Artists who followed their passion at an older age and who succeeded greatly in that. What made them stand up for their passion so late in life, what drives them to continue and beat the odds? I am currently interviewing them. Here is Andrea Bocelli. (This link will take you to the Italian version).© Carolien Oosterhoff – September 2016

CO: As I have understood, you did not start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some experts told you it was too late to begin, even though you started singing opera at the age of 9. How did you react to this feedback that is was ‘too late’?

AB: Yes, I confirm I seriously started my studies of singing as an adult (actually, it was a few years before I turned 30). First I was a student of Luciano Bettarini, then I studied with the great Franco Corelli. And I also practiced singing the lyrical repertoire through emulation of the great tenors of the time, whose recordings I never got tired of listening to. But it is also true that I – in childhood and adolescence – taught myself to play several musical instruments, including the piano. Whether it was a negative experience, that I started so ‘late’ with my studies? I cannot say. But from the moment I truly investigated methodically the art of singing, I never stopped studying and asking for advice (even to colleagues like Luciano Pavarotti), about his experience and thoughts about the vocal technique. And it was good, because thanks to this approach, rather stubborn, I think I have gained a deeper awareness of the mechanisms that regulate the vocal organ. I never thought, not even until too many years ago, that the high register could be reached so easily.

CO: What is your first memory when singing ‘opera’ hit you and you felt: THIS is what I should be doing and nothing else?

AB: I was a child when my nanny Oriana gave me an album of tenor Franco Corelli and she played the best known aria from the opera “Andrea Chanier” by Umberto Giordano. It was a real shock to me: I still remember how I ran straight to the old turntable, all excited, and listened to that voice. Large and extremely vibrant, swollen with feelings. It went straight to my heart. Perhaps I was only five or six years old, but this moment has undoubtedly contributed to my future.

CO: How did you keep faith to prove to the ‘unbelievers’ that this was your dream?

AB: Before my success, I experienced so many years of performing with doors that remained closed. The public has always welcomed my performances with sincere enthusiasm, but the entertainment industry was not sure where to place me, nor where I placed myself. They believed that my vocal style was not represented anywhere else and thus … had no future. Fortunately that gave me reason to persevere. I am stubborn and determined if I want to reach a goal. I pursue the discipline, willingly accepting the necessary sacrifices to achieve it.

CO: Unmistakably there were others who did believe in you. What did they say, or do, that made you continue?

AB: When I was a child, friends and family constantly asked me to perform for them, and it was their requests that actually led me to think: “maybe singing really is my true calling.” Apart from a period of crisis in adolescence when my voice was changing and I couldn’t tame it, the talent of having a pleasant and recognisable voice has always been with me. My greatest allies, those who never stopped believing in me and my skills, not even for a moment, have definitely been my parents. Although they weren’t hiding either, neither to themselves nor to me, that for a guy from the countryside with no experience in the world of entertainment and with an issue that made it even more difficult to seriously make a profession of music, it would tantamount to hope winning a lottery…

CO: Your father hated opera, am I right? What was the first moment you could feel he was touched by your music?

AB: My father did not hate opera. It just was a genre that he hadn’t had a chance to cultivate because he always worked very hard and just didn’t have the time to get to know the repertoire of opera. But he was one of my fans and has always supported me in my choices… In my younger years, his apparent scepticism about my passion for the work was exclusively motivated by an understandable concern on the part of a father who worries about the future of his son.

CO: Suppose you would have stopped singing when people told you it shouldn’t be your career, what would you be doing instead now? (I mean: is it even possible to think that you would have a different career?)

AB: I would put my degree to use: parallel to my musical studies I studied law. After my thirties I was reasonably convinced that I would have made a living by being a lawyer.

CO: Do you believe in destiny? That people are destined to do something in life?

AB: Nothing happens by chance. I am absolutely convinced about that. I think that life is made of episodes that are not random. Fortuity does not exist. Not even in the roulette ball. All that we cannot understand, we tend to call ‘fortuity’: the magnificence of God and the extraordinary project he created for us. All human talents are undoubtedly gifts of God and such gifts can only bring beauty and prosperity to the world, unless we decide to use our free will to make improper use of what we have received as a gift. Precisely because we have received the first and most precious gift, being our freedom.

