In February 1998—a little over a year before his fifth album made him an international phenomenon—Andrea Bocelli took the stage at the Teatro Comunale in Cagliari, Italy, to venture a new kind of performance: opera singer. His 1997 compilation Romanza had made him a star, the kind of performer capable of imbuing lighter pop fare with genuine heft, but his appearance in Cagliari—playing Rodolfo in La Bohème—attempted to mark a bigger shift, from crooner to world-class tenor. Responses were mixed—his fans loved it, opera purists were less welcoming—but Bocelli was undeterred. A month later, he’d released his first all-opera album (Aria: The Opera Album), and soon after that, he made his first-ever American appearance with a show at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts—the beginning of a tour that cemented both his fame and his artistic reach. In August that year, he sold out Madison Square Garden, and in November, he was brought out by Céline Dion—then cresting new levels of fame with “My Heart Will Go On”—on her Christmas special for a duet called “The Prayer,” which they performed a few months later to a standing ovation at the Grammys. All of this set the stage for Sogno. Consisting of all new compositions, the album shed the soft-rock textures of Bocelli’s earliest music (compiled on Romanza) but also steered clear of the comparatively conservative operatic style of Aria and Viaggio Italiano, fixing on a hybrid that bridged the passion of arias with the accessibility of pop. It brought him back to the Grammys—this time as a nominee for Best New Artist, a first for a classical musician. The music on Sogno solidified Bocelli’s style while also diversifying it, touching on soulful adult contemporary (“Nel Cuore Lei,” “Immenso”), showstopping ballads (“The Prayer”), fado-influenced hybrids (“O Mare E Tu,” with the Portuguese singer Dulce Pontes), and orchestral art song (“Come Un Fiume Tu,” co-written by the legendary film composer Ennio Morricone). At the center, of course, was Bocelli’s tenor—a beautiful instrument, pop, opera, or otherwise.

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