After singing for 20 minutes, Andrea Bocelli walked out of the empty Duomo Cathedral and stepped onto the quiet street in Milan, Italy.

It was a holy place on Easter Sunday, but no one was in sight — just Bocelli and a lone microphone. Standing in front of the massive cathedral, the tenor began to sing “Amazing Grace.”

That performance — part of a recital that took place just one month into the pandemic —  generated more than 28 million views on YouTube in its first 24 hours. It became the most-watched classical music concert on YouTube. And for Bocelli, it was a testament to the power of music — a reminder that even as concert venues worldwide were shut down, he still needed to create and share.

“Artists have a great responsibility toward society. Having to manage the health emergency, I’m afraid, often penalized music and culture, neglecting and often reducing them to accessory elements,” Bocelli told the Deseret News in an email, with the aid of a translator.

“Whereas, to the contrary, art (music included) is a gift that builds and fortifies the spirit,” he continued. “When I couldn’t make music live, I made the best of it online, trying, through song, to convey a message of hope, faith and positivity.”

Now, a year and a half after that groundbreaking Easter performance, Bocelli has returned to sharing that message via live, in-person concerts. The Italian tenor’s current tour in support of his new album “Believe” stops at Vivint Arena on Saturday — his second concert at the arena in three years.

Ahead of his return to Salt Lake City, Bocelli reflected on a special collaboration with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, his life during the pandemic and his faith.

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Deseret News: We’re thrilled to have you back in Utah! In 2009 — during perhaps what was one of your first visits to Utah — you recorded a beautiful rendition of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ with the Tabernacle Choir for your Christmas album and special. Can you reflect on that experience? What was it like working with the choir for that project? 

Andrea Bocelli: Thank you, I am also excited and look forward, with joy, to the moment when I return and sing in Salt Lake City. I remember perfectly my collaboration with the Tabernacle Choir, and the extraordinary quality, intensity and perfection of a choir that, not by chance, boasts a many centuries-old tradition.

Still today, when I listen to that recording and that compelling ensemble, I consider it the perfect incarnation of the words of St. Augustine, the greatest Christian scholar of the first millennium, who reminds us that ‘singing is praying twice.’

DN: In 2018, you performed publicly in Salt Lake City for the first time in your career. Does anything stand out to you about that performance?

AB: That event as well, was a great thrill: I was struck by the level of the attention, enthusiasm, the power of the affection that exuded from the audience of the Vivint Arena. It was an unforgettable debut, to the extent that I wanted to express my very tender feelings from the stage, and publicly thank the audience at the end of the concert. 

DN: When the pandemic hit, music venues were shut down and concerts were postponed. Did you have any idea touring and performing would be on hold for so long? How did you occupy your time? Did you develop any new skills? 

AB: At first I didn’t expect such a dramatic spiraling of the emergency, nor the deep social wound — beyond the damage to our health — that the pandemic inflicted on us. I lived that time with worry and frustration, but nonetheless in a privileged situation: I took advantage of the circumstances to spend more time with my children; to study; listen to music; tackle a few very challenging reads, such as the ‘Opera Omnia of Maria Valtorta, a mystic who lived in the early 1900s.

I also was able to delve into the use of a digital recording program. Most of all, this forced pause triggered in me the motivation to realize my new album, ‘Believe,’ as the outcome of this complex period. 

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DN: Did the pandemic complicate the process of putting together the album ‘Believe’? How did you select the songs for this project? What was your goal in creating this album? 

AB: I was thinking about a project like this for some time. When the pandemic broke out, my thinking morphed into a sort of urgency. The common denominator of this album’s tracks is the desire to offer — regardless of one’s religious beliefs — a sort of medicine for the soul; a moment of reprieve and optimism.

The playlist is deliberately heterogeneous: next to well-known songs of universal meaning, I lined up never-before-heard pieces, such as the one written by Ennio Morricone a month before leaving us, or the prayer on Puccini’s music or the ‘Ave Maria’ that I composed myself. In addition, there will be songs from popular religious tradition and a repertory not exactly sacred, but full of religiosity, from ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ to ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen. 

DN: Does the ‘Believe’ tour mark your first in-person performances since the pandemic began? How do you feel to finally be returning to the stage? 

AB: All of this makes me happy: I missed the stage very much, and, with it, the embrace of the public; the opportunity to capture its emotions and energy. Of course, I am a bit apprehensive as well. I feel like an athlete starting to compete again at the highest level, after a long period of forced rest.

Nonetheless, I can only but be overjoyed with this gradual return to normalcy. The world needs to go back to making culture and frequenting art, to restore faith and one’s own identity. And this is the strong message that I would like to convey through my singing and, especially, through this tour.

DN: Your Easter Sunday performance generated more than 28 million views in its first 24 hours — a YouTube record. What did that response mean to you? 

AB: I think it was a further demonstration that people, now more than ever, hunger for beauty and spirituality; they need to start anew with higher values and dialogue with their souls. I chose to be in Milan, during the severest stage of the first lockdown and on Easter Sunday, to pray together, at such a painful and complex time, reaffirming the saving force of the Christian message.   

DN: In a recent interview, you expressed a beautiful sentiment about your faith: ‘I do not believe in the clock without the clockmaker.’ How has your faith guided you in your career? You studied law during your university days. What propelled you to pursue a music career?  

AB: Faith is the anchor of my life. I’ve come to faith after a long journey, as late as in adulthood. I consider it a priceless gift that I try to safeguard and enhance; that upholds me day after day. Music has always been my strongest passion; whereas I earned the law degree to appease my parents and their worries for my professional future. Song — and music, in general — can be a conduit to faith, as can be every creation of the human genius. 

DN: Is there anything you’ve learned about music and the arts during the pandemic? What has been your greatest takeaway from this unusual time? 

AB: Honestly, not a day goes by without me learning something new. No doubt, the pandemic has unequivocally reaffirmed the fact that the world is one big family, inside which everything is connected. So the good that you do always comes back, multiplied, and the same goes for the bad.   

DN: Thank you for taking the time to respond to these questions. Is there anything you would like to add?

AB: I would like to send my best regards to all those who have shown interest in me, reading this interview. I would like to thank my fans for the affection and the trust they continue to generously give me and tell them that I can’t wait for the joyous moment, in which I will be able to meet them in-person again.