May 1, 2004  (STAR) SUNDRY STROKES By Rosalinda L. Orosa  - The emcee warned that no questions should be asked Andrea Bocelli regarding his disability, he being sensitive about it. Yet would he be the world’s most sought-after tenor – his CD’s selling in the millions – were he not blind?

At any rate, the press warmly applauded the handsome, tall, graying Bocelli as he entered the Captain’s Bar of the Mandarin Oriental last Thursday in the company of Rose Marie "Baby" Arenas, head of the Padre Pio Foundation (one of the concert beneficiaries) and Formart’s Marco Bianchi, the singer’s manager.

Asked to give the opening remarks, Bocelli readily apologized for his "terrible" English which could not possibly get better after the 16-hour flight from Rome. "It was very cold there and Manila is terribly hot but with air-conditioning, it is perfect."

Here are a few questions and answers culled at random from the interview:

Q; What or who inspire(s) you to sing?

A: Listening to great singers like Caruso (presumably on records), Tagliavini, Mario del Monaco and many others inspire me a lot.

Q: Famous Italian singers like Franco Corelli, Renata Tebaldi, Tagliavini have sung in Manila; how do you feel singing after them?

A: I feel greatly honored and privileged. Corelli, for a time, was my mentor. I am happy and honored to be singing in Manila.

Q: Is opera getting popular in Asia?

A: Many Asians are opera students in Rome. People in the West do not seem aware that there are many good Asian opera singers. I sang with a Chinese soprano at one time and with a Korean soprano at another.

Q: How do you feel being regarded the fourth tenor after Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras?

A: I am happy being fourth.

Q: How do you take care of your voice?

A: I practice and rehearse a lot. But silence is also very important. Before a concert, I observe silence.

Q: Who decides what you should sing?

A: A group advises me but the final decision is mine. If a certain song sounds good for my voice, I sing it.

Q: Do you advise young men and women to take up both opera and pop, then have the best of two worlds?

(Bocelli missed the second half of the question and answered only the first.)

A: An operatic career is very difficult and demands very great sacrifice. Also much hard work. But above all, sacrifice. Sacrifice is most necessary.

Q: Which do you find easier, performing in concert or in opera?

A: I find singing in opera the most natural thing in the world – in a role, in costume, with fellow singers and a conductor. Singing in concert is more difficult.

The answer called to my mind the great Wagnerian soprano and lied interpreter Lotte Lehmann. Singing in opera was easier for her. In a concert or recital, mood or ambiance changes with each song, and one has to build it up every time.

Q: What gives you fun or pleasure?

A: I very seldom laugh but I smile often. I like to smile much more than laugh.

Q: Having achieved fame and fortune, and being tall and handsome, how do you keep the women away?

A: Simple. Keep close only to one woman.

* * *

Neither young lyric soprano Maria Luigia Borsi nor Conductor Marcello Rota was present at the press interview, so here are a few notes on them:

Borsi, now living in Tuscany, graduated with highest honors in 1994 at the Mascagni Conservatory in Livorno, after which she took classes under some of the most important names in opera.

She has won in several international tilts, the last being the San Remo Classic wherein she won as best soprano in 2002.

Her debut in Suor Angelica was followed by many other opera productions including Traviata in La Scala where she assumed the role of Violeta under conductor Riccardo Muti, lead roles as Gilda in Rigoletto, Mimi in La Boheme Liu in Turandot and in many Mozart and Rossini operas at the Parigi Opera Camique and Vienna Konzerthaus, and at the opening of the Venice Theater of Venice with conductor Lorin Maazel.

Marcello Rota studied the French horn, composition and conducting at prestigious conservatories in Italy. He has done solo work in European musical centers – Milan (Scala), Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Paris and Salzburg.

He won the 1993 prize for best CD with Mariella Devia, and since 1980, after having won the second prize at the review of "Young Orchestra Conductors" arranged by RAI, has been repeatedly invited to conduct the orchestras of Turin, Naples, Genoa, Palermo, Verona, Cagliari and Parma. Also the Swiss-Italian Orchestra, the Staats Oper of Munich, the North German Philharmonic, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Philharmonic Chorus of Prague, New Jersey Symphony, Hollywood Bowl.

During the 1998/99, 2000/01 seasons, he conducted in Rome, Lebanon, Mexico, Chile, Buenos Aires, etc. and has accompanied such celebrated soloists as Mtislav Rostrovich, cellist, and Andrea Bocelli and the Toscanini Orchestra at Parma at the Bologna Concert of the 22nd Eucharistic Congress in the presence of Pope John Paul 11.

Rota’s wide opera repertoire of 30 titles includes Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini.

* * *

In last night’s program, assuming no last-minute changes were made, the orchestra played operatic overtures and an intermezzo; Bocelli interpreted arias from Italian operas, Neapolitan and Italian songs and Schubert’s Ave Maria; Borsi sang arias; she and Bocelli rendered some Italian operatic duets.

Encores were Sogno, The Prayer and Time to Say Goodbye.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved