An interview with Ermelinda De Bartoli by Susan De Bartoli.
A few days ago, someone shared one of my stories on Facebook and Ermelinda commented on it. She said: “Susan, Ignazio was my student until the second year of high school when after being launched with the others in the Italian broadcast they were discovered. After then he really took off … I really saw him take off.”
When I read this I said, wouldn’t it be great to have Ermelinda tell us a little bit about Ignazio as a teenager? And Ermelinda graciously accepted my invitation to be interviewed. The interview was in Italian. Below is the English translation.
Susan: How many years were you Ignazio’s teacher?
Ermelinda: I had Ignazio in class the first two years of social economic high school.
Susan: How would you describe Ignazio as a student?
Ermelinda: He was a quiet student who attended with good interest.
Susan: Ignazio’s mother said Ignazio was always very serious and responsible! How would you describe him as a teenager?
Ermelinda: I met him when he was only 14 years old. He was at the beginning of adolescence and he was always joking. He was very attached to his family. He grew up in Bologna because the family moved there for work and at the age of 10 he moved to Marsala when the family decided to return. In Marsala he attended middle school and two years of high school. At school he was playful and sociable, with a very open and modest character. He often told us about his passion for singing which he studied with a teacher. His life as a teenager was not hard, because, as soon as he started his career at the age of 15, his life changed due to the numerous commitments linked to his success and the new path taken with Il Volo.
Susan: Would you say Ignazio was shy?
Ermelinda: Ignazio has never been shy! As I said he was always joking. In class, he was a driving force in terms of sociality and aggregation.
Susan: They call Ignazio the funny one in the group. Was Ignazio funny when he was your student?
Ermelinda: In the classroom it was fun because even though sometimes he was not very prepared in some lessons he intervened trying to repeat even what he did not know but he did it with such sympathy that we smiled at each other … and he also made a lot of self-irony about his being chubby, he lived this state of awareness without any concern or sympathy. His beautiful character dominated everything.
Susan: Ignazio is very kind and compassionate. Was this something you noticed about him as a teenager?
Ermelinda: He was very generous and affable to everyone. In particular, he was very compassionate towards some pupils with disabilities, with whom he often conversed, holding them in high regard and showing empathy. I remember an episode one evening after he won Ti Lascio Una Canzone, the whole class with me and another colleague went to the pizzeria. Ignazio was just fifteen and, when it was time to pay the bill, he came to me and said: “Professor, you are my guest.” I understood that in him there was so much kindness in his manner and in his soul, in this case, a kind gesture towards a woman.
Susan: Were you amazed when you first heard Ignazio sing?
Ermelinda: During the hours of musical education, we turned on the PC monitor, we put on the Karaoke and, while not being able to hear the music due to lack of speakers, Ignazio would stand there and sing a cappella and his voice was already so powerful that it expanded to the corridors and from there a little bit in front of our door, where pupils gathered from other classes. They were ecstatic! Given the exceptional nature of the moment they had permission from their teachers to leave the classrooms to listen to him sing. The other thing is that while he sang, I felt shivers and so did many of his companions who expressed the same sensation.
Susan: When Ignazio was your student, he was already studying with Lilliana Adreanò. Ignazio said he had a great passion for soccer and, he loved to play every afternoon but, it had been less so after he started taking singing lessons. He said, “I had less free time and then no free time and I realized that singing was more important than all the rest.” How do you think Ignazio saw his future at that time?
Ermelinda: It is true to study singing he began to leave other hobbies. After Ti Lascio Una Canzone, despite having being praised by these great Italian singers, who sang with him, I remember that he told all this with great modesty and simplicity and despite the fact that he had won he never spoke of great expectations nor did he delude himself, at least, until the moment in which Michele Torpedine and Tony Renis hired them after a short time, to form Il Volo. I heard the comments on him by experts such as Claudio Cecchetto and Al Bano who, when he told him that he had recently taken singing lessons, was amazed.
Another detail that I noticed is that while he sang he always kept his eyes closed and he told me that he was doing it because having recently lost his grandfather, who he adored, while he sang it was he who Ignazio thought of and he sang with his heart
Susan: How did you see Ignazio’s future at that time?
Ermelinda: During that winter he went to Rome every week for the broadcast, he was still attending school. The problem arose when they signed the first contract and then he could no longer attend school because the tours around the world began immediately.
Susan: Ignazio went from your classroom to Ti Lascio Una Canzone and immediately became a star. You told me after the Italian program, he just took off. You said you saw him take off! What was it like watching all of this happen before your eyes? Did it seem like it was all happening very fast?
Ermelinda: Of course having seen him “take flight” in a short time and, see him pass by the school desks, and then on a stage was for me, as for all his companions, a great emotion and a source of great pride.
Susan: Did you see a change in Ignazio during this time?
Ermelinda: Ignazio was still at school, after his first success, and with all of us, he always remained himself … with a modesty and genuineness that still distinguishes him today.
Susan: During the performances Ignazio sang with some really great singers. Massimo Ranieri, Albano, Fausto Leali to name a few. These singers were in awe of him. Do you think that Ignazio understood what was happening to him?
