His big break came in 1992 when Italian pop star Zucchero held auditions for tenors to make a demo tape of the song “Miserere” as a way of enticing opera legend Luciano Pavarotti to perform a duet. Bocelli submitted his demo tape, and Pavarotti was so impressed that he refused to believe at first that the voice was that of an unknown piano player. He then famously told Zucchero to use Bocelli instead of him because “there is no finer voice.” Pavarotti ended up recording the duet, but when Zucchero toured Europe, Bocelli performed in place of Pavarotti, wowing audiences and gaining near instant celebrity at the age of 33.
Bocelli says he will always be grateful to Pavarotti, who died in 2007. “He was the first person to praise my voice, and he did it with sincerity and authority,” Bocelli says.
In 1998, he won the heart of American fans after his first North American tour, which opened at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. As tour producer and president of Pennsylvania-based Princeton Entertainment Ed Kasses remembers, Bocelli was a smash from the very beginning.
“He wouldn’t get one or two standing ovations, but five or six,” he says. “There’s some kind of connection between Andrea and America.”
Despite a grueling travel schedule that took them to Latin America and Canada, Kasses insists there was nothing pretentious or demanding about Bocelli. “The only thing out of the ordinary he asked for was a small strip of wood in front of the microphone stand so he could feel where to put his feet,” Kasses says.
Bocelli echoes the idea of an American connection, saying that the U.S. is a second home for him. In New York City, where he’s considered an adopted son, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani granted Bocelli the Crystal Apple, a symbol of the city’s affection, in 1999.
Kasses believes the secret to Bocelli’s success is his willingness and ability to combine pop with classical music. “As great as Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras (The Three Tenors) are, they are opera singers who sing popular entertainment,” he says. “Andrea’s talent is different. He sings classical and opera spectacularly well, but he also performs popular music in a way that sounds beautiful.”
Celine Dion, with whom Bocelli performed the Golden Globe–winning and Academy Award–nominated duet “The Prayer,” quipped that “if God could sing, He would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.”
Ironically, Bocelli credits the Divine for the gift of his voice, although he’s not sure why it was bestowed upon him. “God has his own design,” he says. “Everyone has gifts. What you have to do is be aware of them and cultivate them and love them. Very often people are not aware of their own talents because they get lost in wishing for the talents of others. Most people waste half their time complaining about something. I would not have had time to rise if I complained about everyone else. In fact, I’ve always considered my life not a glass half full but a full glass.”