CO: Suppose you would need to write a song now (immediately, on the spot), about people pursuing their dreams, which 3 words would be in that song
definitely?

AB: Faith. Humility. Courage.

CO: Most artists are sensitive. How do you deal with criticism? Is there ever a moment when you feel you’ve ‘passed that stage’?

AB: Let me declare here: it is rare that I am entirely satisfied with the quality of my personal performance. Inside of me my fiercest critic lives, especially in the opera field. For the rest, if I was worried about the criticism, I would have definitely opted for a different profession. In the history of every opera singer, there is positive and negative criticism. It’s part of the game! Even Maria Callas was the victim of slating. Nowadays it’s even more, because the opera world is in trouble: it is a cake that is shrinking and that is generating poisons. I have the greatest respect for the opinions of everyone, but when I was criticised as a young man, nourished by preconceptions, it has saddened me to be honest.With maturity I’ve reached an equilibrium and maybe a little bit of wisdom, so that I can say I now welcome every criticism, even negative or very negative, with gratitude provided it’s somehow done constructively with intellectual honesty.

© Carolien Oosterhoff – 2016

———————————Italian version———————————-

CO: As I have understood, you did not start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some experts told you it was too late to begin, even though you started singing opera at the age of 9. How did you react to this feedback that is was ‘too late’?

AB: Confermo di aver affrontato seriamente lo studio del canto da adulto (anche se qualche anno prima, rispetto ai miei trent’anni). Dapprima sono stato allievo di Luciano Bettarini, poi mi sono perfezionato con il grande Franco Corelli. Altrettanto vero è che, fin da quando portavo i calzoni corti, tentavo di cantare il repertorio lirico, attraverso l’emulazione dei grandi tenori del tempo, le cui incisioni non mi stancavo di ascoltare. Pressoché autodidatta, nell’infanzia e nell’adolescenza, ho inoltre imparato a suonare molti strumenti musicali, tra i quali il pianoforte. Se sia davvero un dato negativo, aver affrontato lo studio del canto in età adulta, non saprei dire. Di certo, dal momento in cui ho iniziato ad approfondire con metodo l’arte del canto, non ho più smesso di studiare, di chiedere consigli (anche a colleghi del calibro di Luciano Pavarotti), sperimentare, ragionare sulla tecnica vocale. Ed è stato un bene, perché grazie a questo approccio, piuttosto caparbio, credo di aver raggiunto una coscienza più profonda dei meccanismi che regolano l’organo vocale, tanto che mai avrei pensato, non troppi anni fa, di arrivare al registro acuto con tanta facilità.

CO: What is your first memory when singing ‘opera’ hit you and you felt: THIS is what I should be doing and nothing else?

AB: Ero un bimbo quando la mia tata Oriana mi regalò un disco del tenore Franco Corelli, che in quel caso interpretava l’aria più nota tratta dall’opera “Andrea Chénier” di Umberto Giordano. Per me fu una vera e propria folgorazione: ricordo ancora come io corsi subito al vecchio giradischi, emozionato, e iniziai ad ascoltare quella una voce, larga ed estremamente vibrante, gonfia di sentimenti, che andava dritta al mio cuore. Avrò avuto forse cinque o sei anni, ma quell’ascolto ha senz’altro contribuito a segnare il mio futuro.

CO: How did you keep faith to prove to the ‘unbelievers’ that this was your dream?

AB: Prima del successo, ho vissuto tanti anni di gavetta e di porte che si sono invariabilmente chiuse davanti a me. Il pubblico da sempre accoglieva le mie esibizioni con schietto entusiasmo, però il mondo dello spettacolo non sapeva bene come incasellarmi, come collocarmi, riteneva che la mia vocalità non fosse attuale e dunque… Non avesse futuro. Per fortuna ciò che, dopo, è accaduto, ha dato ragione alla mia tenacia. Sono ostinato e piuttosto intraprendente, se desidero raggiungere un obiettivo, lo perseguo imponendomi disciplina, accogliendo di buon grado i sacrifici necessari per raggiungerlo.

CO: Unmistakably there were others who did believe in you. What did they say, or do, that made you continue?