Ermelinda: Yes, these singers were more than in awe of what they heard, they were astonished, something that Ignazio confirmed when we asked him. And, to think that he was still a kid, and had not yet completed the development of the vocal cords.
Yes, Ignazio from the point of view of his singing ability had already understood in comparison with these famous singers that he had what it takes to become even greater.
Susan: How did your other students feel about what was going on in Ignazio’s life?
Ermelinda: His classmates were very happy and excited. Every Saturday night none of us left the house. We all waited to see Ignazio on TV … and on Monday when he returned to school, for the class, it was a riot and bursting questions, and also a source of pride to kids as they were, to have him as a companion … the little big star, their friend.
Susan: Did the other students treat him any differently when he returned to class?
Ermelinda: Pupils from other classes certainly looked at him with more interest
Susan: You had to be very proud of Ignazio. Can you tell us how this made you feel to see your student on TV and watch him take his first step towards stardom?
Ermelinda: During his performances of Ti Lascio Una Canzone, being still a kid and not going out much alone, even the people of Marsala followed him with pride. People who knew him in school as that, chubby boy, still in the grass, at that moment obviously aroused a lot of interest especially among the boys.
Susan: I would imagine there was great excitement in Marsala during Ti Lascio Una Canzone. Ignazio said people started to recognize him. What did Ignazio’s performance on Ti Lascio Una Canzone do for the people of Marsala? What did you notice was going on with the people of Marsala?
Ermelinda: Let’s say that the reaction of the people of Marsala began “as soon as he started” in Il Volo and reached its peak when they won the Sanremo festival.
Susan: Did you every stop to think about how this all happened? How did a young man from a very simple family suddenly become a superstar?
Ermelinda: It often occurred to me that what was happening to Ignazio was a fairy tale … of those things that you think can only happen in fairy tales. He is a boy with a great talent hitherto unknown, from a very modest family but very united and with healthy values, he was able to tread the scenes of half the world … from his cottage in the countryside to a duet with Barbra Streisand and much more that we know.
The way in which all this happened is told by the facts that there was a first revelation of his talent and Ti Lasco Una Canzone, as we know, could remain there as it happens to many without getting anything else; then as he also said he had the luck of an intuition of the director who suggested to the managers Michele Torpedine and Tony Renis to form the trio.
Susan: We are in a pandemic now and while the music world is trying to restart, Ignazio, at age 25 and already a superstar, has made his debut as a music producer. He has his own production company, Floki! Ignazio said, “Production has always been my dream. It started with an idea to give a chance to those who deserve a break.” I know Ignazio has helped many young aspiring artists get a start. How do you see Ignazio in his role as a producer?
Ermelinda: Yes, Ignazio at 25 is already a star, aware that he too has skipped the stages of adolescence a bit, a period in which there are more joys than duties, but he has always said that all this deprivation has always been filled with his love for music and today he also finds himself working as a producer. From what I know about him in my opinion this new path was born above all from his constant desire to want to help others.
Susan: How did you feel when Il Volo won Sanremo?
Ermelinda: When Il Volo won in Sanremo, that evening, in addition to the great emotion, I retraced the periods of when Ignazio was still young, always talking with humility about his first successes and I also thought that from the beginning I told myself that he was a phenomenon, so seeing him on that stage, the most important in Italy, was for me just as it was for all Marsala people.
Susan: When Ignazio returned to Marsala after winning Sanremo, the whole city came out to greet him. Can you tell us about that?
Ermelinda: When he returned to Marsala after Sanremo, the Municipality organized a ceremony in his honor to award him the title of “Ambassador of Marsala in the World,” which took place first in the hall of the city council whose images were projected simultaneously on a large screen on the square where we were thousands of people. I remember that his speech was directed to all those talented guys who deserve to be helped to be able to take off and that he with some of them was trying to do it. Afterwards he took to the square and I tell you what everyone did with warmth and recognition emanated from that square: I sang “Grande Amore” with everyone in the square … a unique emotion.
Susan: Finally, what would you like to add about Ignazio that we haven’t already covered?
Ermelinda: I think I have said everything about him of what I know and what I have had the opportunity to perceive. When I talk about Ignazio, with others, I always say that he is very humble, modest and always very affectionate with the people who meet him. I still say: “Ignazio, is a beautiful soul.”
Ermelinda I want to thank you on behalf of all the fans for sharing your great memories of Ignazio and I would like to invite you to come back with anything that tells us more about your experiences with our beloved Ignazio!
One final note, you may have noticed that Ermelinda and I have the same last name. Ermelinda lives in Marsala and I live in New York. About a month ago I got a message from Ermelinda asking me about my roots because she and I have the same last name. I told her my grandfather was from Calabria but, I recently got an update on my DNA and found out I have roots in Marsala. Ermelinda wrote back and said we must be related because we are the only de Bartoli’s in Marsala. This is something I plan to investigate more. I would be very happy if this lovely lady and I are related. Who knows, Il Volo may have helped me find some long, lost, relatives. Thank you, guys!
Credit to owners of all photos.