When the phenomenon that is Il Divo were honoured at the Classic Brits at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year, their Artist of the Decade award attested to the unrivalled success the four have enjoyed since they first announced themselves to the world with their self-titled, multiplatinum debut album in 2004. Further No 1 albums followed ¬‘Ancora’, ‘Siempre’ and ‘The Promise’ ¬ and at every stage, Il Divo remained true to their artistic mission: to share with the world their passion for music, and their passionate belief in it as a unifying force.
The record-breaking classical crossover quartet ¬the Swiss tenor Urs Buhler, baritone Carlos Marin from Spain, the French pop artist Sebastien Izambard and tenor David Miller from the USA first came together in 2003, the culmination of an exhaustive search by the music producer Simon Cowell to find four singers of distinctive individual gifts who could, as a group, create musical magic.
In the six years that have followed their astonishing breakthrough, Il Divo have continued to grow as recording artists and performers, and their millions of fans the world over have joined them on that journey.
With more than 25 million album sales, 150 gold and platinum discs, over 2 million concert tickets sold and the only crossover classical album ¬ ‘Ancora’ ¬ever to enter the US Billboard Top 200 at No 1, Il Divo could be forgiven for resting on their laurels. But that has never been their way. “We’re constantly trying to push things upwards,” Urs emphasises, “to a different level. Whenever we do something new, we want to do it better. And we’re still managing to do that, which fills me with great satisfaction.” The new album is, he says, “much more serious, more mature. Since we started, there have been so many people out there trying to do what we do. So we needed to change, or it’s no longer interesting for us, or for the audience.”
Now, in keeping with Il Divo’s determination to embrace new artistic challenges, the journey is set to take another turn. Carlos, David, Sebastien and Urs have spent the past 18 months in the recording studio, working on an album ¬due for release in November ¬that will write another chapter in their extraordinary story. As Sebastien puts it, all four of them asked themselves before the sessions began, “How can we improve this? It was a case of trying to think of Il Divo as a new project. It’s been a big investment for all of us, in terms of time, and passion, and creativity.”
Carlos describes the process of recording the new album as “unbelievable ¬you can really hear the evolution. And that connection between us, the way that the combination produces the magic, it’s stronger than ever.” Urs offers a hint of what we can expect, musically and conceptually, from the new record, which features a dramatic and unforgettable reworking of Chris Isaak’s 1989 hit ‘Wicked Game’ and a startling beautiful version of the Roy Orbison classic, ‘Crying.’ “We’ve recorded an adaptation of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings,” he reveals, “with a new chorus. It sounds incredibly dramatic. The whole album is like that: we’ve devised material that is rooted in pieces of classical string and piano music: for instance, another new song is based on Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata. Harmonically, that is bound to be more interesting.”
When they first emerged, Il Divo posed a problem for those who cannot feel content until they have found a pigeonhole in which to put something. How, they wondered, could Il Divo’s music be described? Was it opera? Pop-opera? Musical theatre? But attempting to pigeonhole Il Divo has always been a fool’s game ¬ and trying to do so misses the point of what they do, and the different gifts they each bring to the table, fundamentally. Urs’s background in both classical voice training and his time, as a teenager, in a heavy metal band (he is still a passionate guitarist to this day); Sebastien’s grounding in pop ¬prior to Il Divo, he had topped the French singles charts ¬and his continued dedication to and immersion in that genre, and, latterly, acting; Carlos’s very nearly lifelong passion for musical theatre and bel canto (he had made two albums before he was 10); David’s intensive training in opera, and his later work in both opera and musical theatre, including a starring role in Baz Luhrmann’s La Boheme on Broadway: even a superficial knowledge of their backgrounds tells you that Il Divo offer a rare degree of variety, experience, dedication and expertise.
As David sees it, human beings respond to music on an emotional level ¬ and they’re more likely to be swept away by that music than get hung up about how to label it. On Il Divo’s new album, he says, the four singers “use classical techniques, certainly. And, more importantly, we definitely veer in a cinematic, dramatic direction, which is much more towards the operatic.” But that doesn’t make their music only opera, only pop, only anything, David adds. Instead, Il Divo are about “communication, emotion ¬ and passion”. In any case, laughs Urs, “Blurring the boundaries upsets the purists, but that’s a good thing to do.”
All four are intensely excited about the new album, and raring to go. And all four never forget the love and loyalty their fans continue to show them. “That’s the biggest achievement,” says Sebastien, “bigger than any award: seeing all the fans out there. And they are still there, six years on.” For David, what sets Il Divo apart is “the range of colours that the four of our voices has”. It is this ¬the emotion, beauty and power those voices, those “colours”, communicate ¬and the fact that the group never stand still, which explains why Il Divo and their fans continue on the journey together, he believes. The new album will, Urs says, delight their fans as much as it has them. “We think it¹s the best thing we’ve ever done,” he beams proudly. They can’t wait to get back to work, then? The word seems to bother Carlos. “This isn’t work,” he smiles. “It’s a passion.”