These boys just want to have fun

June 28, 2006|By FRED SHUSTER | FRED SHUSTER,LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

"We're not divos!"

David Miller, the lone American in the internationally popular classical crossover quartet Il Divo, stops short of insisting the poperatic boy band with the GQ looks is made up of just ordinary fellas with diva complexes. But he does want it known that none of his fellow Armani-clad fly guys throws tantrums backstage just because the caviar may not be fresh off the boat from the Caspian Sea.

In the world of Il Divo - Italian for "divine male performer" - there's plenty of top-quality caviar to go around.

"We're having fun," Miller said, "but this is a serious endeavor. We have to be at our very best at all times. Nobody wants to see an Il Divo in disrepair."

So far, so good. Il Divo, a United Nations of romantic fantasy comprising French pop singer Sebastien Izambard, Swiss tenor Urs Buhler, Spanish baritone Carlos Marin and classically trained tenor Miller is doing so well, the ensemble has been added to Barbra Streisand's 20-date charity tour this fall (which arrives at Verizon Center in Washington Oct. 13).

Il Divo was formed three years ago with the help of American Idol judge Simon Cowell, who discovered each member after a two-year talent search.

To ensure a global market, the group sings in Italian, French, Spanish, Latin and English with a particular fondness for retooling today's pop hits as dramatic, pseudo-operatic pieces. During Il Divo's current tour, the group performs among other numbers, "My Way," "All by Myself" and "Unbreak My Heart" administered in soaring Italian. Young British singer Katie Melua opens the shows.

Predictably, there's much gnashing of teeth from critics, neatly drowned out by the near-religious fervor of fans, most of whom are middle-age females. A quick survey of cyberspace commentary from fanciers of the divine Divo ranges from "hot and gorgeous in the extreme" (Venezuela) to "so good, I can hear them night and day" (the Netherlands).

Success came fast, but, Miller said, nothing was guaranteed. At first, the idea of four guys from different parts of the world singing operatic pop music seemed like the climax of Tosca accidentally played out in Act 1.

Critics dismiss the ensemble as cheesy, overwrought, preoccupied with their own looks and completely inauthentic as opera singers. Miller says that last part is comparing apples to Enya.

"We don't go around telling people we sing opera," Miller said. "We're singing in that style, but the material is plainly pop music. We hope there are people who hear us and are moved to attend an opera or listen to [Russian soprano] Anna Netrebko. But we're operating in a different world. It's a blending of vocal techniques. We are each good singers."

While Il Divo - which has issued three albums, including a Christmas set and a DVD - currently owns the classical crossover domain, Billboard's sales chart for the genre is positively polymorphous. The list takes in Bocelli, Brightman, the soundtracks to The Da Vinci Code, Memoirs of a Geisha, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and Pride & Prejudice, and offerings from the Irish Tenors and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

"The category brings together a lot of different music for people who are open-minded about what they like," Miller said. "And there are a lot of people who appreciate it. Look at it this way: We're reaching millions of people with music that has elements of classical music. When was the last time pure opera had a worldwide hit?"

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