As we begin this week of Thanksgiving, let’s begin with this translated interview from Giovanna! 🙂
Michele Torpedine recently gave an interview as part of the promotion for Il Volo’s new album and upcoming 2022 tour. I have translated the article, which appeared in the Music section of the Italian online magazine, La Voce di New York (The Voice of New York) in its entirety below. I especially enjoyed doing this because Michele and his interviewer, Lisa Bernardini, made it clear that of all Michele’s challenging projects and improbable successes, his all-time favorite is, predictably, Il Volo. Michele also shows how loving and proud he is of his adopted sons, Piero, Ignazio, and Gianluca.
It’s also abundantly clear that Michele Torpedine is anything but humble. However, I think his boasting is justified, as you will read.
So, here’s the headline:
Michele Torpedine, the Music Manager Who Has Taken Flight and Never Stopped. [Giovanna’s note: I like this pun. “Taken flight” in Italian is “Taken Il Volo.”]
Interview with the manager of the trio on the occasion of the release of the album “Il Volo Sings Morricone,” who “outspokenly” discusses the good, the bad and the ugly. [Giovanna’s note: the colorful Italian idiom literally says he spoke “without hair on his tongue!”]
Interview by Lisa Bernardini – 13 November 2021
Michele: “I have loved music. And I still love it. The world of music not so much, especially because over the years it has changed a great deal. But I too have been able to change along with it, and so my life has given me new encounters and new ideas that let me continue on.”
Using these words more or less, gives the intimate and unedited feel of the book that Michele Torpedine had published as his autobiography quite some time ago. The title: Ricomincio da Tre (Pendragon) (Starting over from Three).
We interviewed him on the occasion of the release of “Il Volo sings Morricone,” the title of Il Volo’s new album released on November 5, and entirely dedicated to Maestro Ennio Morricone. A project destined for success, like all the undertakings that have the signature of the genius impresario Torpedine, who this time has devised for his three adopted sons an album composed of 14 famous tracks that recap the legendary melodies of the great Ennio, including his famous soundtracks associated with the cinema, and with his overall “heritage.” This album will also be the centerpiece of the world tour involving the Trio (also known as Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble) which starts in March 2022, with another 100 concerts throughout the world.
The autobiography of Michele Torpedine, which we have just mentioned, emotional and exciting, starts from the beginnings of this well-known manager, one of the most important in our country, born extremely poor in a small town in Puglia, who from there set out to conquer the world.
Let’s refer to the words which Torpedine himself has shared with the press, because his own words are always the simplest truth with no risk of ambiguity or inaccuracy that may be found elsewhere: it is he who in this case speaks of himself and the events in his life. An intense life, on the threshold of 70 years, and all spent in the company of music. First as a dreamer, then as a drummer, and then as a professional who realized the American Dream: an unbelievable success that came true for him. But also, many of those who have crossed paths with this great figure of a manager, achieved success for the first time after much effort, or were revitalized after previous fruitless attempts. A career like Torpedine’s cannot be summarized in an hour of conversation (that’s how much time we had available to talk, carved out from among his many appointments). So many names he has encountered in his life; I refer to people of the caliber of Orietta Berti, Gino Paoli, Ornella Vanoni, Zucchero, but also Pino Daniele, Gianna Nannini, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Cristiano De Andre, Biagio Antonacci.
[Giovanna’s note: The late, great Pino Daniele is one of Ignazio’s, and my, favorite blues guitarists. And we all know how much Piero admired Pavarotti and Gianluca idolized Bocelli growing up. This contributed to our guys’ instant admiration for Michele and willingness to sign a contract with him. Of course, they were still underage boys at the time, and their parents did the actual signing].
Back to Lisa Bernardini’s interview: And then Il Volo, now famous all over the world, who are his most recent and probably most exciting gamble. I got the idea, in our meeting in his office in Bologna, that Torpedine prefers this latest challenge much more than so many others he previously took on and won. After all, this [Il Volo] is a story that still has a lot say to the music world. Torpedine loves his work, and all the talents he encounters, which he manages so easily to shape: “With true talents, whatever field they’re in, I’m arm in arm with them.”
LB: San Remo 2015 consecrated, with a victory, these three young guys who make up Il Volo and who today are the umpteenth proof on your business card that you are a great manager. Let’s revisit this musical dream.
Michele: One evening I was at home watching the TV show “Ti Lascio una Canzone.” I was on the phone with Tony Renis. I saw this trio of boys with incredible voices. I got the idea to promote them on a big scale. In America, they were an instant success, then I put them under contract and made them become famous in Italy and the rest of the world.
LB: So, on that occasion you were the perfect talent scout.
Michele: Yes, and we should emphasize this fact: the program had nearly six million listeners. It was seen by everyone. Why didn’t anyone else manage to notice them? Only Tony and I immediately recognized that these three little boys could become a world phenomenon.
LB: Now the whole world is in love with Il Volo.
