Mr Popular keeps on striking the right notes

The tenor Andrea Bocelli will always be the voice of the people, says Jessica Duchen

In his airy studio in London's Clerkenwell, David Bailey is hard at work photographing the most popular tenor on the planet.

Andrea Bocelli poses quietly, reflectors and flashes creating a light-filled aura around him. His fiancée, Veronica Berti – 25 years his junior and pregnant with their first child (Bocelli's third) – hovers with the observing entourage, helping to talk him through the session. The aim of all this is to produce a portrait of the singer for The Official Andrea Bocelli Opus – a project of huge scope and cost devoted to the singer's life and work, running to more than 800 pages. The book is designed as a luxury collector's item and will retail for a four-figure sum. With over 70 million records sold to date, he is beyond the cosmos when it comes to popularity. His Sacred Arias entered the Guinness Book of Records as the highest-selling solo classical album of all time. Yet in the classical field, many are still trying to work out the secret of his success.

Bocelli's fans don't bother with operatic snobbery: ever since his first album went platinum in 1994, they have bought his discs and flocked to his performances. Recently he sang in Central Park, New York; a DVD of the occasion will be released in November. During his visit to London, when I caught up with him, he also appeared in a special 50th anniversary edition of Songs of Praise on BBC1.

But critics are not kind to him. He gave a recital at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in February – a programme of songs by composers ranging from Handel to Fauré via Beethoven and Strauss, taken from his latest album, Notte Illuminata – but the New York Times slated his "bland homogeneity" and "dogged, unrelenting quality".

Fans rave over the melting quality of his tone, its gentleness, its directness. Detractors grumble about its lack of expressive range and its pinched, nasal patina.

Bocelli, who is now 53, seems unperturbed by the apparent divide between critical dismissal and popular embrace. "I think in the world of opera that's the way things are," he comments, via an interpreter (though his English is not bad). "There's criticism for absolutely everybody. And in a way this makes it more interesting because, after all, discussion is life."

Connecting with others through singing, he adds, is "just a question of being oneself". He doesn't talk about his blindness. Having been partially sighted from the start due to congenital glaucoma, he was rendered completely blind by a football injury when he was 12 years old. "When I was a child, everywhere people asked me to sing – in school, in church, in my family, everywhere," he says. "I understood that it was my destiny."

One question dogs Bocelli's steps in the classical world: can he really be called an opera singer? Or should he be taken on board simply as "easy listening"? Unlike certain other "crossover" singers, though, Bocelli has indeed performed and recorded entire operas – he will appear in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette in Genoa next February ("I'm studying!" he laughs) and a recording of it will follow. What, then, is Bocelli's secret? The appeal of his struggle against adversity? The sweetness of his voice? Clever marketing? All of these play a role. But here's a thought: the quasi-superhuman gifts of a Domingo are glorious, yet it's hard to identify ourselves with them. Bocelli's is the voice of the rest of us: we dream, we battle on, we do the best we can with what we've got. His voice could have been great. His triumph is that it doesn't matter that it is not. His success is our absolution.

To preorder a copy of the Bocelli Opus go to www.krakenopus.com/family/bocelli

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy