ASSISI, Italy (Reuters) - Michael Bolton has gone from Dancing with the Stars to singing for the saints.
“I feel humbled here,” Bolton said after recording the traditional Christmas concert in the frescoed basilica of St Francis of Assisi with Israeli singer Noa and New York conductor Steven Mercurio.
“I feel humbled to be reminded of the teachings of St Francis, which I was introduced to at a very young age. I don’t know anyone who is not moved by his story,” he said.
With Giotto’s awe-inspiring frescoes of the scenes in the life of St. Francis on both sides of him, Bolton sang “The Prayer,” “O Holy Night,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for the concert that will be broadcast on Eurovision on Dec 25.
The Umbrian hill town where St Francis lived 800 years ago is a long way from New Haven, Connecticut, where Bolton was born into a family of Russian Jewish immigrants 57 years ago.
“There is something special about this place. I have performed in churches and cathedrals and holy sites but there is something about being in the presence of everything that has been inspired by St Francis,” he said.
“So, you are cognizant of this while you are learning your changes and your notes and everything else, but before it was time to sing, I kept finding myself getting very quiet, very tranquil and very respectful of where I am,” he said.
But Bolton, who began his career as a hard rocker in the 1970s and has since delved into many other musical styles and ventures that have put him in the spotlight -- most recently in the 11th edition of Dancing with the Stars -- said he had no trouble melting into the background in a place like Assisi.
“When you’re doing Christian songs ... there is a very different focus that you have to deliver. As a singer it is one of the very few times that you have to get out of the way. You have to hit the notes, but become a servant and it reminds you that St Francis was all about service to humanity,” he said.
Service is nothing new to Bolton, whose foundation, The Michael Bolton Charities, has given some $6 million to groups that help women and children threatened by domestic violence.
Noa sang her very personal adaptation of Bach’s “Ave Maria,” and “Beautiful That Way,” the theme song of Italian director Roberto Begnini’s Oscar-winning film “Life is Beautiful.”
A leading peace activist in Israel, Noa said she has a very strong affinity for the Franciscan monks who live there.
“For me, their principles of modesty and humility are the most important that a religion can convey to its followers. Unfortunately we don’t always see that happening but this is the torch they bear here. I like that a lot,” she said.
“But I think that we have to remember that beyond the symbols there has to be practical action. All of us can be inspired by St Francis ... but that has to translate into action because where there is no action, there will be no peace.”
The New York-based Mercurio, who recently conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for Sting’s world tour, said “you can’t help but feeling a sense of peace and tranquility in a place like this and it comes across in the performance.”
Bolton and Noa were accompanied by Italy’s RAI television national symphony orchestra, the Italian female soprano quartet DIV4S, and the basilica’s choir.
Editing by Paul Caciato