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Opera Legend Andrea Bocelli’s on Giving Back, Family, and Those Who Inspired Him

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Andrea Bocelli is among the most well-known singers in the world and may be the most famous tenor living today. The opera star, 64, attributes his success to the several people who nurtured his career early and continued to encourage and support him along the way.

“I have been blessed to have had great help and have tried to help others in the same way,” Bocelli tells Penta in an interview at his hotel suite in New York.

In 2011, the singer established the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, which aims to create opportunities for disadvantaged people globally, with a focus on education. One of the group’s most notable projects is ABF Voices Of, a multi-country initiative that creates choirs composed of children who face socioeconomic challenges. ABF Voices of Haiti started in 2016, was the pilot choir; Italy launched this summer, and one in Jerusalem is being planned for 2023.

On Dec. 12, Bocelli, who is based in Tuscany, Italy, and his family will be at the Empire State Building in New York to celebrate the choirs and light the building in the foundation’s blue and white colors. His most recent album, A Family Christmas, was released in October and is his first collaboration with two of his children, Matteo, 24, and Virginia, 10.

PENTA: Can you talk about the inspiration for starting your foundation?

Andrea Bocelli: The world around me. I felt the necessity to do something about the poverty that was literally knocking at the door in Italy. The country was in an economic crisis, and the situation was scary because we saw so many people we knew being hit hard. We started in an informal way 20 years ago in Haiti by going there as a family to work with children and having me sing for them. Our work came full circle because the foundation was born not long after the earthquake in 2010 devastated the country.

How do you choose children for the choruses that are part of the “Voices Of” initiative?

We found a music teacher in New York, Malcolm J. Merriweather ( the director of the New York Philharmonic’s Chorus), who helps us pick the children and is the artistic director of the Haiti choir. We started with Haiti because of our connection with the country, and he traveled there to find children who had talent but didn’t have possibility. He chose 60 from among 12,000. Within a year, we started bringing them outside the country to experience other places. They came to New York and saw the sites. Everyone wanted to perform with them from Tony Bennett to Lady Gaga.

Can you explain how you teach the children in these choruses?

First, we train teachers in the countries where the choruses are because we want to empower them to work with their youth. These teachers teach the children the basic music notes, song lyrics and about breathing, rhythm, the way you move your body while you sing, and singing in a group. The choirs usually meet twice a month or more, depending on if they have a concert. Some children walk for three hours to get to the rehearsals. It takes between six months to a year to get them up to speed.  

Bocelli’s most recent album, “A Family Christmas,” was released in October and is his first collaboration with two of his children.

Giacomo Moresi

What is your aim for the children who are part of these choruses? 

The choir and the music are tools to teach them about unity in a country where they don’t know if they have a future. We want to teach them how to be stronger by working together as a group.

Also, being part of the choir creates opportunities to meet people who could offer them jobs or be possible donors. Their future doesn’t necessarily have to be related to music, but the music paves the way. I always tell the children that as
Steve Jobs
said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”  

Who inspired or mentored you early in your career?

I owe so many people so much. From an artistic point of view, the Italian tenor Franco Corelli is my idol. Then I had a great man, Amos, who my mother found. Given that I’m blind, he used to read and explain all my books to me. He was everything in my life and died on my 40th birthday.

I also had a great family and beautiful friends. I have received lots of affection and love my whole life.

Your foundation is about helping people with disadvantages. What disadvantages have you faced in life, and how did you overcome them?

Being blind, everything is a disadvantage in a way, but I believe that every possible problem has a solution. I ride stallions, for example, which many people don’t understand how I can do given that I can’t see. But it is possible.

Who or what inspires your singing today?

Hearing voices, especially singing. I love opera. Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, and so many others.

How are you spending the holiday season this year?

At home—I live in the most beautiful place in the world [on a farm in Tuscany]. I also have a home in Miami. We will be in both places.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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