Take one look at the four men in Il Divo and you’re almost guaranteed to think theirs must be a lifestyle of leisure – yachts, cognac, and lazy afternoons, occasionally interrupted by serenading some beautiful Italian ladies.
At the very least their Armani suits, dashing looks, impeccable grooming and opera training suggest a quartet of staid gentlemen who listen to Puccini in their drawing rooms.
But, in reality, American David Miller, Frenchman Sebastien Izambard, Swiss Urs Buhler, and Spaniard Carlos Marin have a slightly less refined taste in music.
“Urs listens to heavy metal, Carlos likes to listen to Tom Jones and stuff more of a classic rock ’60s, ’70s feel. Some might call it old fashioned, but since it’s really not around right now, it’s kind of retro and hip and in style, lucky for him,” jokes Miller just before the group’s show at Sun City.
“Sebastian likes to listen to pop-rock and modern stuff like Radiohead and Muse, things like that. And I listen to full-on hardhouse techno danceclub music,” says the 33-year-old tenor who starred in Baz Luhrmann’s acclaimed 2002 version of ‘La Boheme’ on Broadway.
“In our recreational listening there’s nothing about any one of us that would fit the mould of what we do in Il Divo.”
Not that they get much time for recreation. Yesterday, 23 February, was the first time since 10 January that the foursome had a day off. And it’s been a whirlwind since they started, in April 2004, after ‘Pop Idol’ mainman Simon Cowell’s three-year search for an international quartet of singers.
“I didn’t really know anything about it when I auditioned, I knew it was some kind of crossover project. But as far as an opera audition is concerned if you’re going to be making a CD, you make the recording and you kind of stick it on the shelf and they say ‘Thank you very much’. And go back to your life. Not so in this case.”
After three albums that have, all counted, sold over 17 million copies, that’s a bit of an understatement.
But the smooth-talking Miller isn’t one for hyperbole, matter-of-factly revealing that the four members met each other for the first time two days before going into the recording studio.
“They said: ‘Here are the songs, come up with something we can all be proud of’. So we put our heads together and kind of bashed it out, because all of us were coming from solo careers and we all had very individual ideas of what would make the record sound good.
“And so we had fights, we had agreements, we had disagreements, we had growing pains. And English being our common language but not everybody’s comfortable language, there were a lot of misunderstandings and misinterpretations, and it did take a while to get over that hurdle.”
The time constraints pushed them together, not apart – and the pressures continue to do so.
“We started off with a mutual respect. This is the job and here’s what we’re here to do. And we’re all committed to giving 100 percent to whatever it is that we’re doing.
“And this kind of mutual respect for what we’re doing has engendered a friendship over the years. We’ve been through a lot of things. We’re on the road continually. We are each others’ family, we are each others’ support system.
“It’s like any family. You’ve got your ups, you’ve got your downs. Sometimes you’re in the mood for joking around, sometimes you’re not. And it’s growing over the years. We know each other so much better now, we know where the lines are, where you don’t cross and where it’s OK to cross and poke a little fun.”
It’s clear Miller enjoys being in Il Divo, but it’s also very apparent that the past three years have been very hard work – something, he believes, has helped the group achieve their success.
“With the first album we weren’t looking to the future, we were concentrated on the now, and it worked so well that we know that if you keep your head down, if you keep your mind on what you’re doing, and give that great performance of a lifetime every single time, the public reacts. They can’t not react,” he offers.
“When they see you up there giving yourself 100 percent, they’re right with you. You take them with you.
“And all of the successive moments of staying in the now have given us a future. If we had been concentrated three years ago on looking ahead, we wouldn’t have been able to give 100 percent.
And giving 100 percent isn’t as easy as it looks on stage.
“There’s a lot of delicate balancing we have to do in order to achieve the sounds we did when we were in the studio,” Miller explains. “It’s much easier in the studio because we go in one at a time and we record our parts and then it’s up to the producer to lay it all together. But when we’re performing live it’s really tough.
“In point of fact, I take the highest lines because I’ve got the highest voice. In the operatic finales we’ve got all of these sustained notes, and in our show of 18 songs there are more sustained high notes than any opera that exists, so I’m always pushing myself to that technical level every night.”
It’s certainly a world far removed from the impressions of limousine-driven Jaguars and weekends on the Riviera, but Miller is clearly still reveling in it. He easily picks out the highlights of the past three years: hearing their rendition of ‘Unbreak My Heart’ for the first time (“We were so proud of that”); seeing their debut album go to number one (“We were completely dumbfounded and shocked”); making their first music video (“Getting to work with people of such a high calibre, meeting these people day after day after day, the one right after the next”); performing on their first TV show and then getting interviews on talkshows (“Getting to be on the Oprah show, absolutely mind-blowing”); performing at the 2006 soccer world cup; singing alongside Barbra Streisand.
“It’s been a complete whirlwind of excitement and fun,” he exclaims.
But will that whirlwind continue?
“That’s a tough question because a lot of it depends on whether or not the public continue to enjoy what we come up with,” he confesses. “We want to keep it interesting, we want to keep going forward but we all find the best way to do that is to take it one step at a time.”
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.