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17 March 2021, 18:06
In 1995, Andrea Bocelli entered a singing competition, and the world heard his voice for the first time.
But the beloved Italian tenor’s signature song had humble beginnings, with more than a hint of the magic that was to come.
Before it became ‘Time to Say Goodbye’, and before he met Sarah Brightman, a young Bocelli sang ‘Con te partirò’ for the very first time on stage in a 1995 televised competition (watch below).
While the song eventually went on to define his career, when he was first offered it, Bocelli had serious doubts.
He said: “When it arrived at my house, the song was a candidate for the festival of Sanremo which I would soon participate in.
“I said, ‘This song is not good because the festival is a competition. And this is not a song for a competition. It’s a deep song. A timeless song. But it’s not for a competition’.”
And Bocelli’s instincts were spot-on. “In fact, when I gave in, we brought the song to Sanremo and we only made it to fourth place.”
But, he says, “After that, it went through the journey everyone knows.”
Bocelli recorded it for his self-titled album of the same year. The single topped the charts in France, and then in Belgium, breaking all-time records in both countries.
By the beginning of 1996, the song was rapidly gaining steam. British soprano Sarah Brightman heard it and persuaded Bocelli to sing it as a duet with her, with some English lyrics, to open the farewell fight of German boxer Henry Maske on November 23, 1996.
Its memorably soaring chorus, melded with orchestral sounds and a now-iconic blend of Italian and English, made ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ the defining classical-pop hit.
The song was written by the Italian Rockstar Zucchero, who first crossed paths with Bocelli in 1992 when he held auditions for tenors to make a demo tape of his song ‘Miserere’, which had been intended for Luciano Pavarotti.
When Pavarotti heard the young tenor singing on the demo, he urged Zucchero to use Bocelli instead of him. Finally, on Zucchero’s persuasion, the three stars recorded the song as a trio.
Soon after, Bocelli won a recording contract. He also won the preliminary round of the Sanremo festival, taking home the highest marks ever recorded in the newcomers section.
The following year, he entered the festival and finished top of the section again, with another record score. After his two-fold success, Sanremo invited him back for their main competition.
It was then, in 1995, that he sang ‘Con te partiro’ and captured the world’s imagination with his effortlessly high vocals and ringing vibrato, brimming with sensitivity.
“If God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli,” his ‘The Prayer’ duet partner, Celine Dion, once famously said.
And for Bocelli himself, the finding of his signature song was a moment of unsullied joy. “It obviously brought confidence, optimism, general euphoria. For me and also everyone who worked with me.”