A decade and a half after reality TV judge and mega-producer Simon Cowell brought Urs Buhler (from Switzerland), Sebastien Izambard (France), Carlos Marin (Spain) and David Miller (U.S.) together to form Il Divo, the four piece multi-national vocal group remains one of the millennium’s great musical phenomena. With over 30 million albums sold and 160 certified gold and platinum hits in 35 different countries, the quartet pioneered the genre of operatic pop, or “popera,” in classical crossover music. In 2006, the Guinness World Records listed them as the most commercially successful classical crossover group in international music history.
When Il Divo’s latest album Timeless, their first on Decca Gold, debuted #1 on the Billboard Classical Albums chart, it marked their 8th collection to reach the pole position on that list, starting with their self-titled debut in 2004. This collection, featuring a classic mix of favorite pop and traditional standards in four languages, marks the first time that the group’s members have executive produced one of their recordings and curated the song selections. “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,” Carlos says.
The quartet’s Timeless world tour hit the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood during the holiday season, but they wisely left their ample Christmas repertoire out of the mix and stuck to celebrating Timeless - and the impeccable harmonic transcendence they bring to the most familiar of pop songs that take them to levels we never previously could have imagined. Though they render some classics (like “Unforgettable”) in English, part of the magic of the experience is to hear the English words of these tunes in your head as the guys alternate leads, then soar together on choruses and crescendos in Latin based languages.
The first of these were sweeping Spanish versions of Adele’s “Hello” (the album’s lead single) and Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting,” which they performed after a soaring overture that introduced the show’s small string section and a cool film nourish video scrapbook introducing the four vocalists. Hearing songs like these, or Robbie Williams’ towering “Angels,” in Spanish, and others like “The Way We Were” in French and “Love Story” in Italian allowed everyone to feel pure, empowering emotion of these timeless songs without words getting in the way. When they later performed. As captivating as they were, their later renderings of classics like “Love Me Tender” and “Smile” seemed a bit grounded and spiritually limited by comparison.
Though it was clear that the capacity crowd came to hear the romantic hits from across the decades re-imagined, Il Divo added some deeper true operatic textures that balanced the set – including a gorgeous swirling romp through Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote (from The Magic Flute opera) by Urs and a stunning take on the aria “Vesti la giubba” by David. These moments reminded everyone that Simon Cowell assembled his “popera” group from true veteran talents with deep classical backgrounds. Sebastian also offered a spirited rock element in performing his high energy solo hit “Kingdom Come.”
The quartet made the most of the stage and it’s risers on either side, often starting songs on opposite sides of the stage before coming together to heighten the drama. They also bantered with wit and whimsy, and expressed repeated appreciation for their fans and their participation on a most extraordinary musical and global journey.
The dynamic production also included some feisty choreography by a troupe of exotic dancers (male and female), whose kinetic magic came to full fruition on two burning, brass fired Latin numbers late in the second act, including a pumped up Spanish (naturally!) version of “Unbreak My Heart.” Two later group vocal highlights were a spiritually transporting twist on “Somewhere” (this time, the English was just the ticket to a heart being set free to dream) and a swaggering encore of “My Way.”