EXCLUSIVE: Andrea Bocelli on Teatro del Silenzio, Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" and His Foundation
Wagner had Bayreuth in northern Bavaria. Years later, Pierre Boulez would get his IRCAM under the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. And on Thursday, July 27, 2006, on the outskirts of a frazione in the province of Pisa, finally, a lawyer-cum-tenor from nearby Lajatico christened his own grand edificio d'arte: Andrea Bocelli's Teatro del Silenzio.
The opening number that balmy evening? Apropos of a singer more wont for pop than Puccini--after all, Bocelli, OMRI remains the last proper tenor nominated for a Best New Artist GRAMMY--he sang-spake his way through "A Mio Padre," the last track from 1999's twice-platinum Sogno.
Back then, the Mauro Malavasi co-write was a song of paternal reconciliation. His father, Edi, having passed away six years prior, that night under the Tuscan moon, it had become all about Andrea.
In translation: "Nothing in the world / Will make me forget that / I can win." Or, Osare l'impossibile...lo so.
That is, "Dare the impossible...I know."
Since opening night at his "Theater of Silence," not unlike a certain man from La Mancha, Andrea Bocelli has gone on to realize a number of seemingly impossible dreams. He's concertized the globe, everywhere from the Nippon Budokan to Central Park's Great Lawn to the rebel fortress at Masada. He's performed with and for everyone, be it Corelli and Pope Benedict XVI or Mary J. Blige and the Obamas.
True, I haven't cross-referenced each source exhaustively, but Andrea Bocelli's probably the only blind, classical tenor to have made both the Guinness Book of Records and People's "50 Most Beautiful" issue. Without question, though, he is indeed the only singer worthy of a venue that's open just one, singular night each year.
CLASSICALITE: By now, we all know your origin story. So, let's talk the beginnings of Teatro del Silenzio, itself. It's early this century. You wish to build an en plein air amphitheater in your hometown that is silent 364 days a year. Why?
ANDREA BOCELLI: The Teatro del Silenzio was born of an idea from an architect friend of ours. This project was immediately supported and made partially by my brother Alberto, who is an architect, too. At first, I considered the idea a little crazy. After some hesitations, I strongly supported it, as I believe you must do when you embrace any project. As for silence, I think there are hidden treasures in it--just like in music, where the greatest energy is often hidden in the breaks. I think it is poetic and appropriate to dedicate a theater to silence, a place where, for almost the whole year, the characters on stage are peace and nature.
CL: Soon enough, the mayor of Lajatico signs on, as does the heir to the Fabbri amusement park fortune. Is that all it took: local politics and a lot of cash?
AB: Teatro del Silenzio has helped in raising awareness of our territory in the world. One more reason to celebrate and verify the validity of the project. Besides, through this event, I have been able to receive, in a place that I consider as my own home, many fellow artists. I celebrate with them the beauty of music and nature in a place that, as a landscape, has no equal.
CL: Architecturally, perhaps even acoustically, what were your models or inspiration for Teatro del Silenzio?
AB: My area of competence is limited to the artistic side. For the rest, I have once more realized that in Val d'Era, under the sky gallery of my beloved Tuscany, the good Lord has given us a valley of outstanding natural beauty. It exceptionally becomes a theater to return to, the day after, in a countryside landscape.
CL: Aesthetically, sculptures exhibited in the center of the lake have included Mario Ceroli's stately Il Cavallo di Bronzo, Arnaldo Pomodoro's Il Grande Sole, as well as major works by the late Igor Mitoraj and Kurt Laurenz Metzler. What's the process, what do you look for when choosing both art and artist for that moated platform?
AB: These are aspects that I do not deal with directly, even if the set design of each edition is always shared and discussed prior to its implementation. I have always appreciated and favored this synesthesia that the Teatro del Silenzio offers through different artistic expressions, transforming the stage, itself, into an object of art that interacts with the scenery.
CL: OK, on to programming. For the inaugural concert, you sang "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot. But you wouldn't sing that aria at Silenzio for another three Julys, pulling it back out as a duet with Plácido Domingo. Will we hear it again on Sunday, August 2 or Tuesday, August 4?
