The 2013 Billboard Latin Music Awards, which aired April 25 on Telemundo, had its share of uptempo reggaeton and dance, regional Mexican music, daring duets and song premieres, most featuring major Latin stars. In the midst of that was Il Volo, a trio of operatic tenors, singing "El Triste," an homage to Mexican crooner Jose Jose accompanied by a full string orchestra. The performance was as surprising as it was successful, delivering some of the highest minute-by-minute ratings for the show.
It was the latest big TV move for the Italian teens whose brand of classical crossover music has struck a chord with mainstream buyers and, increasingly, with Latin fans.
Following the Billboard performance, "Mas Que Amor," the Spanish-language version of We Are Love, jumped 4-2 on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart, where it stays this week.
Although Andrea Bocelli, a similarly minded act, is also on the chart (former No. 1 Pasion is No. 10), Il Volo's case is different. While Bocelli is an adult act attracting an adult audience, the members of Il Volo are teenagers. And while their mainstream audience leans adult, in the Latin world they attract a younger listener, something Il Volo's team is looking to capitalize on.
"We've benefited greatly from their past tour, where they reached an upscale Latin market that was mostly an adult market but also included the daughters of those adults," says Luis Estrada, managing director of Universal Music Latino, which is supporting the release with a Spanish-language TV campaign.
Il Volo will kick off another U.S. tour in the fall, promoted by Live Nation and supported by a PBS special shot in Miami, precisely because audiences are younger there. In Latin America, Il Volo's tour will be promoted by GTS, the artist development arm of Universal Music Latin Entertainment (UMLE).
In 2009, Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble competed on Italian TV talent competition "Ti Lascio Una Canzone." The show's producer was so impressed by their voices that he asked them to sing together, a la the Three Tenors. Tony Renis, the Italian singer/producer who has worked with Bocelli and Celine Dion, happened to catch that performance.
"They were singing 'O Sole Mio' and I couldn't believe that three children-14-year-olds-could have such powerful voices," he says.
Renis spoke with attorney Peter Lopez in Los Angeles, and together they took the "O Sole Mio" track to Jimmy Iovine and Ron Fair, who signed the trio to Interscope.
"They had the talent and the material to do something very different from what existed in the Latin market at the time," producer Humberto Gatica says. "From day one, we knew there had to be two albums: one for the international market and one geared specifically for the Latin market."
Gatica invited UMLE chairman Jesus Lopez to the studio, and he in turn fell in love with the project and agreed to release it in Spanish.
In 2011, Il Volo debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, aided by a slew of prominent TV appearances, including "American Idol." Three weeks later, the Spanish version of the album debuted at No. 10 on Top Latin Albums. Mas Que Amor follows the same formula, with Spanish-language versions of the tracks on the original English-language album, albeit with Latin touches.
"I added certain instrumentation to make it more appealing for our market," Gatica says. The album also includes "Lunas Escondidas," a duet with young Mexican pop singer Belinda specifically designed for the Latin marketplace.
What the album didn't include was "El Triste," the Jose Jose hit from the '80s that the trio performed at the Billboard Latin Music Awards. Instead, the notion of performing a song not on the album-barely a week after the album's release-came from show producer Tony Mojena, who was looking to make an impact with Billboard's homage to Jose Jose.
Instead of balking at the suggestion, the Il Volo team jumped at the chance. Universal's Estrada gave the go-ahead and Gatica created an arrangement for the track in 48 hours. Now, Universal plans to release "El Triste" and use it as a marketing tool for the trio in Latin America.
"That performance consolidates them in consumers' minds as a quality act with great charisma," Estrada says. "And TV continues to be a crucial part of their success."