Shy Italian monk from Assisi has become recording sensation

If you haven’t heard of 35-year-old tenor Franciscan Friar Alessandro Brustenghi, from Assisi, Italy, you should check out his story here.

He is the only friar in the world to land a major record deal (Decca Records/Universal Music Classics). His arias have made him a YouTube sensation. (In fact, he’s also featured in a video our Rome bureau produced in Assisi, “Francis: The saint and the pope,” shortly after Pope Francis’ election last March. He sings at the opening of the video, and he’s interviewed beginning at 3:30 — don’t miss it!)

He just released a new album, “Voice of Joy,” a collection of traditional Christmas carols, seasonal melodies and sacred arias. In keeping with his vow of poverty, all of the proceeds from concerts and album sales are directed to the Order of Friars Minor to benefit Franciscan efforts worldwide. In Assisi, at the friary founded by St. Francis, he has the job of welcoming visitors and is a carpenter. He was “discovered” in 2011 or so by some heavy-hitters in the music industry.

Cover of Franciscan friar's album (Courtesy Decca Records)

Cover of latest CD recorded by Franciscan friar. (Courtesy Decca Records)

This fall he was on tour in the U.S. One of those stops was at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, where he sang selections from his CD “Voice from Assisi,” nominated as Best Classical Album of the Year in 2012 at the Classic BRIT Awards in the United Kingdom.

One of the songs he performed to a rapt audience in the sanctuary of the monastery’s main church was the theme song from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 film “Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna” (“Brother Sun, Sister Moon”), which is of course a biopic about St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare. The song was written by the legendary folk-rock-pop troubadour Donovan.

In late October, Friar Alessandro performed a free concert at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, Calif., for 1,400 children from disadvantaged neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland. Organizers said 300 volunteers worked months “to create one magical day for the children” and expose them to “the beauty of the arts.” A documentary about him was broadcast recently on the Eternal Word Television Network.

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