Bocelli was born to Alessandro and Edi Bocelli on September 22, 1958. Doctors advised the couple to abort him, as they predicted that the child would be born with a disability. It was evident at birth that Bocelli had numerous problems with his sight, and was eventually diagnosed with congenital glaucoma. He stated that his mother’s decision to give birth to him and overrule the doctor’s advice was the inspiration for him to oppose abortion. Bocelli grew up on his family’s farm where they sold farm machinery and made wine in the small village of La Sterza, a frazione of Lajatico, Tuscany, Italy, about 40 km (25 mi) south of Pisa. His mother and younger brother Alberto still live in the family home; his father died in 2000. Bocelli showed a great passion for music as a young boy. His mother has said that music was the only thing that would comfort him. He started piano lessons at age 6 and later learned to play the flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, and drums. His nanny Oriana gave him the first record of Franco Corelli, and he began to show interest in pursuing the career of a tenor. By age 7, he was able to recognize the famous voices of the time and tried to emulate the great singers. At age 12, Bocelli lost his sight completely following an accident during a football game. He was hit in the eye playing goalkeeper during a match and suffered a brain hemorrhage. Doctors resorted to leeches in a last-ditch effort to save his sight, but they were unsuccessful and he remained blind. Bocelli also spent time singing during his childhood. He gave his first concert in a small village not far from where he was born. He won his first song competition at age 14 with “‘O sole mio” at the Margherita d’Oro in Viareggio. He finished secondary school in 1980, and then studied law at the University of Pisa. To earn money, he performed evenings in piano bars, and it was there that he met his future wife Enrica in 1987. He completed law school and spent one year as a court-appointed lawyer.
1992–94: Sanremo and Il mare calmo della sera
In 1992, Italian rock star Zucchero held auditions for tenors to make a demo tape of his song “Miserere”, to send to Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. After hearing Bocelli on tape, Pavarotti urged Zucchero to use Bocelli instead of him. Zucchero eventually persuaded Pavarotti to record the song with Bocelli, and it became a hit throughout Europe. In Zucchero’s European concert tour in 1993, Bocelli accompanied him to sing the duet, and he was also given solo sets in the concerts, singing “Nessun dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot. Bocelli signed with the Sugar Music label in Milan after Caterina Caselli heard Bocelli sing “Miserere” and “Nessun Dorma” at a birthday party for Zucchero. In December, Bocelli entered the preliminary round of the Sanremo Music Festival in the category of Giovani, performing “Miserere”. He won the preliminary competition with the highest marks ever recorded in the newcomers section. On 28 December, he debuted in the classical world in a concert at the Teatro Romolo Valli in Reggio Emilia. In February 1994, he entered the main Sanremo Festival competition with “Il mare calmo della sera”, and he won the newcomers section, again with a record score. Following his win, Bocelli released his debut album of the same name in April, and it entered the Italian Top Ten, being certified platinum within weeks. In May 1994, he toured with pop singer Gerardina Trovato. In September, he sang at Pavarotti’s annual Charity Gala concert, Pavarotti International in Modena, where he sang Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata” and sang a duet with Pavarotti, Maurizio Morante’s “Notte e Piscatore”. In September, he made his opera debut as Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa. Bocelli had been an agnostic, but around 1994, partly as a result of immersing himself in the works of Russian author Leo Tolstoy, he returned to the practice of the Catholic faith. He performed the hymn “Adeste Fideles” in Rome before Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica at Christmas.
1995–97: Bocelli and Romanza
As winner of the newcomers section at the 1994 Sanremo Festival, Bocelli was invited to return the following year. He entered the main competition with “Con te partirò” and finished in fourth place. The song was included on his second album, Bocelli, produced by Mauro Malavasi and released in November 1995. In Belgium, “Con te partirò” became the best-selling single of all time. His third album, Viaggio Italiano, was released in Italy in 1996. He was invited to sing a duet with English soprano Sarah Brightman at the final bout of German boxer Henry Maske. Brightman approached Bocelli after she heard him singing “Con te partirò” whilst she was dining in a restaurant. Changing the title lyric of the song to “Time to Say Goodbye”, they re-recorded it as a duet with members of the London Symphony Orchestra and sang it as a farewell for Maske. The single debuted atop the German charts, where it stayed for fourteen weeks. With sales nearing three million copies, and a sextuple platinum award, “Time to Say Goodbye” eclipsed the previous best-selling single by more than one million copies. He topped the Spanish singles chart in 1996 with a duet with Marta Sánchez, “Vivo por ella”, the Spanish version of “Vivo per lei”, recorded with Giorgia for his 1997 compilation album, Romanza. He also recorded a Portuguese version of the song with Brazilian singer Sandy. The same year, Bocelli recorded “Je vis pour elle”, the French version of “Vivo per lei”, as a duet with French singer Hélène Ségara. Released in December 1997, the song became a hit in Belgium (Wallonia) and France, where it reached No. 1 on the charts. To date, it is the best-selling single for Ségara, and the second for Bocelli after “Time to Say Goodbye”. On 3 March, he appeared in Hamburg, Germany, with Sarah Brightman to receive the ECHO music award for “Best Single of the Year”. In the summer of 1997, he gave 22 open-air concerts in Germany, and an indoor concert in Oberhausen on 31 August. In September, he performed in concert at the Piazza dei Cavalieri in Pisa for the home video A Night in Tuscany (Italian: una notte nella Toscana) with guests Nuccia Focile, Sarah Brightman and Zucchero. The concert was also Bocelli’s first concert to air on PBS part of the In The Spotlight series. It also marked as Bocelli’s debut to the American audiences. On 14 September, in Munich, Germany, he received an ECHO Klassik Best Seller of the Year award for his album, Viaggio Italiano. Back in Italy in Bologna on 27 September, he sang at the International Eucharistic Congress. On 19 October, he sang at the TeleFood benefit concert held in the Vatican City to raise awareness about world hunger. On 25 October, he received a Bambi Award in the Klassik category in Cologne, Germany.