While scientifically speaking I may only be one-fifth Italian, in my heart, I feel as though I’m one hundred percent Italian-American. In my earliest film-going memory that isn’t comprised of singing, animated animals, I vividly recall accompanying my Italian mother and grandmother to see Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck. And while admittedly it didn’t make a major impression on me as a first-grader, as I grew I realized that I felt an unparalleled kinship with all things Italian.
Family and loyalty were what mattered most although filmmaker Martin Scorsese once said in an interview that we’re unwaveringly pessimistic by nature. And while this may be the case at times (as illustrated in some of the great Italian Neorealism films), on the other hand, we’re also incredibly romantic. Needless to say, this is evidenced most of all through the music of Italy, or more specifically as highlighted on Andrea Bocelli’s Incanto– via the sun-drenched seaside of Naples. Just like one doesn’t have to speak French to feel as though even when characters argue onscreen, it sounds quite ooh la la, one doesn’t need to understand Italian to get swept away by the passionate sounds of tarantellas, arias, and songs of amore.
While I can count the number of operas I’ve seen live and in person on a single finger, for the last decade, my life has been filled with the sounds of Italian music as my mother became a self-taught opera buff. Of course, certainly, there were times that I wanted to block out the noise of Puccini and Pavarotti with Radiohead or Bob Dylan, but there was one voice in particular that stood out above the rest—namely Andrea Bocelli.
Upon hearing the first few tracks of his breakthrough album Romanza, most notably the mesmerizing “Con te Partiro” which I still count as a personal favorite, there was just something in his unique delivery that drew you nearer to the sound, making you hit “repeat” to play Bocelli again and again. Like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” amazingly, “Con te Partiro” never grew old nor did I ever grow insensitive to the way it builds towards that powerful crescendo; like most listeners worldwide, I was hooked.
Following astronomical sales of more than sixty-million albums to date as the Decca press release notes, “Bocelli continues to defy categorization, age barriers and labels of all kinds,” and while true opera snobs may consider his work to be more pop than authentic, his commitment to bringing the finest music from his homeland to everyone he can makes him a true international treasure. Having performed for two U.S. Presidents, Popes, royalty, and built bridges across the generations by working with American Idol contestants, singing alongside Christina Aguilera, Bono, and Pavarotti, I have yet to encounter an individual who has experienced Bocelli’s music that hasn’t been affected by it in some way.
And in his most recent offering—incidentally, one that I wouldn’t hesitate to call his best since Romanza—Bocelli pays homage to the music that has affected him the most by serving up a roster of “tunes [that] are classics, because they’re masterpieces," as he told Decca. Hitting shelves on November 4, 2008 in both CD format as well as a gorgeously boxed deluxe limited edition CD/DVD package, Incanto is comprised of fourteen unabashedly romantic and historically significant tracks. A personal tribute “to the great tenors he has admired his whole life,” as Bocelli revealed in the Decca notes, the album which coincides with Bocelli’s fiftieth birthday was compiled as a way “to make an album of all the songs I remember from my earliest childhood, the music of my roots.”
Whether it’s in his fond recollection of the way that as a young child, Bocelli was initially moved by the romantic songs performed by Mario Lanza in his first experience with opera as he reveals on the DVD or in his revelation that “whenever life gets hard, this music helps me carry on,” it’s easy to get caught up in the singer’s passion for his material. Astutely observing that in addition to love, the music is made up of two vital ingredients—“sun and sea”– as the Neapolitan climate gives people the optimism to sing, Bocelli shares that every track comes from the Mediterranean and has been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Caruso.
In a selection of “songs to celebrate the triumph of life and love,” including love for a place, progress, women (mothers or lovers), the works that comprise Incanto illustrate the spirit of “a country like Italy that never gives up, despite the wounds and grief inflicted by war,” as the DVD reveals. The CD begins with “Un Amore Cosi Grande,” a grand collaboration between Bocelli and singer Veronica Berti that translates to the English title “A Love So Great,” setting up the romantic premise of the album, with terrific orchestration.
