Il Divo: Simon Says Opera, but the Ear Says Awful

"Feelings," no, no, no: From left, David Miller, Carlos Marin, Sebastien Izambard and Urs Buhler of Il Divo perform in New York last month. (By Paul Hawthorne -- Getty Images)
By Daniel Ginsberg
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Il Divo, the vocal quartet whose new album, "Ancora," sailed to the top of the pop charts last week, says it sings popular songs in a classically inspired operatic manner.

If only.

The group's sold-out concert Friday at DAR Constitution Hall showed the group quick to hijack the accouterments of opera but possessing none of the tonal splendor and precision essential to the art. The concert was a schlocky, cloying and highly contrived display with an unvaried sound and stage act that could make any music lover turn away in embarrassment.

This collection of pretenders is the creation of the insulting "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell, an impresario whose previous credits include promoting WWF superstars and such insipid "reality" shows as the short-lived "Cupid." Seeing the success of proto-opera crossover singer Andrea Bocelli, Cowell schemed up the idea of gathering a bunch of handsome and youthful mini-Bocellis. To the blind Italian singer's lonely lovelorn stage persona, Il Divo puts on a "We are so suave, we just love you" act that unabashedly feeds cartoonlike and debasing national stereotypes.

The quartet played to the audience with blatantly choreographed smiles and backslaps. The American tenor David Miller came off as clean cut and earnest, while the French pop singer Sebastien Izambard slathered on his mysterious je ne sais quoi quality. Spanish baritone Carlos Marin, who seemed so in love with his deep voice that he would hug and caress it all day if he could, was the comely Mediterranean Man. And then there was good-looking, long-haired Swiss tenor Urs Buhler.

Besides the tuxedos, about the only things that called opera to mind were the fake-marble columns and stage, an attempt to evoke classical elegance and symmetry. A traditional orchestra off to one side of the stage struggled to be heard against the thwacks and warbles of the electric guitar and drum-laden band on the other side. Cowell's clangorous gang seemed to think that performing music in a romance language actually makes it more artful.

The quartet sang numbers like "All by Myself" and "Feelings" with amplification (an opera no-no), showing little breath support, vocal purity or character. In the mid-ranges, the singers' voices were grainy and lusterless and sounded merely loud at the upper reaches. Miller was the only one who at times even mustered a little golden tone. The musical scoring was monotonous, with each singer predictably taking a couple lines on his own before they all sang a grand climax at full throttle.

The swooning audience lapped up every minute of all this. Young and old alike swarmed the stage for autographs and handshakes in the closing sets, and one member of the audience threw purple thong underwear at the performers.

The concert highlighted the dangers of the whole idea of crossover music, the well-intentioned genre meant to bring listeners into the classical music realm and vice versa. After these two hours, a newcomer would still find an opera performance completely foreign. Il Divo took the substance of a rich, beautiful genre and turned it inside out, leaving you with a bitter aftertaste.

Il Divo? Quattro formaggi .

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