Pop opera group
Music fans seduced by both operatic vocals and pop music might find a happy marriage in the work of Amici Forever, the world's first self-described "original opera band." In its short history, the pop opera quintet-turned-quartet has attained major chart success and mixed reviews in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
Spawned in 2002 by New Zealand-born founder Geoff Sewell, Amici Forever ("amici" means "friends" in Italian) mixes operatic training with a pop sensibility and a dressed-down, more relaxed stage performance. The owner of an entertainment business, Sewell reportedly noticed "a gap in the market" that could be filled by a quintet singing a full range of sounds, from bass to soprano. The group performs slightly reworked opera classics, with their vocals backed by electronica and contemporary pop sounds.
"Like 'military intelligence' or 'jumbo shrimp,' the phrase 'pop opera' may strike some as an oxymoron. But the five singers who make up Amici Forever, a London-based international group that calls itself 'the world's first opera band,' are aiming to be more MTV than PBS," stated the New York Times, shortly after the group's debut album The Opera Band was released in early 2004.
The two tenors, two sopranos and one bass baritone, who originally crossed paths while pursuing their various performances, discovered a common interest both in opera and pop. The new group had an instant audience of millions, performing the national anthem at the Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup) Final and singing at Britain's major rugby union. The producer of The Opera Band was Nick Patrick, known for his work with artists like Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, and Gipsy Kings. The album was nominated for Best Album of the Year at the Classical Brit Awards.
Often praised for their looks as well as their voices, the group found significant commercial success in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. They also garnered fans in the United States and a number two slot on Billboard's classical crossover album chart. According to the group's website, three members of the group have fairly extensive opera credentials, and all have had voice training and onstage experience. All members are in their late twenties or early thirties.
Tenor Geoff Sewell has performed in London's West End, sung with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and appeared at numerous celebrity events worldwide. A boy soprano in school choirs, music was always a passion for him. He improved his singing voice further through coaching by New Zealand opera singer Geoffrey de la Tours. He earned a bachelor of commerce degree in New Zealand, but the sudden death of his sister and a subsequent trip to Graceland (the famous home of his childhood hero Elvis Presley), changed his course and led him to pursue music professionally. Following studies at the Boston Conservatory, he moved to London to start an entertainment company.
Soprano Jo Appleby of Blackpool, England, first studied ballet and opera, passing through the Royal Northern College of Music before beginning an opera career that took her to celebrated venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. Before joining the band, she worked with several British opera companies and performed with the Touring Opera Company and the Glyndebourne Festival.
London-born bass baritone Nick Garrett has taken on more than 30 major opera roles, performing at such leading venues as the English National Opera, Opera National de Paris, the Scottish Opera, and the Royal Opera House. Teaching himself to play the piano at age seven, he went on to study singing, piano and composition at the Trinity College of Music. He once performed in a vocal ensemble called The Swingle Singers. Garrett left the group in 2005.
Tenor David Habbin of Ringwood, England, spent several years writing for and performing with rock and pop bands, something he combined with vocal training with operatic tenor Jon Andrews. He studied acting and music theater at North London's Mountview Theatre School, and undertook additional operatic training at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music. He went on to perform in Les Miserables, in a British revival of West Side Story, and in a British feature film. He went on to perform with various British opera companies.
South African soprano Tsakane Valentine was raised in the South African a capella choral tradition. She has performed with Cape Town's Spier Opera Company, in the lead role in West Side Story, and has participated in several other productions. Valentine studied music at Pretoria University, followed by operatic training at the University of Tshwane.
"The word synergy really sums us up," Sewell told the St. Petersburg Times. The sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. If any one of us is missing or if any one of us is sort of not on form, then it affects all of us. With Amici Forever, you've got the wide range of music that we can do because you've got the tenor, the sopranos, and you've got the bass baritone."
For the Record …
Members include Jo Appleby (born on April 7, 1975, in Blackpool, England), soprano; Nick Garrett, (born in London, England; left group, 2005), bass baritone; David Habbin (born on October 14, 1973, in Ringwood, England), tenor; Geoff Sewell (born on March 13, 1972, in New Zealand), tenor; Tsakana Valentine (born on February 14, 1979, in Johannesburg, South Africa), soprano.
Group formed in England in 2002; released debut album The Opera Band on RCA, 2004; released Defined on RCA Victor, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—RCA Victor, http://www.rcavictor.com/index.jsp. Booking—Sensible Events, 90-96 Brewery Rd., London N7 9NT, United Kingdom. Website—Amici Forever Official Website: http://www.amiciforever.com/.
The group's second album, Defined (2005), received mixed reviews. "Listeners have a collection of overblown arrangements sung by young people who, while physically attractive, are at best modestly talented as singers," according to the Sarasota Herald Tribune. "Calling this stuff 'crossover' doesn't really do it justice…. To say that this treatment robs the music of its original intent would be an understatement."
"Our reason for being is not to reproduce opera standards," Habbin told the Boston Herald. "We try to find (classical) pieces that haven't been treated vocally in the crossover rep before … and [also find] a new vocal slant on some established, well-known popular tunes."
The Opera Band, RCA, 2004
Defined, RCA Victor, 2005.
Boston Herald, September 12, 2005.
Independent (London, England), May 27, 2004.
New York Times, February 2, 2004.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, June 28, 2005.
St. Petersburg Times, January 31, 2005.
"Amici Forever," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (September 12, 2002).
Amici Forever Official Website, http://www.amiciforever.com (September 12, 2005).
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