|Il Divo For Life
Geregistreerd op: 05 Jul 2010
Woonplaats: Belgium/With Seb
|Geplaatst: 31-08-2010 19:02:13 Onderwerp: Telegraph:Simon Cowell on Il Divo:classical is so snobby:'08
Pop svengali Simon Cowell tells Neil McCormick why he created the operatic crossover group Il Divo.
I have never seen anyone divest themselves of suits as quickly, and with as much palpable relief, as the four members of Il Divo. They walk into the recording studio in Chelsea looking like an upmarket version of the Reservoir Dogs, a quartet of handsome men in black Armani. Then, in a sudden whirl of activity, shirts, jackets and ties are tossed aside, and minutes later they are all flopping out on couches, dressed in jeans, jumpers, cowboy boots.
"It's like Superman getting out of the cape," jokes Frenchman Sebastian Izambard, in front of a wall that looks like a shrine to manufactured pop, adorned with gold discs by artists including Boyzone, Westlife and an array of X Factor finalists.
Il Divo are a group who go to the heart of how a certain section of the music business operates. They are effectively an operatic pop brand, invented to fill a gap in the market. They were conceived by svengali Simon Cowell after he heard classical crossover singer Andrea Bocelli on the soundtrack of The Sopranos.
"It was the combination of this big voice and really cool imagery," Cowell explains, in his enormous, minimalistically-styled office at SonyBMG. "It occurred to me that this kind of voice wasn't being made accessible to enough people, because it is a very snobby area. It was almost a rule that if you sing classical music, you have to sing songs that are 150 years old in German or Latin, and they've got to be very long and complicated. I thought, 'If you've got a great voice, why can't you sing something more popular?'?" The group were assembled by Cowell's Syco Music in 2004. "Why sit back and hope that four incredibly talented people are just going to find each other and work it all out themselves? I like to call it casting."
Apart from Izambard, a contemporary pop-rock singer-songwriter, the members of Il Divo all had successful careers in the operatic world. But, as Swiss tenor Urs Buhler explains, classical music operates on a different economic scale to the pop world. "It's a good life, artistically interesting, but it is a hard life, and you don't make much money. I was very sceptical about Il Divo, but I thought it might pay my rent for a year."
In fact, the virtuoso blending of classical technique with popular songs (usually translated into Spanish or Italian because, according to Cowell, "the classical style loses its mystique in English, and can sound very old-fashioned") has been a phenomenal success, with worldwide sales of more than 22 million. Their first three albums, Il Divo, Ancora and Siempre scored 36 number-one chart positions in 26 countries.
"You know what surprises me about the success of Il Divo?" says Izambard. "No critic likes us. They don't play us on the radio because we don't fit in. We don't have much TV. Amy Winehouse is all over TV and radio, all over the media. Everyone talks about her. But we sell more records than Amy. I think the music speaks for itself. It is more powerful than any of us imagined."
Il Divo's fourth album, The Promise, is released next week. It includes a version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's The Power of Love (retitled "La Fuerza Mayor"), and Abba's The Winner Takes It All ("Va Todo Al Ganador"), lushly orchestrated and recast in a quasi-operatic style.
Produced by Steve Mac, it follows the established Il Divo formula, which lead baritone Carlos Marin describes thus: "We imitate the pop style at the beginning of the song, then in the middle the operatic style comes out. We change the register, with the big endings, all singing together, melody, harmony, it feels like a big wave, a tsunami is arriving. It's fireworks!"
The four members of Il Divo are markedly different in ways that are almost stereotypical of their nationalities. The square-jawed Marin is all testosterone-fuelled Latin passion; Buhler is as implacably self-contained as a Swiss timepiece; Izambard is philosophical with a sensuously Gallic spirit ("I try to be a guy from the moment, to bring some rock spontaneity to Il Divo"); and David Miller is the geekish American opera buff, probably the most technically accomplished classical singer in the group. He is also, I suspect, the most conflicted by the Faustian bargain he has made with Cowell, trading high cultural credibility for popular success.
"Opera is the pinnacle of expression through the voice, of having virtuosic mastery over your own instrument," says Miller. "I guess the equivalent would be to take someone like [violinist] Itzhak Perlman and say, 'I want you to play the fiddle hoe-down at the square dance.' Yeah, he can, but is that really worth his time and talent? And the answer is: if he deems it so.
"The operatic world may look down on this and say, 'They are wasting their talent, they are dumbing down opera.' But, if they look at the broader spectrum, we are creating a gateway for a wider fanbase. If you listen to the music, really look at it for what it is, you cannot deny the quality that is there. We are bringing real voices, real lyricism, real artistry to the table."
"The snobbish side of the music industry thinks everything has to be organic," says Cowell. "My view is simply, 'Will your audience like it?' We all have our own tastes. I hate French food - I'd rather eat in a Little Chef. I might be looked down on for saying that, but that doesn't bother me.
"A lot of people like Il Divo, and so I will make the best record I possibly can for that audience. People won't buy rubbish. It only works if it's good."