Additionally, the track is featured on the companion DVD of the Deluxe Edition, set to a music video celebrating famous romantic relationships of the ’50s and ’60s in just one breathtakingly photographed and edited piece that comprises the roughly thirty-minute documentary that contains rare and priceless footage chronicling a century of Italian history with particular emphasis on archival film footage from the 1950s and ’60s (including candid photos and clips of Elizabeth Taylor, John F. Kennedy, Sophia Loren, and others).
In a song of extraordinary personal significance to Bocelli, he follows up “Grande” with one of his father’s favorites, “’O Surdato ‘Nnammurato,” which is “widely regarded among the finest and most popular of all Neapolitan songs” evoking imagery of lovers torn apart by the first World War. Yet, of course—Incanto isn’t only about fathers and sons for if there’s one truism about Italian men, it’s how much they love their mothers. Bocelli captures the legendary tenor Baniamino Gigli’s “Mamma” originally composed by Cesare Andrea Bixio form Guido Brignone’s wartime Italian film Mamma in Incanto’s festive third track.
In “Voglio vivere cosi,” which translates to the optimistic “I want to live like this,” Bocelli pays tribute to the song originally composed for Italian musical comedy that was revived by Pavarotti in the ’80s before moving onto two of the album’s undeniable highlights. Originally published in Naples “in the form of a ‘barcarolla’ or boatman’s song,” the folk favorite “Santa Lucia” easily transports us the Neapolitan seashore with its seductive refrain that serves as a nice bridge to the incredibly famous 1880 composition “Funiculi funicula.” Initially crafted by Luigi Denza “to celebrate the opening of the recently built funicular railway to the summit of Mount Vesuvius,” the irresistibly catchy “Funiculi funicula,” became as the DVD and press notes revealed, the first tarantella to sell more than one million copies.
The English song “Because,” penned by female songstress Helen Guy under her male pseudonym Guy d’Hardelot, which “became a smash hit success for Perry Como,” makes a nice midway turn for the album from the more traditional Neapolitan charmers to interject an English-language standard catalog favorite into the mix.
Another diverse standout is Bocelli’s testosterone driven take on “Granada,” a musical-must for aspiring tenors, this standard repertoire favorite which is set to images of bullfighting on the DVD (with attendees including Rita Hayworth and Pablo Picasso) “enjoyed enormous popular success in Latin America and Spain,” having been written by “Mexico’s greatest songwriter,” Agustin Lara.
Bocelli, who once shared his belief that, “I don’t think one really decides to be a singer—other people decide it for you by their reactions,” has made an album sure to generate an incredible reaction from not only his legions of fans but new listeners who are perhaps hearing some of these Italian classics for the first time. Humbling dedicated to delivering “songs of the people,” to the people, he argues that since the Incanto compositions “were written with love securely in mind.” Likewise, Bocelli continues that “if one of these pieces, with all the abuses made to music in our time, still succeeds in giving strong emotions today, we can imagine just what it managed to transmit fifty or more years ago.”
And while it’s impossible to journey back in time, Incanto makes a compelling time-capsule in addition to one more remarkable offering to the soundtrack of life that manages to transport a little piece of the Neapolitan spirit to us whenever, as Bocelli shared, “life gets hard,” and he turns to this incredible repertoire to carry him along. Hands-down, it’s Bocelli’s best complete album since his smash Romanza. And although the CD/DVD Deluxe package is a limited edition, it’s safe to say that Bocelli’s Incanto will be around for a very, very long time, promoting amore, sun and sea each time another listener presses “play"– thereby making us all one-hundred percent Italian (at least for the fifty-two minute running time).
CD Track List
1. "Un Amore Cosi Grande" (4:22)
2. "O Surdato Nnammurato" (2:49)
3. "Mamma" (3:30)
4. "Voglio Vivere Cosi" (3:02)
5. "Santa Lucia" (4:27)
6. "Funiculi Funicula" (2:31)
7. "Because" (2:36)
8. "Vieni Sul Mar" (4:37)
9. "Granada" (4:12)
10. "Era de Maggio" (4:57)
11. "Marechiare" (3:14)
12. "E Vui Durmiti Ancora" (5:03)
13. "Non Ti Scordar di Me" (3:59)
14. "Pulcinella" (2:46)