Operatic pop singing group
The operatic pop group Il Divo is known for singing popular songs in a classically inspired, operatic manner; by 2006, two years after their formation, they had sold over 13 million albums.
"Using an Opera Voice, Not Opera Music"
Il Divo was formed in 2004 after promoter Simon Cowell, best known as a judge on the television talent show American Idol, heard operatic singers Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing the duet "Con te partiro," and noted their popularity with the audience. Cowell saw that audiences were eager to hear this style of popular operatic singing, and he decided to create a multinational quartet of male singers who combined a powerful operatic singing style with handsome good looks, a combination he felt was sure to succeed.
Cowell held auditions of singers throughout the world from 2001 through 2003, and finally chose four men. Urs Bühler, a tenor, began singing as a teenager with a hard rock band called Conspiracy in his home town of Luzern, Switzerland. He studied voice at the Amsterdam Conservatory with Udo Reinemann, and later studied opera with Swedish tenor Gosta Winbergh and French tenor Christian Papis. Carlos Marin, a Spanish baritone, was a star with the Madrid opera, and had sung in productions such as La Traviata and La Boheme for over a decade. France's Sebastien Izambard was a pop singer before joining Il Divo. The only self-taught singer in the group, he also played the piano and guitar. American David Miller, also a tenor, earned a bachelor's degree in vocal performance and a master's degree in opera theatre from the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Miller told Mary Awosika in the Herald Tribune that when he was called to the audition, he didn't really know what he was in for. "Being from the opera world," he said, "the rule is, you get an audition, take it." He didn't know Simon Cowell was involved, or what kind of music he would be singing: "I just knew it was using an opera voice, not using opera music." Miller was initially concerned about the reception the group might receive from the classical and opera community. He thought their stage persona—four extremely good-looking men, dressed in identical Armani suits, along with their operatic versions of pop songs—might make them seem less serious.
Cowell chose the name Il Divo for the group because it meant "divine male singer" in Italian: a male version of the female term "diva." The group, which sings in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Latin, began recording in early 2004 in Sweden, two days after the members met each other for the first time. Their self-titled debut album included Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart," sung in Spanish as "Regresa a Mi," Frank Sinatra's "My Way," Ennio Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe," and "Passera." Il Divo introduced the album on The Oprah Winfrey Show in April of 2005, and the album reached number one in sales on both Amazon. com and BarnesandNoble.com. It also hit number one on the charts in the UK, Canada, Netherlands, Argentina, Australia, Mexico, Sweden, and Finland, and was in the Top 5 in 25 countries, including the United States.
The members' different backgrounds initially caused some cross-cultural misunderstandings. Izambard told Eoin Cameron in ABC that at first they had some difficulties communicating, but after a year together they had ironed them out: "We just have to have, you know, eye contact, and we understand totally each other now, so the issues with culture and language, really it's finished."
In 2005 Il Divo released Ancora, which was recorded in Sweden and London. The album hit number one in the United Kingdom and Australia within a week of its release, and became even more successful worldwide than its predecessor. When it was released in the United States in January of 2006, it sold more than 150,000 albums in the first week and started out at the number one Billboard album slot.
After releasing the album, the group embarked on a six-month world tour. In that same year Il Divo released The Christmas Collection, which hit number 14 in the United States and number one in Canada.
In 2006 they released Siempre, and then opened for Barbra Streisand on her 20-concert North American tour in 2006. The Streisand tour was the second-bestselling tour of 2006, with $92.5 million in gross sales. Siempre featured ten tracks of cover and original tunes, most of which had a Latin flavor; nine of them were sung in either Spanish or Italian. In Rocknworld Sherrill Fulghum wrote, "Siempre is a masterful job from this international phenomenon."
Il Divo also performed the song "Time of Our Lives" with R&B singer Toni Braxton at the FIFA World Cup of soccer in 2006; they sang the song at halftime of the opening game as well as at the closing ceremony.
Although Il Divo has been successful with the public at large, some fans of classical music have not been pleased with the group's "crossover" format. In the Washington Post, opera lover Daniel Ginsberg described the quartet as "quick to hijack the accoutrements of opera but possessing none of the tonal splendor and precision essential to the art." He added that they "took the substance of a rich, beautiful genre and turned it inside out, leaving you with a bitter aftertaste." However, he also acknowledged that at a concert he attended "the swooning audience lapped up every minute of all this. Young and old alike swarmed the stage for autographs and handshakes." And in BBC, Rebecca Hobbs wrote that the group's crossover format "is a formula that has obviously filled a gap in the market."
For the Record …
Members include: Urs Bühler , tenor; Sebastien Izambard , vox populi; Carlos Marin , baritone; and David Miller , tenor.
Formed in 2004; released Il Divo, 2004; Ancora, 2005; The Christmas Collection, 2005; Siempre, 2006.
Addresses: Record company—RCA Record company Group UK, Bedford House, 69-79 Fulham High St., London SW6 3JW, U.K.
Miller told Awosika that the group worked very hard on their performances: "People think it looks easy, but we go through hell over every single song." He added that he was grateful for the opportunity to be a member of the group: "I have the opportunity to learn so much right now. I'm not going to waste that."
Il Divo, BMG, 2004.
Ancora, BMG, 2005.
The Christmas Collection, BMG, 2005.
Siempre, BMG, 2006.
Rossi, Allegra, Romancing the World (unauthorized biography of Il Divo), Orion, 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, July 22, 2005, p. 78; December 1, 2006, p. 82.
"Il Divo," Herald Tribune, June 16, 2006, http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pcbs.dll/article?AID=/20060616/FEATURES/606160368?-1/FEATURES21 (February 9, 2007).
Il Divo Official Website: http://www.ildivo.com (January 30, 2007).
"Il Divo: Siempre Review," Rocknworld,http://www.rocknworld.com/features/06/IlDivo.shtml (February 9, 2007).
"Il Divo: Simon Says Opera, But the Ear Says Awful," Washington Post, February 5, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/04/AR2006020401231.html (February 9, 2007).
"Il Divo Singer Talks," ABC, March 31, 2005, http://www.abc.net.au/perth/stories/s1335204.htm (February 9, 2007).
"Review: Il Divo at Kedleston Hall," BBC, July 27, 2006, http://www.bbc.co.uk/derby/content/articles/2006/07/27/il_divo_kedleston_review_hobbs_feature.shtml (February 9, 2007).
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