By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - The blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli has sold 85 million albums and is the best selling singer of all time on the classical charts, but at age 57, this year could be shaping up into one of his biggest ever.
Bocelli, who rocketed to stardom in the early 1990s in part as a protege of the late Luciano Pavarotti, will release "Cinema", an album of songs from movies ranging from "Maria" in "West Side Story" to "Brucia la Terra" (Burn the Earth) from "The Godfather", on Oct. 23.
It includes a duet version with pop princess Ariana Grande of "E Piu ti Penso" (The More I Think of You) from "Once Upon a Time in America".
"I love very much this kind of music. Why? Because...the music of the movies is like a big field where composers can roam where they want and be...free," Bocelli told Reuters in an interview in English at The Elstree Studios north of London, where he was filming a song to be used in the hit British television show "Strictly Come Dancing".
Asked what film music means to him, even though he has been blind since the age of 12, when a sporting injury affected his already poor vision, he said: "The same thing it means to you."
He added that singing with Grande had been a treat, in part because his two sons are big fans of the former teen actress turned singer.
"She comes from a different repertoire and her voice is very nice, very sensual...I think for her also it's been very interesting to change the atmosphere of the repertoire, I think that her fans will be very surprised...to listen to Ariana Grande sing a song like this."
Bocelli follows up the release of "Cinema" with a U.S. nationwide Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) special based on the album, broadcast on Nov. 27.
And if all that were not enough, earlier this year he released a recording of Puccini's "Turandot", which includes "Nessun Dorma", the tenor aria that became a hit for Pavarotti when FIFA used it as the theme for the 1990 soccer World Cup.
Bocelli, who has now made 11 complete opera recordings, said he sees no difference between singing romantic ballads and crossover tunes on the one hand and classical opera on the other.
"I think basically there is only one way to sing. What changes is the atmosphere...the feeling. So every score needs a different approach but the singing is one for me, the technique to sing is one."
Bocelli's global stardom has afforded him opportunities to sing for world leaders, including his first performance for Pope Francis when the head of the Roman Catholic church was in Philadelphia during his recent U.S. visit.
But he said it is also a huge honor that his millions of fans worldwide fill stadiums to hear him.
"It's strange...to think that many people can leave their houses and come to have a long trip, to pay often expensive tickets to listen to my voice -- it's strange for me, it's incredible," he said. "For me, the affection of the people is the most important thing."
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)