With Il Divo heading to Birmingham in the new year, Andy Coleman catches up with David Miller.
Opera singer David Miller is helping break down the barriers between pop and classical musical.
As one quarter of Il Divo, who perform at Birmingham LG Arena at the NEC on February 24, the American tenor has toured the world twice and sold over 22 million records.
Before being invited to join the quartet by the man behind the project, Simon Cowell, David was a successful opera star, taking the lead tenor role in 35 productions including the Magic Flute and La Boheme.
But now he’s merging pop and classical by putting an operatic slant on songs like Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power Of Love and ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All.
‘‘People have built up a barrier against opera because of the way it’s portrayed in the media and on commercials,’’ claims 35-year-old David who is joined in Il Divo by Spaniard Carlos Marin, Frenchman Sebastien Izambard and Urs Buhler who hails from Switzerland.
‘‘They have a thing against opera even if they don’t realise it. We don’t sing opera, we sing pop songs, but we make the operatic voice more accessible. People who see and hear us realise it’s not quite so scary and we’re not wearing horns on our head or carrying spears. It’s really about the beauty of the music and the voice.
‘‘For that, I’ve got much kudos from my operatic circle.’’
He adds, however, that one or two still have their doubts.
‘‘Two month ago I was in Italy and saw an old teacher of mine who was a soprano in the ‘50s. She told me ‘You have to come back – we miss you in the opera!’
‘‘It was cute but she applauds the success I’m having and being able to reach a larger audience.’’
David says that with music there is nothing new under the sun. In the 21st century record companies worry about hit tunes being leaked onto the internet – and things weren’t so different more than a hundred years ago.
‘‘When classical music was new, before the first performance of Rigoletto they had to keep secret La donna è mobile, the tenor’s aria. They weren’t allowed to practice it until the last day of the last rehearsal as they were afraid it would get out and spoil the surprise. After the first performance everyone was going around saying ‘Oh, my God, have you heard this new song? It’s the greatest thing ever.’
‘‘A bit like Britney Spears today!
‘‘The point is, music touches people and people have an emotional response to music, whether it’s opera or pop.’’
It was this theory that led to the formation of Il Divo five years ago. Mr X Factor Simon Cowell spotted a gap in the market for a crossover act.
Extensive auditions discovered three classical singers – David, Carlos and Urs – and one pop performer, Sebastien.
‘‘Simon basically said ‘I want you guys as professionals to do what I can’t do, I don’t know anything about classical music.’ That’s why he chose people who already had careers rather than young, possibly talented, people in an X Factor-type situation.’’
Things initially didn’t go smoothly, David reveals.
‘‘It was kind of a rocky start because the first couple of songs we got didn’t lend themselves to what we ended up developing as our sound. They were new songs and it wasn’t until we did a cover, Unbreak My Heart, that we went, wow, that’s new, that’s different, and we can be proud of it. We took that basic general shape and applied it to the other songs and found the Il Divo sound.’’
Their first three albums, Il Divo, Ancora and Siempre scored 36 number 1 chart positions across 26 countries. Latest album, The Promise, will be showcased on their forthcoming tour.
Selecting the songs for each record is a long process, David explains.
‘‘We all get together at the beginning of the album thought process and everyone starts scouring iTunes, trying to remember ‘what were my favourite songs that made me have an emotional response?’ The group members come in with a list of 10 songs each, our manager and assistant manager make the list up to 60 songs, Simon contributes about 40 songs, his assistant another 40 – and our wives and girlfriends make the total to around 200.
‘‘We see if there are any commonalities on the list and when that happens they immediately go on a shortlist. For the others we have listening parties, choosing the ones that we can make Il Divo songs.
‘‘The shortlist is sculptured to create an album on light and shade, ensuring there are not too many ‘obvious’ songs on one album.’’
The follow-up to The Promise is already being considered.
‘‘I’d like to take a stab at The Impossible Dream, that would be cool, and there’s a lot of the Whitney Houston repertoire that we’re looking at. Those anthemic, iconic Whitney ballads from the 80s and 90s.
‘‘Saving All My Love For You would be interesting – smack it into Spanish and add a big ending!’’