On the Money

Bocelli goes from singing tenor to lending a hand to the needy

Tenor of the times
Tenor of the times

If the casual observer looks hard enough at all the corporate titans and top public officials assembled at the World Economic Forum in Davos, it's entirely possible to spot an opera star.

CNBC did recently, catching up with Andrea Bocelli in the Swiss Alps, where the Italian tenor accepted his latest award. However, it wasn't for his vocals, but rather his charity work.

The Forum honored the singer with its Crystal Award for his charitable efforts with his eponymous organization, Andrea Bocelli Foundation.

"In one word, what my foundation would like to do is help," Bocelli said in an interview with "On The Money."

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Bocelli founded his grant-making charity in 2011 with two distinct missions: Fighting poverty around the world, and funding medical research to help people "overcome barriers caused by illness, discomfort or disability."

Bocelli told CNBC that his organization was currently working in Haiti, where grinding poverty and poor conditions have left the population "desperate."

Residents of the island nation are still struggling to recover five years after Haiti's devastating natural disaster. A 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and left more than one million homeless when it struck on Jan. 12, 2010.

Opera and MIT

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Another of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation's initiatives has the singer partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2013, his foundation donated about $500,000 to help MIT develop new wearable devices for the blind.

Born with poor eyesight, Bocelli lost his vision completely at age 12 in an accident. According to the World Health Organization, about 39 million people are blind around the world, with an additional 246 million coping with some form of visual impairment.

However, Bocelli says MIT researchers are working to "produce a device that is a radical solution for all blind people." He said the technology would help blind people, especially in cities, move around alone.

"They have a lot of difficulties going to work, going to shop. That's the kind of need we would like to see met," he said.

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The Italian tenor has spent more than 20 years bringing classical opera to a global audience. Bocelli calls opera his first love, but acknowledges most operas tell dark tales.

"Opera in general is so sad. There are not many operas, not many titles with a happy story," said the tenor with a smile.

But with more that 80 million albums sold worldwide, Bocelli is the biggest-selling solo artist in the history of classical music. That success is helping to provide support for his charitable endeavors, and gives him some self-therapy.

"My sole objective is that I'm nourishing my soul. Music is food for the soul."

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