atop the international pop charts, creating a new genre of music along the way. He has performed for four U.S. presidents, two popes, and the British royal family, as well as at ceremonies for the Olympic Games and the World Cup. He has been praised by such luminaries as Luciano Pavarotti, Franco Corelli, Zubin Mehta, Jose Carreras, Lorin Maazel, Renee Fleming, and Celine Dion, who once introduced him by saying: “I heard someone say that if God had a singing voice, he would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.”
But it is Bocelli’s fondness for his pre-fame years that has partly inspired his new album Passione, a lush selection of the musical moments that marked and accompanied his youth. “It’s a collection of cherished memories, of fluttering emotions, of sleepless nights that ended at dawn, of voices and hands, of endless talking and making little sense,” he says.
Another lure in making Passione was recapturing the magic that Bocelli conjured up with 16-time Grammy Award-winner David Foster, who produced Bocelli’s 2006 collection of romantic songs Amore, which sold more than 2.5 million copies and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 chart (Bocelli’s highest U.S. chart bow at the time, but since surpassed by 2009’s My Christmas, also produced by Foster). The two men first met when Bocelli duetted with Celine Dion on the Foster-produced smash “The Prayer” and went on to produce Bocelli’s 1999 album Sogno.
“Andrea continues to be my favorite singer of all time,” Foster declares. “I pride myself on working with great voices, but he transcends that. He’s a totally legitimate classical singer. He knows the repertoire inside and out. He lives and breathes that world, but he’s also super comfortable in the pop world. Everyone wants that voice in their living room. Everyone wants that voice at their coronation. He’s a singer for all people, from the common man to the Pope.”
For Foster, a second opportunity to record the most romantic songs of all time was a no-brainer. “There is such a void for this kind of music,” he says. “These Italian and Spanish love songs are so beautiful and Andrea sings them so well. He flips a switch and goes into this romantic voice that is like no one else’s. Nobody else on the planet can do that.”
To select the songs for Passione, Foster spent two two-week stretches at Bocelli’s home in Tuscany where they devised a list of 80 potential candidates. “I asked Andrea, ‘What makes a love song to you?’ And he said, ‘It must be filled with romance,’” Foster says. Adds Bocelli: “The pop repertoire dedicated to love is very large and full of gems, but my criterion is simple. When I sing a song, I must first fall in love with it and feel it in my heart. It must arouse emotions and enter the fibers of those who are listening to it. It must become the voice of many in the world, so that they can mirror in it their most genuine feelings.”
As with Amore, which featured such masterworks as “Besame Mucho” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” Passione includes several beloved classics, including “Love Me Tender,” “Girl From Ipanema,” and “Sara Settembre,” (known to English-speaking audiences as Neil Diamond’s “September Morn,” but sung in Italian here with Diamond’s blessing). Other songs may be unfamiliar to Americans, such as “Champagne,” “I Found My Love in Portofino,” and “Era Già Tutto Previsto,” but are well-known to Europeans. “I did want to do justice to some songs that only a few in the United States know,” Bocelli admits. “They were part of the fantastic albums of the ’80s and they made a whole generation dream. Today a teenager like my son Matteo loves them a lot, which proves that inspired music is timeless.”
Bocelli and Foster also engaged three female duet partners: Jennifer Lopez, whom Bocelli calls an “eclectic artist thanks to the charismatic power of her voice and soft sensuality” on “Quizas Quizas Quizas;” Nelly Furtado, whom Bocelli credits with a voice “possessing a volcanic personality” and “musicality combined with an actor’s skills” on “Corcovado;” and the late French chanteuse Edith Piaf, whose vocal on “La Vie En Rose” was extracted from the master by Foster — no easy feat considering artists did not record on multi-track decks in the ’40s. “Thanks to David’s genius, the presence of the marvelous vibrating voice of Edith Piaf is a real ‘coup de theatre,’” Bocelli says. “It is as if she had come back just to stay with us for a while, after having left us 50 years before.”
As for the album’s title, Bocelli explains that the word “Passione” refers to a “burning hot love or sweet sensual torment.” “It is a repertoire of endless beauty that collects some of the most intense songs of all time,” he says. “Compared to its predecessor Amore, the repertoire is slightly shifted in the direction of an increased presence of American songs. But the concept is similar: great songs that have been considered masterpieces for generations, with love as the driving engine.”
The effect is transporting. Bocelli sings in six languages (Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Neapolitan) in his lower register, as Foster accompanies him on piano, along with Peruvian guitarist Ramon Stagnaro. The sensual sound is rounded out by Cuban, Brazilian, and Portuguese rhythms and a 63-piece orchestra that Foster assembled and recorded in London. “David has a fantastic feeling for finding the right arrangements and orchestration,” Bocelli says. “The best result is not from those who have the most sophisticated technology, but from those who have the most brilliant ideas.”
“Andrea gave me the freedom to make the music exactly as I had always heard it in my head, just like with Amore,” Foster says. “It makes for more peace and tranquility and helps me do my job better. We recorded in his house, upstairs in his bedroom, in the living room, and in the den where the studio is. Then we had dinner together every night with everybody at the table.”
The friendship between the two men and the respect they have for one another’s creative process is palpable on Passione — a positive energy and spirit that Bocelli hopes will carry over to his listeners: “I am looking forward to the emotion of once again entering people’s homes, being part of the soundtrack of their lives, and giving them moments of joy.”