- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli is one of the closest things the classical music world has to a rock star. The blind singer fills arenas and concert halls around the globe, switches comfortably between classical and pop songs, has legions of devoted followers and seems just as relaxed on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" as on the Kennedy Center stage.

He's actually skipping Kennedy Center performing halls on his stop tonight in Washington in favor of the considerably larger MCI Center.

Mr. Bocelli sounds a little weary when he initially answers the phone, and his translator explains that he has had a long day.

"I train and vocalize for about two hours a day and am now training for the new repertoire," he says from his New York City hotel room. "My voice is tired now."

The new repertoire includes his first new pop material in several years. For many fans, Mr. Bocelli's return to pop, the genre that helped launch his international career, is a welcome one.

He has spent the past few years working in the classical music world. These releases have included "Sacred Arias" in 1999, which Mr. Bocelli's promotional material calls the biggest selling album ever by a classical soloist.

"My one and only interest is classical music," Mr. Bocelli says. "Pop comes as a consequence. It's almost a way to relax for a little moment. To detach myself."

The result of Mr. Bocelli's relaxing is "Cieli di Toscana (Tuscan Skies)," which was released last fall. The record came out alongside an A&E cable program that profiled the singer in his native Tuscany in Italy.

As he explains in his press materials, "I have a large audience who have followed my career through the pop releases, but who have not joined me in exploration of the classical repertoire. With 'Cieli di Toscana,' I'm returning to them with great enthusiasm."

Mr. Bocelli says his record company approaches him with material that matches his voice, and he wades through the songs to pick the ones he likes.

"Of course I chose those pieces based on the Italian repertoire, especially for the Italian tenor," he says.

One of his favorite songs on the new disc is "Melodramma," because "it's a little bit the story of my life." As he sings in Italian, "I sing to you and feel/all my pain/so strong, so great it stabs my heart."

As for the future, Mr. Bocelli will be returning to opera, playing the role of Pinkerton in "Madama Butterfly" in July in Torre del Lago, Italy, and he has plans for recording another pop album soon, perhaps in the fall.

One might think the star is used to performing by now, but he says his legendary stage fright is still an issue.

"It has always been there, and it will always be there," he says.

Tickets for Mr. Bocelli's concert at MCI Center were still available at press time. The lowest priced ticket sells for $88 and the top seats go for $353, prices that could scare away more casual fans.


WHAT: Andrea Bocelli

WHERE: MCI Center, 601 F St. NW

WHEN: 7:30 tonight

TICKETS: $88 to $353

PHONE: 202/432-SEAT


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