Domingo And Bocelli: Keeping Opera Relevant



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Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli in the NPR studios.
Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli in the NPR studios.

They're the hottest tickets in Washington, D.C., this week. They're being scalped for up to hundreds of dollars apiece. And they're not for the Obama-Biden inauguration. Two of the world's most famous tenors are performing together for the first time.

Placido Domingo (on the conductor's podium) and Andrea Bocelli (as a soloist) will perform Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle for two nights in Washington. The two men are beloved by different audiences.

The two superstars sat together and talked about a wide range of topics with NPR's Robert Siegel, including how to keep opera relevant in the 21st century.

Loving The Tenor Voice

Domingo has the respect of the classical and opera worlds. He has sung more than 125 different roles onstage. Bocelli has sold more than 60 million albums and draws a wider swath of fans. Bocelli, 17 years Domingo's junior, says he listened to Domingo's records as a kid.

"From that time, I considered the singer a giant," Bocelli says. "And now, to perform with him is a big emotion, and I'm very proud."

But Domingo wasn't the first tenor voice Bocelli fell in love with. He says it was probably Mario Lanza.

"My mother tells me," Bocelli says, "that when I heard the tenor voice, at 2 years old, I started to cry."

Bocelli includes the song "Because," a Lanza staple, on his new CD Incanto, which is filled with Neopolitan songs of the "Santa Lucia" type.

"Those were the popular songs of the day," Domingo says. "Today, we have to be careful what we sing, because the new type of popular music, we can't sing. In those days, the tenors of the day were singing the popular music. Today, we have to go back to those days to re-create those melodies if we want to sing something lighter than opera."

Opera Evangelism

Both Domingo and Bocelli seem acutely aware of the impact they've had bringing young people and nonbelievers into the opera house.

"The popularity of Andrea and the Three Tenors," Domingo says, "yes, we are responsible for bringing more people to the opera, and that's very important."

"There are two kinds of people who do not go to the opera: those who can't afford it and those who are uninterested," he adds. "They say, 'No, it's boring.' No. If you see opera properly, and you hear great singers, you are going to love it."

"When I hear that young people have come to the theater for the first time to listen to opera, I'm very happy," Bocelli says. "Because it's the same thing that happened to me as a child. When I first heard the tenor voice, I immediately fell in love with this kind of music. And I received so many beautiful moments from this kind of music that I really hope that many young people can know, understand and love this music."

"For children," Bocelli adds, "it's difficult to [listen] to opera on radio or CD, because they are used to listening to very different music — the rap, the soul, the pop music in general. But if they come into the theater, they'll enjoy themselves a lot."

Of Opera Gods And iPods

Bocelli says he loves listening to his iPod. What's on it? One guess.

"In my iPod," Bocelli says, "there are many operas, from A to Z. I have Aida and Boheme and Butterfly and Cavalleria. My passion is for opera, but when I'm in the car, I listen to everything."

Domingo has an iPod, too, but says he's scared of it.

"The ears are precious for musicians," he says. Domingo doesn't like sticking little loudspeakers so close to his eardrums. He says he's flummoxed by the concept of being miniaturized.

"I'm very happy that people can put so much music in such a little thing, but it scares me so much," Domingo says. "I've been recording for 40 years now; how is it possible that my whole career can be in a little thing like this?"

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From NRP News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Now, two tenors.

(Soundbite of Andrea Bocelli singing 'Petite Messe Solennelle')

SIEGEL: This is Andrea Bocelli, Italian pop star and classical crossover king. He is blind, he is popular beyond belief and here he's singing Rossini's "Petite Messe Solennelle", the "Little Solemn Mass." Bocelli is performing it tonight and tomorrow in Washington D.C. with no less than Placido Domingo, one of the great operatic tenors of our times conducting. The Obama inauguration may be the hottest ticket in town come January, but for now, it's Bocelli and Domingo. An event that's been advertised with the kind of gusto you'd expect for a monster truck rally.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Male Voice: Maestro Placido Domingo conducts a quartet of soloists featuring tenor phenomenon, Andrea Bocelli. Washington National Opera's Petite Messe Solennelle.

SIEGEL: The two tenors, one of them conducting in this case came to our studio. Andrea Bocelli and Placido Domingo talked about singing, about audiences and about the piece they're performing. First, Domingo.

Mr. PLACIDO DOMINGO (Tenor): Like everybody knows, Rossini the great composer of the comedies, the "Barber of Seville," he has some serious operas also like Moses etc. But the fact he's that somehow Rossini stopped producing operas for 50 years. And after being 70 years old, he has this idea of writing this monumental work. It has - it's a completely new Rossini - harmonically, melodically. And I think it is a perfect work for Andrea. It has one of the most god-given, beautiful arias for the tenor.

SIEGEL: The piece is called Rossini's "Petite Messe Solennelle." It doesn't seem like a very little piece though, Mr. Bocelli.

Mr. ANDREA BOCELLI (Tenor): The reality with orchestra would be better to say Messe Solennelle, because when Rossini composed his messe for two pianos and organ. But with this kind of orchestra, it became a big Messe Solennelle.

