Author Antonia Felix and her publisher, St. Martin's Press, could hardly be accused of misleading anyone with the title of their recently issued book, "Andrea Bocelli: A Celebration."
As its title suggests, "Celebration" is an undisguised paean to the blind Italian tenor, who has enjoyed a surge of worldwide popularity in recent years. Despite the equally blatant rancor of music critics, audiences and record buyers have flocked to Bocelli, who is known for his beautiful, if arguably gossamer, voice.
"I want ... to take people by the hand and gently lead them to opera," Bocelli is quoted as saying, in the book. "Pop music is my legs; classical music is my heart. But I need my legs to get to where I want to go."
And Felix and St. Martin's want to go there with him and be further accompanied by masses of his adoring fans.
The question that hovers over this tome, as reflected by Bocelli's quote, boils down to, What do Bocelli's listeners really want, opera or pop, and why do they want it?
This is the subject of the book's longest chapter, and the issue is discussed at great length, even if it's with a partisan slant. According to Felix, the critics are looking for the training, technique and sense of continuity that is part and parcel of the centuries-old operatic tradition. The public is looking for the feeling of immediate communication and approachability typically associated with popular music. Bocelli does not have the background the critics want, but he does communicate intensely.
He plunged into opera, after reaching pop-superstar status in Italy, with a supporting role in Verdi's Macbeth in Pisa, a top role in La Boheme (RealAudio excerpt) in Sardinia and then a Werther role in Detroit. The reviews were, on the whole, savage. Bocelli was deeply hurt, the book says, but he is nonetheless determined to go on with an operatic career.
Nothing is or probably could be settled here, when it comes to the relative merits of Bocelli. And Felix doesn't try. Instead, she has provided a book that is full of beautifully printed photos and fan-magazine prose in large type, with lots of spaces between the lines.
"Andrea Bocelli: A Celebration" is not an objective view of the popular tenor. But then, it is a mystery as to where one could go to get such a view.