Saturday, December 05, 2009

I stand corrected

Gentle Reader "Iris" took exception to my disparagement of the Andrea Bocelli song "I Believe," said disparagement having been based on a complaint that its lyrics were at odds with orthodox Christian theology. Iris comments:
"I believe" was written originally about 10 years ago for Andrea to sing for Pope John Paul II and it is said to have been one of the Pope's favorite songs and that he was very moved when he heard Andrea sing it. Now I am not an expert on Catholic theology, but if the song was approved by the Pope, I don't think your comments on it as theologically unsound can stand--at least as far as Catholics are concerned.

The song is clearly meant to be a Utopian vision, as Andrea himself has said--not anything more concrete and realistic than that. But it's strange to me that no one seems to have noticed that the song's message is the quintessential Christmas message: "Peace on earth, good will to all men."
Okay, JPII is a big hero of mine, and certainly he was not a political Pollyanna, being one of the few Popes in a long history of Papal political activity who was both (a) influential in world politics and (b) influential for good rather than ill. So there clearly must be some way in which a devout and conservative Christian can reconcile this song's theology to Christianity, or else JPII wouldn't have liked it.

So I must have been wrong. I stand corrected.

Iris also helpfully provides the explanation, which I think I can paraphrase by saying, "When Bocelli says, 'I believe that...' he has his fingers crossed -- he doesn't actually believe it in the ordinary English sense of the word. What he really means is, 'It sure would be nice if...'" Now, if I take out every occurrence of "I believe that..." in the song, and replace it with, "It sure would be nice if..." then what I get is something that would wholeheartedly agree with. So, given that explanation, I withdraw my theological objections to the song, which becomes an inocuous variation on Amy Grant's "Grown-Up Christmas Wish."

This leaves me with a slightly different problem: I have, temperamentally, no use whatsoever for Utopian visions. I never had any particular complaint with "Grown-Up Christmas Wish;" but I can't hear it without muttering sotto voce, "Yeah, well, don't hold your breath." But that is simply a limitation of my temperament, and all that means is that I have no business offering criticism of Utopian anthems.

I will say this: if you take out the first verse with its dreaming of "a world where war has been banned [presumably by some transnational government edict?]," and then you take the song as a vision of what the Church (as opposed to secular society as a whole) can be, then you would have an anthem I could belt out with enthusiasm. So, if I liked enough the song itself musically, I'd deal with this by simply writing my own first verse and singing louder than Bocelli does until we get past those first three lines. But, you see, I don't care much for the music. And on this point I think Iris and I are in agreement. My take:
Okay, you've heard this kind of number before -- it's every duet Celine Dion has sung with a male partner in the last two decades...[theology aside, it's worth] an "it's painting-by-numbers symphonic pop, but it has Bocelli's voice" thumbs-up...
And Iris:
I dislike the duet version and the glitzy David Foster arrangement of the music and I recommend that everyone go to hear the original, as sung by Andrea as a solo on the 1998 DGG CD, "A Hymn for the World" vol. 2.
Bottom line: you're probably better off asking Iris for her opinion than me, because it seems to be rather better informed and more useful than mine. Major thanks to Iris for improving the blog with her comment, there.

Hey, Iris, if you're lurking...if you could only own one Andrea Bocelli album, which would it be?

Okay, that's probably too about your top three?


At 3:58 PM, Blogger Iris said...

Thanks, Ken, for your comments! I still do think the Christmas wish "peace on earth; goodwill to all men" is Utopian, but we would not want to stop saying it on those grounds.

I love the original "I Believe" and you can hear that on Youtube at or
You should listen to it and see what you think.

Three Bocelli albums? Even that I could not do because he sings both opera and pop. Now I am basically an opera person, so I am going to be mean and give 3 classical albums and 3 pop ones. In classical music, it would be "Aria" because I couldn't go without hearing Andrea sing "Pourquoi me reveiller" and "Che gelida manina" (although he sings that better on his full-length opera album of "La Boheme"). Then it would be "Viaggio italiano" for the wonderful mix of opera arias, sacred arias, and Neapolitan songs. And his best ever full-length opera, "Il Trovatore," with the fabulous soprano Veronica Villarroel. If anyone wants to know what "bel canto" means, just listen to arias from that album. It's also an opera for people who love what voices can do in music but think they don't like opera--if this doesn't convert them, then probably nothing will.

But I do love his pop albums also. Even though they are second for me, there are some times when that is all I want to listen to. Here I would choose "Vivere: The best of Andrea Bocelli," "Sogno," and "Cieli di Toscana." Each one has songs that you can listen to over and over again.

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Ken Pierce said...

Iris, thanks for the recommendations.

I still do think the Christmas wish "peace on earth; goodwill to all men" is Utopian, but we would not want to stop saying it on those grounds.

Yeah, like I say, the distaste for things Utopian is a personal limitation. More power to those of you who like it.

Thanks again, very much indeed.


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