When a young Andrea Bocelli sang ‘Con te partirò’ in 1995 and the world heard his voice for the first time

9 November 2023, 10:16

When the world saw a young Andrea Bocelli sing ‘Con te partirò’ for the very first time
When the world saw a young Andrea Bocelli sing ‘Con te partirò’ for the very first time. Picture: YouTube/THETRUSTGAMES/Sanremo Music Festival

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

In 1995, Andrea Bocelli entered a singing competition, and the world heard his voice for the first time.

Like Pavarotti is to ‘Nessun dorma’, Andrea Bocelli is to ‘Time to Say Goodbye’.

But the beloved Italian singer’s signature song had humble beginnings, with more than a hint of the magic that was to come.

Before the song went international and became ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ – and before Bocelli met Sarah Brightman – the tenor sang ‘Con te partirò’ for the first time on stage, in a 1995 televised competition.

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’.”

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Andrea Bocelli Con Te Partirò San Remo

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, and the single topped the charts in France and 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 added, 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.

Read more: Andrea Bocelli sings ‘Hallelujah’ with his eight-year-old daughter in magical duet

Watch as Andrea Bocelli sings in Milan's empty Duomo cathedral

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.

Read more: Whitney Houston surprised the world with a Verdi aria… sung with Pavarotti

Andrea Bocelli sings ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ (live at The Global Awards 2018)

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.”