Michele: How could you possibly not love them? They’re a pleasure for families, the young, the old . . . for everyone. They are physically handsome, and they know how to dance, how to play around, and they move perfectly on the stage. With them the show is totally engaging. These three guys really represent the best of “made in Italy”: good, perfectly molded, clean.
LB: Yet some critics accuse them of being merely a commercial act, tailor-made.
At first, when they were young kids, one could actually think they might become another disposable act. Instead, what happened in their case was that as they got older, they became really excellent. Today they are true artists of international caliber. You won’t find a group like this anywhere else in the world.
LB: How far will Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca go, in your opinion?
Michele: If you consider that they are only [a little older than] 25 years old and already have contracts all over the world, I keep telling them that the best is yet to come.
LB: Michele, let’s talk a little about your past. With your family you moved to Bologna from Puglia when you were only 5 months old. A very poor family. A mother whom you lost too soon due to illness, after much suffering. An authoritarian and strict father, with whom you had a difficult relationship. A life, in short, that seemed headed towards mere survival. Are you sure you’re totally aware of what you’ve accomplished in life?
Michele: I would do everything the same way, since everything turned out so well: why change anything? I would say yes, that I am aware of what I’ve done. What I wrote in my book is the plain truth. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any complaints, otherwise it might have improved interest [in the book] and sales … the only one who protested was Nicoletta Mantovani, who called me and told me that what I had written was not true. Then, chatting with her, I convinced her otherwise. I have sold more Italian music than anyone else in the world, and certainly some may not have enjoyed reading the truths about our [Italian music] industry that I described in the autobiography.
LB: In your case, we can describe you as reaching the “American dream” because, from such a disadvantaged start, you finally reached the top.
If you consider that my family was so poor that we often ate only one meal a day and lived 5 people in a 40 square meter (400 square foot) studio apartment … Then, with experience, work and the desire to succeed, I ended up as a guest at the White House twice.
LB: Your experience seems like a miracle, in fact. But without talent, opportunities do not arrive. You were talented as a pure manager but you simply didn’t know it: when was the exact moment when, looking in the mirror, you said to yourself: I did it!
Michele: Never. I am famous in the world of music, but very few outside know me. In addition to Il Volo, I’ve created names such as Andrea Bocelli, Zucchero, Giorgia, Biagio Antonacci, Pino Daniele; I created Pavarotti International. Yet, when they [the music industry] introduce me to someone outside the world of music, on the other hand, it almost seems as if they feel uncomfortable, because – when they explain who I am – they probably prefer a businessman, elegant and refined. Instead, I always introduce myself simply, as in our conversation today. As you can see, I’m wearing a tracksuit, but perhaps this is one of my strengths: having remained modest, with my feet on the ground. I felt and still feel like a musician, but I ended up being a producer because I convinced myself that this was the path I had to take to get to the top. What I was unable to do as a musician, I have developed and achieved for others at the highest level.
LB: Have you ever returned to your native region? Or has the pain of your past kept you away from it?
Michele: I only returned to my home in 2019, after many years; they also gave me honorary citizenship. It was a good moment. I spent my childhood here in Bologna, and in particular in this neighborhood where I have returned to live now, and where I arrived as a child with my family. Here I have the best memories, even if life was full of difficulty and hardship.
LB: What remains with you from your years as a musician and of the dreams that, with your brother Nino, were spent behind a drum kit?
Michele: I saw my brother playing drums, not even “real” ones, because we couldn’t afford them. But we had a special rhythm inside, and at the table he hit a tune and I followed him. We had a great desire to make music, and that is still there today.
LB: In your book you talk about a turning point that took place in 1984. Let’s retrace that magical evening together in a restaurant in Bologna.
Michele: I was Gino Paoli’s drummer and that evening I stopped to talk to him. At that time Gino was in an financial crisis, in the sense that – to make you understand better – the most famous singers of the time made 25 million lire per evening and he made at most 2.8 million. Gino was the beginning of everything for me, even if the person I should thank most for the development of my career would actually be Orietta Berti. Back to that evening: I said to Gino, Ornella Vanoni makes the billions singing your songs and you, on the other hand, can hardly go on. You two should get together! We went to Ornella’s house and convinced her to make a singing duo and which made history in Italian music.
LB: If you had to take stock, have you given more or received more?
Michele: Maybe I have given more, but let me clarify that: I did it out of personal choice. Zucchero realized that I was a failed artist and that what I had not been able to do personally I could accomplish through others. Everything achieved was always my choice, done for me. Making music with Ray Charles or Miles Davis: I did it for me, not for them.
LB: Johann Wolfgang Goethe argued that ingratitude was a form of weakness, and that he had never met excellent men who were ungrateful. Many artists owe their achievements to you, but they didn’t want to acknowledge you. They say that success changes people, and it is the amplifier of what one is. If you are a decent person, you stay that way; but if you are an idiot, the only thing that changes is that from being poor you become rich, but you always remain an idiot. If you had to tell me five names of people who have let you down in life, whether they knew it or not, who would you name?
