- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

ROME Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister who controls the country's largest media company and is the government's acting foreign minister is looking into cutting a music compact disc.
Mr. Berlusconi's office said the 65-year-old leader is considering working with longtime friend Tony Renis, a singer popular in Italy since the 1960s, to record a CD of original songs, with lyrics by Mr. Berlusconi. Proceeds would benefit a U.N. charity, probably either UNICEF or the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The idea is not as strange as it sounds. Mr. Berlusconi got his start as a cruise-ship crooner in the 1950s, and he even had a friendly rivalry with Mr. Renis when the two were singers at resorts on the island of Elba more than 40 years ago.
Rest assured, the prime minister is not planning to abandon his high-profile political and business posts to pursue the possibility of becoming the next Gianni Morandi or Paolo Conte two popular Italian singers of Mr. Berlusconi's generation who gained fame late in life. Officials in his office say the CD will be a one-time deal.
"The prime minister started out as a singer, and he has always maintained music as a hobby," a spokesman for his office told United Press International. "From time to time he'll sing a few songs for friends at a party, [and] now he is just looking into the possibility of doing the same thing to raise some money for a worthwhile cause."
According to local media reports, the plan is for Mr. Renis to write the melodies and for Berlusconi to come up with the lyrics. There was no word on whether the selections will be political in nature.
Italy's political opposition has been severely critical of most of the prime minister's moves, charging that his dual role as the nation's highest political figure and a leading businessman represent a conflict of interest. But Giacomo Rossi, an official with L'Ulivo, one of the main opposition parties, says the opposition sees no problem with the prime minister taking up the mantle of a pop star for a short time.
"With everything he is trying to do, it is not clear where he will find the time to record a musical CD, but if he does and it is for a good cause, then there is no problem," Mr. Rossi said.
Even Mr. Renis admitted that Mr. Berlusconi's schedule is the main obstacle to the unlikely project.
"He is a natural talent who plays the piano very well," the local media quoted Mr. Renis as saying after a weekend visit to Mr. Berlusconi's villa near the resort city of Portofino. "We are working on something, but it is not finalized. It all depends on the prime minister's timetable."
According to media reports, once the CD is recorded, rights to the recording and the lyrics will be handed over to the United Nations, which declined to comment.

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