In perfect harmony: Il Divo talk ahead of Birmingham concert
They are one of the world’s greatest vocal quartets. Il Divo are the multi-national crossover classical group who originated in the UK in 2003 and have taken the world by storm.
And now they’re back on the road with a greatest hits tour, Timeless, that reaches Birmingham’s Arena on Saturday.
The group features singers Urs Bühler (Switzerland), Carlos Marín (Spain), David Miller (USA), and Sébastien Izambard (France) and was created and promoted by reality TV svengali Simon Cowell.
They have sold more than 30 million records, including Il Divo (2004), Ancora (2005), Siempre (2006), The Promise (2008), Wicked Game (2011), A Musical Affair (2013), Amor & Pasión (2015) and Timeless (2018).
The band have secured 160 certified gold platinum hits in 35 countries and is regarded as the pioneer of operatic pop.
Though the band have been on the road for many years, they still clearly remember how they get together.
Carlos says: “I was doing La Boheme the night before the audition and my manager at that time told me they were looking for singers to record a cross-over project. The next day I went to the audition and they gave me a number and told me to wait in line. I sung Vien Leonora from La Favorita and The Impossible Dream. After the audition they asked me if I would like to be part of a band and I replied ‘no, no, nah. I’m a solo singer’, and I left.
“Sometime after, Simon Cowell called me himself, I didn’t know who he was. He invited me to London and I went and listened to the music. Even then I said no, but my family convinced me, saying ‘come on Carlos don’t be stupid, you are getting bored of the opera scene’. So I finally said yes and I don’t regret it.”
Sébastien adds: “I heard about the band through Carlos. While I was waiting to audition,I could overhear David (one of the other members) singing some opera. I’m a pop singer, so I didn’t think I was in the right spot, obviously. Anyway, When my turn came I played the song “Caruso” and it was fun. A trusted employee from Simon Cowell was there and showed immediate interest in hiring me.”
Urs says: “I was singing in a production of Samson at the Deutch Opera and there was a counter-tenor in the ensemble, his girlfriend was Carlos manager’s secretary. He had heard about ll Divo project and thought it was a good idea for me to audition for it.
“After hearing my demo, they invited me to London. The audition was in the Sony music building, right in Simon Cowell’s office. He made me listen to some pop songs and told me what he wanted me to do. I said to him, ‘I’m a classical singer. I’ll do it if you pay me but I don’t think that’s going to take us anywhere, because it’s just not right’. Then I sang Una Furtiva Lacrima. It was a very unusual situation. Simon’s office was quite small and he had no piano or instrument to accompany me, so I had to sing over a karaoke accompaniment played on a cellphone.
“He called me after and told me they where interested. I was freelancing, so I though this was good work. It could potentially pay well compared to opera. The plan was to just go into the studio and record an album, and that’s it. There was no contract for seven years or anything like that.”
The singers have had to adapt to sing pop classics, rather than conventional operatic pieces.
Urs adds: “Actually I think it would be easier to just go and sing an opera, because you can guide your voice the same way throughout the show. However singing in Il Divo requires a great amount of flexibility and variety in the way you treat your voice.
“Let’s take for example our interpretation Adele’s song: Hello. It doesn’t make artistic sense to begin the song with a full operatic lyric voice. You have to tone that down and give a little bit of air in the voice. It’s just a different technique, with the rare exception, you never use air in opera.”