Michele: The question is a bit unfair (literally: “bastardized”) [editor’s note: Torpedine smiles as he pronounces the sentence]. Naming is always problematic. I probably put Zucchero in the first place; for the others it would take a separate book: lawyers, film producers … to mention just five are too few. However, I will randomly give you a couple of examples, among many: a very famous producer of important films – I won’t say the name – was once a simple employee, and I helped him decisively to become who he is today. Yet if he happens to meet me, he won’t even say hello to me! Caterina Caselli: I brought Bocelli to her when she was almost finished as a producer, and I restored her fame and importance. She’s another one who doesn’t recognize what I did for her.
LB: Zucchero and Bocelli were perhaps the two most famous artists for which you were producer, and Gino Paoli the character who personally gave you the most. In hindsight, if you could go back, would you do everything you did again or would you act differently?
Michele: Today I would do everything more or less the same.
LB: You state that you have had many disappointments but no failures. In your opinion, then, what are failures?
Michele: In music, failures are when you get your product wrong, when you discover that certain relationships are not, on a personal level, what you expected – like what happened to me with Eros Ramazzotti. [Giovanna’s note: Personally, I like Eros Ramazzotti as a songwriter. And our Gianluca does a hysterically funny impression of Ramazzotti’s scratchy, gravelly singing voice trying to sing an Il Volo lyric]. Other relationships, on the other hand, gratify you a lot, as in the case of Il Volo, with whom I’m leaving for a long world tour with more than 20 dates in the USA and Canada alone.
LB: You are opposed to talent shows. Why this stubborn opposition?
Michele: I have nothing against talent shows, actually. I am annoyed with the judges and panels associated with them, who very often do not have the capacity – or the ability – to understand or discover real talents. There are so many producers who barely discover a single talent in their career and get stuck there, because they had a stroke of luck rather than management skill. It is not enough to know a little about music to be a successful producer: there are many other elements that come into play.
LB: How many enemies do you have, Michele?
Michele: As Oscar Wilde says: People can forgive you for everything, except success. Envy is terrible. An encyclopedia would not be enough to capture it all. I have both spoken with characters like Clinton and Bush, or with actors like Tom Hanks, and also had problems with “la Finanza” [tax office], like all those who make a lot of money. At the time the newspapers, especially here in Bologna, slammed me on the front page: Bocelli’s manager is a tax evader! I had ended up on everyone’s lips for something that wasn’t even correct. Then, when I met the US Presidents, I was invited to the White House, but the most I saw in the press was blurbs in back pages. Bologna is not a big city like Rome or Milan, and this amplifies jealousies and envy.
LB: If you could throw someone off a tower, who would you throw?
Michele: It would take a nice big tower to fit them all in, you know? I would have to schedule them by days and shifts; it wouldn’t be an easy task [editor’s note: a broad smile emerges in Michele’s face].
LB: What is left of the boy born in Puglia?
Michele: Youthfulness. I remember when achieving even a small goal seemed like a huge success. Today I no longer have problems making certain dreams come true. Buying a real drum kit, with payments over time, I still remember as an extraordinary moment in my life. I remember visits to the White House with pleasure, but with a different significance than other early achievements.
LB: After 40 years of work, are you still wondering what do you want to do when you grow up?
Michele: Yes, always. We must always get busy, never rest on our laurels. Never stop.
LB: We know you love when Americans say: No problem! How would you define the American mindset and philosophy?
Michele: On the one hand, I have a great admiration for it: for music, jazz, sport, scientific discoveries. Then I am amazed, at times, because they admire things that don’t have much value, or singers that don’t have depth. It happens that when mediocre Italian singers arrive there, and they send them to “Italian” casinos in Atlantic City, even they have great success. With Bocelli and Il Volo we went at least 30 times to Las Vegas alone, that is to say to the big casinos, the world-class ones. [Giovanna’s note: I don’t know why Michele is criticizing Atlantic City. He scheduled Il Volo there at the Borgata Casino next March, where I’m going to see them next! I guess they’re going to show us how it should be done.]
LB: Have you ever considered moving to America?
Michele: I am very attached to Italy, to my friends, to the things I have built here. I would have a hard time moving, even though America is a country that I like a lot.
LB: Do you like New York? What’s great about it? Or what would you improve?
Michele: It is already so great as it is, it’s just fine. It’s a city that has everything and offers a lot, just like London: nothing is missing.
Giovanna’s note: As you go through the photos in this article, you’ll notice that Michele’s hair over time became progressively grayer, then extremely white. I was present in Puglia, Italia in 2019 when Piero confessed in front of the Archbishop of Lecce that he and his two cohorts, Gian and Igna, were the cause of this! Piero by then was already introducing Michele as “Quello con i capelli bianchi” – “That guy with the white hair.” Michele was a few rows in front of me that evening and he was definitely snowy white by then.