Italy’s most famous musician sat down with Zenit for a chat about his childhood and why his mother saved his life by refusing an abortion.
Q: You were born in Lajatico, a small village on the hills, near Pisa, in the Valdera region. You spent your childhood among olive groves and fields in the wonderful land of Tuscany. Why today, when you become a ìman of the worldî, are you always coming back here, to your family home?
A: In the heart of Tuscany and among the purely peasant culture I have learned a hierarchy of values which have shaped my life, and which in a way I’m passing on when I sing. Therefore with the Lajatico and Valdera region, I’m connected with a very deep feeling. The more I travel due to my work, the more I want to go back to the countryside to find peace and recharge. Besides, in this part of Tuscany, I still have many friends and relatives; my mother also lives here. That’s why I’m coming back here whenever my work duties allow me.
Q: You mentioned your mother Edi. When in 1958 she was pregnant, doctors advised her to have an abortion, as there was a risk that the child she was carrying in her womb could be born disabled. This mother, however, said ìnoî to doctors and, thanks to this, you were born. What should this story tell the world in which parents at all costs want to have ìperfectî children and in which it is so easy to have an abortion?
A: I revealed these details about my birth, to give a spark of hope and make a small contribution to the psychological support for all those women who for various reasons do not have the strength in themselves to defend life, which they carry in their wombs.
Q: How did you discover that you have a great voice and how did you become one of the most famous singers of the world?
A: I was always told that I have a good and recognisable voice. But, I enrolled in vocal studies when I was already an adult. In my life, two meetings turned out to decisive: the first – with maestro Luciano Bettarini, and the second one – with great Franco Corelli. I managed to get famous after a long period of internship and many “closed doors”. To accomplish my life plan, I worked a lot with great dedication, imposed a strict discipline and tried to form as many good habits as possible. In the end, all went well. I hope that my story – told through the media – will be helpful to someone due to the message that it is carrying. Namely, that there are no dreams that are impossible to realise – it is important to believe that it will come true; pursue them with seriousness, honesty and humility.
Q: Todayís world is becoming more and more secularised. Nevertheless you create a great interest in the audience with sacred music. How do you explain this phenomenon? Is man always in need of the sacred?
A: How can you skip the sacred dimension? Without it, our existence would be empty. A lack of the sacred would be a cause of despair; it would be a tragedy that was announced. For me, interpreting the sacred is a form of prayer. Music is the voice of the soul, moving along the paths that penetrate the most intimate sphere of our psyche. Potentially, music can be a mystical experience.
Q: For several centuries, the West has been trying to separate reason from faith. What is worse, it is believed that faith is incompatible with reason. You say you are a believer. Where is your faith coming from?
A: My faith was born in adulthood, when some existential questions became urgent. I realised that making any choice, we stand at a fork in the road – one path is leading toward the good, the second – in the direction of evil. To live in belief that a fate directs it is not only not appropriate, but also not very logical and reasonable. This is elementary reasoning which allows a person to make the right decision, and the first fundamental choice that we must make is: to believe or not to believe. I chose the path that seemed more logical, which my intelligence, though limited, identified as a path without alternative. Faith is truly a priceless gift that I try to maintain and deepen, and it supports me day after day. I don’t think that faith is contrary to reason.
Q: As an artist and as a believer, you are very devoted to Our Lady. Why?
A: Mary is the road that leads to the Father, our Heavenly Mother, Comforter and Mediatrix. It is no coincidence that over the centuries music was able to sing, to pray and call Her through the extraordinary work.
Q: In your long career, you have sung before millions of people ñ including four United States presidents and three popes ñ not to mention the millions of albums sold. What memories did you retain about John Paul II?
A: Pope John Paul II is “an extraordinary spirit”, who for us believers, already during His lifetime, as pope, represented a shining bond between the earthly existence and Transcendence. Enlightened by a special grace, he was a charismatic figure. He was a saint who knew how in a simple way to talk to people, who attracted to Catholicism new generations – a pope who changed history. He was the driving force and the hero of the epoch-making changes, also geopolitical. I had several times the honour and pleasure of singing before John Paul II – I carry within me the memories of those moments. For me, his canonisation was a great joy and brought a lot of emotions.
Q: Benedict XVI, who is a great lover and connoisseur of music, once said that real music is born from the experience of love, sadness and encounters with the Divine. Maestro, do you agree with this statement?
A: It seems to me that this is a very beautiful reflection about music, deep and subtle, reflecting the sensitivity of the person who said it.
Q: Together, with the Pontifical Council for the Family you organised a series of concerts. This initiative is accompanied by the slogan: ìThe great mystery: the Gospel of the family as a school of humanity for our times.î Why is it so important to protect family in the world in which attitudes of individualism and selfishness are promoted?
A: I think that the family is the basic element of society – where we shape our emotions. This is a privileged place where we seek harmony and mutual respect. The family is the space where we learn – and teach others – to choose the good in every action; trying to implement in our lives these Christian values which our parents pass on to us and which we have a duty to pass to our children. The sense of family ties is what each of us experienced as a child, living in the family, if we were very lucky to have one. Those who think that they can live without family, that they can destroy it according to their own whims apparently are putting their own “I” in the place of God and have lost the memory of what he/she received as a child – a treasure of boundless and unconditional love. Thus, a family should be defended with a pure heart of the child and I’m also trying to do this will all my strength.