Luciano Pavarotti has said, "There is nobody better."
He has performed for Pope John Paul II and shared the stage with Bryan Adams, Bryan Ferry, and Pavarotti himself. His fan club includes actresses Isabella Rossellini and Julie Andrews.
His name is Andrea Bocelli, and his passion is opera.
The Italian tenor, who is blind, started out singing at birthday parties as a boy and then sang professionally in piano bars during his college days. Now he headlines concert halls in Europe and sells millions of recordings worldwide.
"I always had an extraordinary fascination for musical instruments [piano, the flute, and saxophone] when I was a child," Bocelli says via telephone from Italy, speaking through an interpreter. "However ... my best instrument was my voice. Singing was my destiny."
Bocelli's music, a blend of Italian love songs, operatic melodies, and popular music, is considered crossover music, which was first made popular by the Three Tenors (Pavarotti, Plcido Domingo, and Jos Carreras) seven years ago. His first recording, "Romanza," has sold 6.8 million copies worldwide.
His second and most recent recording, "Viaggio Italiano," peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Classical Album Chart, and his concert video has spent five weeks on the Top Video Sales Chart.
Even though it was a complicated and difficult road, Bocelli says his rise to fame came rather quickly. He credits television for this rapid recognition.
"You're overwhelmed with somebody through television," he says. "People on television are constrained to respond to sudden fame. Suddenly you find yourself surrounded by commitments."
This is exactly what happened to Bocelli. In 1994, he won first prize at the San Remo, Italy, music festival, which attracts a large television audience, and last November in Germany he performed at the start of a middleweight boxing championship before a TV audience of 20 million. In the United States, a video special featuring Bocelli in concert aired in December on PBS.
Bocelli got his first big break in 1992 when he recorded "Miserere (Pity)" with Italian rock star and friend Zucchero Fornaciari, who had written the song for Pavarotti.
Since then, Bocelli has moved on to hit singles, the biggest of which includes a popular duet with Sarah Brightman, "Time to Say Goodbye," which sold close to 3 million in Germany alone.
Bocelli doesn't let his loss of sight, which occurred in his boyhood, hinder his career. He speaks of it this way: "There are many people who look at everything and see nothing," he says. "On the other hand, I know people who are incapable of looking and see everything, in a real sense."
His story becomes even more remarkable when one learns that his family wasn't particularly musical. "My parents never stood in my way; however, they emphasized that I had to study in school."
Bocelli eventually earned a law degree but knew that his true calling was singing. Even with the success of his first two recordings, Bocelli hopes to make an even stronger mark in the competitive US market with future albums, but he knows it will be a challenge. He has no plans to sing an English-only album. (In fact, he has sung only one song in English.)
"I have a fascination for things that are difficult in themselves," Bocelli says. "But outside of this fascination of wanting to get into the American market, I feel that it's extremely important to convey that music is an Italian thing. Music was born in Italy."
When asked if he enjoys performing in front of a live audience, he breaks out into English: "Never, never, never," he says, emphasizing each word. "But it is necessary to gain credibility for my records. My heart beats very hard when I perform live."
After long trips on the road, Bocelli looks forward to returning home to his wife and two baby boys in the Tuscan countryside. There, Bocelli organizes big dinners with family and friends but talks little of his success and fame. He also enjoys skiing and horseback riding during his limited free time.
"I'm very happy with life. I would never say to myself that 'I've arrived' or 'I'm there.' ... I've never measured my success and I don't think I ever will."