Sometimes an arranged “marriage” can turn out to be incredibly harmonious and long-lasting.
Such is the case with the singing group Il Divo, who will be appearing in the Pearl Theater at the Palms on Friday, March 15th, the members of which never laid eyes on each other until they were discovered and brought together by Simon Cowell a decade-and-a-half ago. In fact, now celebrating their 15th anniversary with their six-continent Timeless tour. named for their latest album, Spain’s Carlos Marin, Switzerland’s Urs Buhler, France’s Sebastien Izambard and America’s David Miller never met until the day Cowell threw them all into the recording studio. And while there’s no denying that it took a period of adjustment, they have been making beautiful music together ever since.
“Simon was looking to create a multi-national group with voices reminiscent of the Three Tenors,” Miller recalls. “Initially, he wanted to do a TV show around the idea of how to start a band. He wanted to bring together people with raw talent but who were already working. So he held auditions. Carlos came but nearly walked out. As an opera singer gets to a certain facility in his career, he is not willing to be treated like cattle. It was Carlos who told Simon that he wasn’t going to find the kind of voices he wanted on a TV call and that he would have to go through opera agencies.
“Once he found the four of us, Simon put us in the small recording studio together and gave us a list of songs he liked and asked us what we were going to do with them,” he continues. “It was trial and error in the beginning. We all had different personalities and musical sensibilities as well as there being cultural and language differences. We all had different ideas of what would make a song work. We were like four separate circles trying to come up with a small section where we all intersected. But if we liked what we did with a song, nine times out of ten, Simon liked it.”
With Izanbard having been a pop singer in France; Marin having performed everything from opera to the early music of Bach, and Mozart; Buhler having started his career as an idol of rock, and Miller being a singer in the grand opera tradition, it took two months for the group to really get together what Simon wanted, which was the sound and feel of harmonies with Italian- reminiscent sonorities.
“It happened with the Toni Braxton song, ‘Unbreak My Heart,’” Miller remembers. “We all had a frame of reference to it having heard it so many times on the radio and singing along to it in the car. Each of us recorded the song from front to back. The producer layered it on and gave it to Simon. It gave us goosebumps. No one is the lead singer; we are all the lead singers. We created our own unique sonority. It is its own thing. We call it Classical Crossover.
“We each had to learn how to blend our voice with the others because each one of our voices moves in and out of different modalities,” he adds. “A song begins in one place and ends in another – it begins intimately and ends with a big finale. We had to figure out each one’s version of intimacy as well as of a big vocalization in the finale along with what comes in between. Fifty percent of my voice is being used in a way I never used it before. I had to learn how to whisper and find that intimacy and still project. Sebastien had to learn the opposite. Each of us has to project.”
A couple of years ago, Il Divo was due to renegotiate their contract with Simon and Sony Records. Miller explains that both entities had run out of creative ideas for the group and, in fact, Simon claimed that he had run out of ideas after the group’s third album, having given them all of his favorite songs. So, Il Divo was let out of their contract very amicably and were given the rights to their name and their material. With that came the recording of 2018’s “Timeless,” their first album for Decca Gold.
The songs are a classic mix of favorite pop and traditional standards in four languages including “Hola,” “Love Me Tender,” “What A Wonderful World,’ “Smile,” “All Of Me,” and “The Way We Were.” As Carlos Marin explains, “We chose songs that have a timeless quality, many of which were part of classic movies, including ‘Smile,’ which was in Charlie Chaplin’s film, ‘Modern Times,’ in 1936 and was a song for which Chaplin composed the music.”
“’Timeless’ was monumental for us,” explains Miller. “It was our first attempt at executive self-producing an album. We moved out of being a big part of a cog in the wheel to designing the wheel. Now besides being four different interpreters of a song, we were now four captains of a boat trying to steer it in the right direction. Plus, we all had our own money in it. We chose the songs by a democratic process and took it one step at a time, making sure that the quality of the recording was the same as when we were just singers. We were our own judge and jury and we actually used the tour as a massive ore-sale for the album before it was released.”
IL Divo has evolved into the pre-eminent tenor powerhouse vocal group with over 30 million albums sold, 160 gold and platinum albums in 33 countries to their credit and were the first Classical Crossover artists to have an album debut at #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. Because they sing in Italian, French, Spanish and English, both on their albums and in their live performances, Miller believes that audiences can disengage and let the melody of a song speak to them, allowing them to have an emotional experience. The Timeless tour also features a dramatic and evocative production that includes dancers, acrobats and video elements
“People are so into the mental in our digital age,” he sums up. “Our music disengages that and allows them to breathe. “I think that’s what people are looking for.”
Yes, marriage can sometimes can be murder but in “Il Divo’s case, the end result is that the only thing they end up “killing” is the crowd – harmoniously, of course.