In June 2019, Edoardo was inducted as a Golden Voice, AudioFile's lifetime achievement honor for audiobook narrators.
What has surprised you the most about your work in audiobooks?
The first thing that surprised me about audiobooks--I came from the film and TV side of things, where I still am active--is now difficult it is. I guess I was naïve when I first started recording things. I was like, “Oh, well, you know, you just read the book, what can be so hard about that?” And then I quickly discovered that it is truly an art form unto itself. I remember, after one of the first books I did, I would go home after the sessions and just pass out, dead tired. I hadn’t really understood just how incredibly difficult this work can be, and how talented the people behind the mic are, across the board. Then the other thing that surprised me on the other side of things is how popular they are. I discovered so quickly that people are just gobbling audiobooks up left and right, and they mean a lot to them.
Tell us about a time that you’ve gotten feedback from a fan.
I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from fans over the years, and what has struck me about it is how personal in nature the responses are. And I think the reason for it is that there’s an intimacy to this medium--that you have one voice talking to one listener, and it’s very personal, and it’s in a sense like a private conversation between two people. And it offers something that a lot of other forms of entertainment don’t, and that is this very personal nature, this very intimate relationship between the narrator and the listener. When you’re talking about a film or theater, the productions are much larger, obviously, and there are so many elements going into them, but here we have something very stripped-down and basic, and I think it touches people in a very unique way. People have written me extraordinarily intimate things. One woman wrote me to say that listening to some books I’d recorded helped her get through a divorce. Another woman wrote me to say that as she was preparing for a gallery show--she’s a painter--she was listening to my books, and now when she looks at the paintings, she sees and hears my voice in them, which I thought was extraordinary, that she’d taken my work and put it into her work, and they’d sort of fused together in her mind. And you get a lot of these responses from people, and then, as the narrator, you feel this greater responsibility. And so it has actually changed my approach over the years-- it has become a much more personal and intimate thing for me as well.
What helps you achieve an emotional connection to a book and the characters?
I’ve always said that the narrator is first in service to the author and the book. We’re coming at it after it has been written, and so we’re coming at it to now present it in a new form to listeners. Over the years, as I’ve started to understand that a lot of people are listening and not reading (we can have that debate whether listening is reading another time!), it made me realize the gravity of it all, and it’s helped me connect to material more. It’s just sort of opened it up more and allowed me to get deeper into it in a way that I haven’t previously.
Edoardo Ballerini, who has been acting professionally for many years, came to audiobook narration only about two years ago. Since then, he’s won four AudioFile Earphones Awards. The silky-voiced Ballerini has a literary background and does mostly character work on stage. “Audiobooks seemed like a natural fit for me,” he says. When he recorded his first audiobook, he says he felt an awesome responsibility. “I had to create an entire world for the listener and had only one tool at my disposal--my voice. Getting listeners to believe in the story, getting them to see the scene and know the characters, and doing it with just my voice and their imagination--it’s magical. It’s the art of entertainment distilled into one of its purest forms.”
After attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Ballerini got a scholarship to study Latin in Rome. At first, he was content to pursue his academic studies but soon found it too solitary. “I wanted to leave the isolation of academia and do something different, something more collaborative.” Boredom led him to an American theater company in Rome, and by the time he returned to the States, he was committed to acting. After studying his craft and working successfully in the profession, Ballerini, who is fluent in Italian, recorded a language audio program for producer Paul Ruben. Years later, he met Ruben again and mentioned his interest in audiobooks--he auditioned and was hired.”
Ballerini enjoys recording books of different styles. “I selfishly enjoy nonfiction because I feel as if I’m getting an education at the same time.” Last year, he received an Earphones Award for his recording of Stephen Greenblatt’s THE SWERVE: HOW THE WORLD BECAME MODERN, and he just finished recording VENICE: A NEW HISTORY by Thomas F. Madden. About recording nonfiction he says, “It’s my job to animate the material in as much of a storytelling way as possible.” He tries to make his delivery as conversational as the text allows.
Ballerini finds recording fiction especially satisfying because he can create a variety of characters and make use of his wide range of accents. Jess Walter’s BEAUTIFUL RUINS posed his greatest single recording challenge to date. “Richard Burton, the man himself, has a cameo appearance in the book. This is a larger-than-life figure, a person everybody knows, and suddenly I have to play him!” Knowing he couldn’t imitate the famous voice perfectly, he tried to find the essence of the man. “I did a little Welsh accent for him, and I got that little low growl going.” Clearly, it worked, since he earned another Earphones Award for the book. His most recent recordings include Giuseppe Di Lampedusa’s THE LEOPARD and James Patterson’s NYPD RED.
These days, Ballerini and his partner, Genevieve, find that tending Lorenzo, their 6-month-old son, keeps them pretty busy. With a smile in that charming voice, Ballerini tells us, “He’s just reaching that age where he’s starting to be fun.” Lucky Lorenzo. He doesn’t realize yet what treat he has in store when his award-winning dad starts reading those bedtime stories just for him! --S.J. Henschel
Photo by Timothi Graham
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