AB: I will sing "Nessun Dorma" on Sunday, August 2 because the whole opera from where it has been taken, Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, will be performed under the baton of maestro Zubin Mehta, who will conduct almost 200 musicians, choir and instrumentalists of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. I am playing the part of Prince Calaf. Next to me, there will be Elena Pankratova (Turandot) Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Timur) and Maria Katzarava (Liù). I have been told that the tickets were sold out long ago; I am particularly pleased. Those who already appreciate the aria crowned by the peremptory Vincero, will surely find out and appreciate the many more wonders guarded inside the score by Puccini.
CL: Speaking of guests, there's been quite the roster to appear on the stage there in Pisa. Grand tenors like Domingo and Carreras, limber sopranos like Kath Jenkins and Sarah Brightman, even instrumental work from Lang Lang and the likes of Chris Botti and Kenny G. While you might not play favorites, surely, some of those collaborative performances have stayed with you more than others.
AB: I remember that, 10 years ago, I said it was my intention to transform Teatro del Silenzio into a sort of Woodstock of bel canto! Well, thanks to many friends, fellow singers who accepted my invitation, I think we hit the target. I think the balance is positive. One of the strongest points of the project is the fact that it has been conceived as a celebration. But not only for the audience, also for the artists. It is a great celebration to honor and share the beauty of art and of nature. It's grown, year after year, attended by a lot of personalities, from Steve Jobs to Sharon Stone. And they have all come up this hill for such wonderful scenery wearing sneakers, eager to listen to good music in an unusual place.
This year the events will be two-fold. I've already spoken about the first; the second is scheduled for Tuesday, August 4, dedicated to pop repertoire. On stage alongside me, there will be many artists to share in the 10th anniversary: the duo 2CELLOS, Renato Zero, Gianna Nannini, Elisa, British soul singer Beverley Knight, producer Michael Ghegan, saxophonist David Bryan, as well as keyboardist and co-founder of the legendary Bon Jovi, David Bryan.
CL:. Who would you most like to share your hometown stage? One night only, of course.
AB: Too many to mention, too crowded the list are those that I would like to have next to me on stage for the next edition...just like those who have honored me with their presence in past editions.
CL: Thus far, only one live record, Vivere Live in Tuscany, has come out of your near decade singing at Silenzio. Sure, there's all kinds of fan footage online, but is there a specific reason we've not heard or seen more?
AB: Because around the world, there are lots of wonderful places. And it's good to promote and enjoy them all, if possible, in person. Gold is sold by the gram! This applies also to Lajatico--those who want to have to come and see it. It is an exclusive, every year.
CL: Staying with records, but back to Puccini, in 2000, you recorded La Bohème. Three years later, Tosca. Any plans to record a full Turandot?
AB: I have recorded it recently under the baton of Maestro Mehta, conducting the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana. The record will be released on July 31, all over the world, close to the double event of Lajatico. It is a recording of which I am particularly satisfied, because of the exceptional cast whom I was able to work with. For instance, Jennifer Wilson, one of the greatest contemporary dramatic sopranos, will play the role of Turandot's Ice Princess.
— Andrea Bocelli (@AndreaBocelli) July 1, 2015
CL: Same year as your live Bohème, your seventh studio album (this time with Mehta and the Israel Phil) was all Verdi. Similarly, might one day we be gifted a disc of all Bocelli-Puccini arias?
AB: Why not? Never say never! I am proud to be a countryman of such a genius, and I have never hidden my true reverence for the fruits of his genius. Masterpieces that I am gradually facing in the recording studios in their entirety, as I have recently done in the past years with Manon Lescaut and with Turandot.
CL: Finally, you were singing "Nessun Dorma" when you (and your little dog, too) took the ice bucket challenge this time last year. In fact, we ranked your solo ALS video above efforts by Domingo, Joseph Calleja and, um, "Maria Callas." We hear so much about your artistic accolades and chart success, but since establishing your own foundation in 2011, what do you consider your greatest philanthropic achievement?
AB: Every smile and every hope returned--above all, when it comes to children--is a priceless goal. As I always say, solidarity is the only response to inequality. This belief has led me to create the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, conceived as a living laboratory, in which every drop has its weight in everyday action--where even the smallest contribution must be valued. Of course, I am very pleased with the results we have reached, both in the fields of scientific technological research and in socio-economic development. But every time a person shares our projects, rolls up their sleeves and works to listen to the voice of their hearts, I feel very much it is an important goal achieved.