Here’s a question: When your father is one of the most respected, revered operatic tenors in the world, how do you even begin to step out of his shadow? The answer, of course, is painfully simple; get rid of the shadow itself. Thankfully, the spotlight shines so brightly on the Bocelli family that there was little chance of Matteo — the youngest son of the world-famous Andrea — ever being left in the dark.
Firstly, and for those of you who tend to choose electronica over oratorios, know this about Andrea Bocelli: he is a big deal. The Italian icon has recorded cantatas, operas and countless crossover albums. In 1995, his seminal ‘Con Te Partirò’ became one of the best-selling singles of all time. He’s got awards from Billboard and the BRITs, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has collaborated with artists including Celine Dion, Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran.
He’s also got two sons; Amos, who is building his own career in spatial engineering, and Matteo — who hasn’t as much followed in his father’s musical footsteps as he has forged a tuneful path of his own. Yet, despite his family’s classical credentials — “It was unusual for the house to ever be quiet!” the young Bocelli tells us — Matteo says he never felt pressured into a music-making career.
“Not at all,” says Bocelli. “I wanted it for myself, but my dad was never pushy about music. He never expected this to become a family business. He saw music as more of an important personal expression to have in your life.
“And I knew from a young age that I wanted to study music,” the artist adds, “to go to a conservatoire and work in that world. But it was only when I met [famed record producer] David Foster that I really considered being a singer. David has been extremely important in the development of my dad’s career and, without him, I don’t think I’d be on this path. He was the person who said to me; ‘You have the skill and the technical ability; you should be on the stage singing’.”
And so it was. By the age of six, the young Bocelli had planted himself behind a piano — and made his stage debut at 18-years-old, singing Verdi at the Colosseum in Rome. Now 24-years-old, he has duetted with his father, sung over the credits of a major Disney blockbuster and is launching himself into 2022 with a brand new single, ‘Close’.
But it’s not all about classical music. The young Bocelli’s keen ear extends beyond the sweeping, grand cantos and canzonettas his father is known for. And, rather than classifying and characterising musical styles into restrictive genres, the young Italian has developed a refreshingly open-minded approach to music. He hopes that, in keeping this neutral, non-aligned outlook, he will succeed in introducing others to styles they’d never usually stumble across on Spotify.
“I don’t really see music in ‘this or that’ terms,” he explains. “I have a very eclectic ear, so for me good music is good music, no matter what genre it falls into. The beauty of music is there’s something for everyone – if a particular style isn’t for you, that’s totally fine”.
"He never expected this to become a family business..."
And, like his attitude, Bocelli’s music also feels brand new. Though many artists — his father included — have previously dabbled in the crossover classical world, few musicians have ever made this proto-popular genre feel so natural and accessible. The young Italian’s warm, emotional tenor lends an aura of authenticity to his music, and lays bare his many years of technique-tuning classical music lessons. And Bocelli only recently finished this training; studying ‘Vocal Performance’ at the Luigi Boccherini Conservatory of Music in Tuscany.
“It got pretty full-on towards the end,” he says, “when I was studying and writing an album and touring with my dad! But my dad didn’t actually get involved in my musical education until I was around 16-years-old — when my mum asked him to listen to me singing at home. Before that, he didn’t even know I could sing…”
Now, there’s no denying Bocelli’s fantastic, dynastic talent. And, although Matteo’s father concedes that “an artistic career depends on many factors, which can be tricky and difficult to understand,” he also adds that “a good beginning bodes well”.
And Bocelli’s beginning has been hearteningly and harmoniously good. ‘Close’, the song the Italian tenor decided to perform from his home for the latest Gentleman’s Journal Live Session (watch it above), has already enjoyed over 100,000 plays on Spotify, and the young Italian has almost half a million monthly listens on the platform. His fans and followers clearly like the pop-classical fusion; with each track mellifluously created in the same idiosyncratic, accomplished style.
“I’ve been classically trained, so there’s no removing that from my music,” admits Bocelli, who cites Lucio Dalla’s ‘Caruso’ as the track that has most influenced his style. “I can’t say how my songs might sound if I hadn’t had a formal classical education. What I will say is that I come to each track from a very technical perspective. I’m obsessed with how each element of the music is built and layers together. At the same time, I always love working with composers and collaborators from the pop world to bring in other elements I might not have thought of.”
It’s something Matteo saw first-hand when his father collaborated with Ed Sheeran on the 2017 track, ‘Perfect Symphony’. Matteo hopes one day to collaborate with the British singer-songwriter himself — “I really admire the career he’s built” — but is first focused on building his own solo career. For ‘Close’, Bocelli’s first single of the year, he filmed a music video in Italy’s Arena di Verona — itself a visual representation of his music’s modern-meets-classical style. But Bocelli says he isn’t purposefully trying to educate his listeners about classical music. In fact, he doesn’t even necessarily see a divide between classical fans and modern music enthusiasts.
“I think they’re often the same people,” says the artist. “Classical crossover isn’t new. Look at mainstream classical artists like my father — to pop acts that weave classical instrumentation into their work, like Clean Bandit. While the Arena di Verona has a huge history, what I loved about filming there was seeing it empty. Of course, there was a nod to my family background with the location, but ‘Close’ is an upbeat song that’s really about feeling lonely and I wanted to show that in a very physical way”.
Location and live performance is a key part of Bocelli’s musical messaging and the atmosphere he hopes to create with his tracks. But the young tenor says he feels most comfortable simply sitting behind a piano. “It’s like my first language,” he says. “I’ve been playing since I was six years old, so it’s very easy to just slide onto the piano stool and get lost in the music for a few hours.
“For me,” he says, “the piano is home”.
Want more Gentleman’s Journal Live Sessions? Jake Bugg is playing Glastonbury — in spirit, at least…
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