SIEGEL: A big mess, or a big Messe we didn't say more properly. I hope it's going to be a big mess.

Mr. DOMINGO: Well, this is a dangerous name. Yeah, I think also because the opera's he wrote, especially the decivous one they were pretty long, you know, so probably it's because it's 80 minutes, probably he was referring to that and also the original way of doing it. I don't know even know why he did it for piano and harmonium at the beginning. It's really a magnificent orchestration. But probably he changed his mind after he wrote it, he said, well now, let's have the orchestration.

Mr. BOCELLI: I'm very excited because, it's difficult explain, but I was a child when I heard in the radio Maestro Domingo - first time. I was a child when I received in my house the first CD of Maestro Domingo. And from that time I considered the singer a giant and now to perform with him is a big emotion and I'm very proud.

SIEGEL: Now, can Andrea Bocelli, do you think that his popularity of Placido Domingo brings new audiences in to hear operatic performances?

Mr. DOMINGO: The young - the people that they converted to opera because of this popular - the popularity of Andrea, you know, and also the three tenors and so on. Yes, we are responsible to bring more people to the opera and this is something that is very important because now there is two kind of people, that they don't go to the opera, people that cannot afford.

SIEGEL: Which is a lot of people, I might add just to.

Mr. DOMINGO: And people that they are uninterested. They say, no it's boring, it's this - no. If you see opera properly and if you hear great singers, you are going to love it. And if you make one survey one day, how many people, they have been converted for opera because of Mr. Bocelli or the three tenors, you will be surprised how many people they have done it.

Mr. BOCELLI: And then, now I'm here in America also for my new album where I sing beautiful songs.

SIEGEL: 'Incanto' is this album.

Mr. BOCELLI: And I think this is - yeah, and I think this kind of repertoire is a good vocal for young people special because it's not really opera and it's easy melodies but so beautiful.

SIEGEL: Sounds like Santa Lucia for example.

Mr. BOCELLI: Something like Santa Lucia and Granada.

Mr. DOMINGO: Those are the songs that they were the popular songs of the day. Today we have to be careful what we sing that is popular so that's the reason they have to be creating these new melodies. Because of course with the new kind of pop music, we cannot sing. In those days, he has the tenors of the day. They were singing the popular music.

SIEGEL: No one has offered you a rap crossover opportunity that you might be doing?

Mr. DOMINGO: No, rap, I don't think I will do it. No, I have done many things. I have done all kind of music, the Spanish music, Argentina music, the tango.

SIEGEL: And we'll note that you've won a Latin Grammy this year.

Mr. DOMINGO: Yeah, just few days ago. I don't know why. But thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Andrea Bocelli, do you own an iPod?

Mr. BOCELLI: I have one, yes.

SIEGEL: Yes, and what is on it?

Mr. BOCELLI: There are many, many titles of opera from the A until the Z, I have Aida and Brahms and Butterfly and Cavalleria and…

SIEGEL: And Sousa.

Mr. BOCELLI: Sousa at the end.

SIEGEL: Sousa would be the last one if you have it.

Mr. BOCELLI: But if I am on the car, on the radio I can listen, every kind of music.

Mr. DOMINGO: You know talking about that, I'm very happy that people is able to put so much music into such a little thing but it scares me so much because I have been recording for 40 years now. How is it possible that my whole career could be in a little thing like this? And I refuse to believe that that's possible, for all the years I have made.

SIEGEL: You resent being miniaturized. When you are going to be conducting the Rossini piece and Andrea Bocelli and the others are going to be singing. Will conducting at that moment, would you feel very satisfied about having the baton, or will you wish you were one of those people singing in the concert?

Mr. DOMINGO: No, the singer never wants to be a conductor when I'm singing and vice versa, you know? The conductor never wants to be the singer. I'm really there to make the best I can with this fantastic possibility of the soloist, the chorus, the orchestra and I never think of singing. I don't like to be in the shoes of Andrea. He gives me a tremendous responsibility to conducting, you know. But it makes me less nervous.

SIEGEL: Andrea Bocelli, when you'll be performing, the man with the baton, Placido Domingo, you'll know as you're singing, not a bad singer that guy.

Mr. BOCELLI: Yes, of course. But let me say that I've never thought to conduct because the conductor has to think to the music before the orchestra. And the orchestra comes later. For me, it's terrible. But fortunately I'm only singer and I'm sure that Maestro Domingo will help me.

Mr. DOMINGO: Absolutely.

SIEGEL: I'm sure that you will also help Maestro Domingo as well.

Mr. BOCELLI: Because he knows very well the singer.

SIEGEL: I just want to thank both of you. This has been wonderful. Andrea Bocelli and Placido Domingo.

Mr. DOMINGO: Thank you.

Mr. BOCELLI: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Thank you both very much for coming here. Good luck.

Mr. BOCELLI: Very, very much. Thank you.

Mr. DOMINGO: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Placido Domingo, conducts Rossini's "Petite Messe Solennelle" this weekend and in Washington with four singers including Andrea Bocelli. You can hear new recordings from both artists at our website, You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.