AB: Quand’ero bambino, amici e parenti mi chiedevano costantemente di esibirmi per loro, ed è stata proprio questa loro insistenza che mi ha portato a pensare: “forse andrà a finire che cantare sarà il mio mestiere”. A parte un periodo di crisi, nell’adolescenza, quando la voce stava mutando e non riuscivo a domarla, il talento di una voce gradevole e riconoscibile mi è sempre stato riconosciuto. I miei più grandi alleati, coloro che non hanno smesso un istante di credere in me e nelle mie possibilità, sono senz’altro stati i miei genitori. Anche se non nascondevano né a se stessi né a me che sperare seriamente di far della musica una professione, per un ragazzo come ero al tempo, di campagna, senza alcun aggancio nel mondo dello spettacolo e con un problema che rendeva ogni meta più faticosa, equivaleva a sperare nella vincita di una lotteria…

CO: I understand your father ‘hated’ opera. What was the first moment you could feel he was touched by your music?

AB: Mio padre non odiava l’opera, semplicemente era un genere che non aveva avuto occasione di coltivare, anche perché ha sempre lavorato moltissimo e non ha avuto proprio il tempo materiale per approfondire la conoscenza del repertorio lirico. Ma è stato un mio fan, da sempre, mi ha spronato e sostenuto nelle mie scelte… Nei miei anni giovanili, il suo apparente scetticismo in merito alla mia passione per l’opera era esclusivamente motivato da una comprensibile apprensione, da parte di un padre che pensa al futuro del proprio figliolo.

CO: Suppose you would have stopped singing when people told you it shouldn’t be your career, what would you be doing instead now? (I mean: is it even possible to think that you would have a different career?)

AB: Avrei messo a frutto la mia laurea: parallelamente agli studi musicali avevo studiato giurisprudenza e mi ero laureato in Legge. Superati i miei trent’anni, ero ancora ragionevolmente convinto che mi sarei guadagnato da vivere esercitando la professione d’avvocato.

CO: Do you believe in destiny? That people are destined to do something in life? If so, how do you think we can recognize our destiny?

AB: Nulla avviene per caso. Su questo sono assolutamente convinto. Penso che la vita sia fatta di episodi mai legati al caso. Il caso non esiste neanche nella pallina della roulette: noi chiamiamo caso, semplicemente, tutto quello che non si riesce a capire, e cioè la grandezza di Dio e dello straordinario progetto creato per noi. Tutti i talenti dell’uomo sono indubitabilmente doni di Dio, e simili doni non possono che portare bellezza e bene al mondo, a meno che l’uomo non decida di suo libero arbitrio di fare un uso improprio di ciò che ha ricevuto in dono… Appunto avendo ricevuto, come primo e più prezioso tra tutti i doni, la libertà.

CO: Suppose you would need to write a song now (immediately, on the spot), about people pursuing their dreams, which 3 words would be in that song definitely?

AB: Fede, umiltà, coraggio.

CO: All artists (I think) are sensitive. How do you deal with criticism? Is there ever a moment when you feel you’ve ‘passed that stage’?

AB: Premetto: è raro che io sia del tutto soddisfatto della qualità delle mie performance… Porto dunque dentro di me, il mio critico più feroce, soprattutto in ambito lirico. Per il resto, se mi fossi preoccupato delle critiche, sicuramente avrei optato per una diversa professione. Nella storia di ogni cantante lirico, vi sono critiche positive e negative, fa parte del gioco! Persino Maria Callas è stata vittima di stroncature. Oggi accade ancora di più, perché mondo dell’opera è in difficoltà: è una torta che si riduce sempre di più e quindi genera veleni. Nutro il massimo rispetto per le opinioni di ciascuno, anche se da giovane è capitato che alcune critiche, nutrite di preconcetti, mi abbiano addolorato, proprio in ragione della loro malevolenza gratuita. Con la maturità ho raggiunto un equilibrio e forse anche un poco di saggezza in più, tanto da poter asserire serenamente che raccolgo con gratitudine ogni critica, anche negativa o molto negativa, a patto che sia redatta con onestà intellettuale e che sia in qualche modo costruttiva.

© Carolien Oosterhoff – 2016