ALBANY For his 14th studio album, “Passione,” Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli took a page from his own early playbook.
The singer, whose versatile croon and multiplatinum selling records have earned accolades from mentor Luciano Pavarotti and Oprah Winfrey among others, has offered up a set of 14 classic pop love songs on “Passione.” As usual, he sings in his native Italian and Neapolitan, as well as English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, on such selections as “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” (a duet with Jennifer Lopez) and Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender.” These are the songs that Bocelli sang while he was cutting his teeth as a performer in the ’70s and ’80s, performing at piano bars in Italy.
“It is a selection of those musical moments that accompanied my youth, a collection of cherished memories,” Bocelli said via email, while crisscrossing the country on the final week of his U.S. tour. He will perform at the Times Union Center in Albany tonight.
with New York City Opera Orchestra and guest vocalist Fantasia Barrino
WHEN: 7:30 tonight
WHERE: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
HOW MUCH: $353, $248, $198, $128, $78, $58
MORE INFO: 487-2000, www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
“When [I was] 18 years old, I first approached pop music, starting to play as a pianist in piano bars — it is right from this repertoire, from these international pieces [that have] become classics that I started. ‘Passione’ comes from the pursuit of beauty. I wanted to collect some among the most beautiful pages of pop ever, offering them in a new updated version, different and recorded with a quality in sound updated to the technologies of the new millennium.”
The album brings Bocelli full circle, from his humble beginnings on his family’s farm in Tuscany. Born with poor eyesight, Bocelli was immediately drawn to music, beginning piano lessons at age 6. He eventually learned to play guitar, flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and drums, but decided early on to focus on singing, and in 1970 won his first singing competition, the Margherita d’Oro, performing “O sole mio.”
Relief through music
“Music is a form of expression written in my destiny; I bring it in my genes,” Bocelli said. “As I often say, to tell something about my approach to music I have to rely on what my parents used to say: When I was still a baby in arms, as soon as I heard a piece of music, they said I stopped crying. In my first years of life, I had to undergo painful operations and spend long periods in hospital. The only medicine that could relieve all my pains, they said, was just music.”
At age 12, Bocelli lost his sight completely after being struck on the head and suffering a hemorrhage during a soccer game.
“Fortunately, the human body is a wonder with no equal and the channels of communications with the world are many and complex,” Bocelli said. “While as a person in everyday practical life I have, sometimes, had to pursue alternative ways to reach the same goal [than] those who do not have this problem, usually [I] reach [my goals] with a minor effort.”
With “Passione,” Bocelli is hoping to share his love of classic love songs from around the world with younger audiences. “I also think that for new generations the album will represent a special opportunity to discover a repertoire that will surely give them strong emotions,” he said.
Bocelli recorded the album with longtime friend and collaborator David Foster, who also helmed his 2009 Christmas album “My Christmas” and a duet with Mary J. Blige on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” released in 2010 to raise awareness for victims of the Haiti earthquake. The bulk of the recording was done at Bocelli’s home in Tuscany.
“I am sure that to work in a family dimension, peaceful and friendly, together with my companion Veronica and with my sons, has surely positively influenced the final result,” Bocelli said.
As usual, the album includes a number of duets, including “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” and “Corcovado — Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” featuring Nelly Fertado. Bocelli also sang a “virtual duet” with French singer Édith Piaf, who died in 1963, on her signature song “La Vie en rose.”
“It was a happy intuition of David Foster’s, and for me it represented a dream unexpectedly become true,” Bocelli said. “The presence of Edith Piaf in the album is a real ‘coup de théâtre!’ And it was really exciting to revive, thanks to technology, her vibrating and marvelous voice just to sing a duet with her. It is as if the great little French singer had come back with us for a while, 50 years after she had left us.”
For the tour, Bocelli has enlisted “American Idol” season three winner Fantasia Barrino as guest vocalist. Bocelli previously appeared on “American Idol” in 2006, as a guest coach on the show’s fifth season.
“To sing together, as I have already said before, is a rewarding experience — intense, exciting,” Bocelli said. “To mix the sound of two voices, to weave their vibrations, is always an exciting bet. . . . And the difficulty of singing together both in the lyrical repertoire as in the pop one corresponds to its beauty. You have to find a common ground, a common vibration. With Fantasia, it all worked perfectly.”
Bocelli will focus on material from “Passione” and his other pop-oriented albums during the second set of his performance in Albany, including the Neapolitan love song collection “Incanto” (2008). For the first set, he’ll perform material from his classical and operatic repertoires — most recently Bocelli starred as Romeo in Charles Gounod’s opera “Roméo et Juliette,” based on the William Shakespeare tragedy.
Passion of Verdi
“This year a name will strongly emerge: that of Giuseppe Verdi, a composer [whose birth bicentenary we are celebrating this year] who, like nobody else, has been able to tell in music human passions, through works like ‘Rigoletto,’ ‘Il trovatore,’ ‘Un ballo in maschera’ [and] ‘La Traviata,’” Bocelli said.
Beginning with “La Bohème” in 2000, Bocelli has recorded nine full operas alongside his 14 solo studio records. His notable roles include Don José in “Carmen” in 2008 at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in Rome, which saw international release in 2010, and as the title character in “Werther” for his U.S. operatic debut at Detroit Opera House in 1999.
For Bocelli, both operatic and pop singing present their own challenges. However, he has made his career on both and enjoys both equally.
“Opera proposes a more complex music, also from the point of view of the vocal technique requested, but it is, however, able to repay both the interpreter and the public because opera offers such deep sensations that they will remain in a heart for a lifetime,” Bocelli said. “Nevertheless, both the classic and the pop repertoires are two music genres which have their own beauty, dignity and difficulty.”