<sub_headline>The quartet takes opera to the masses. <br /> </sub_headline>
The opening chords are unmistakable. It's one of the most iconic British pop songs of the '80s, with some of the most peculiar lyrics ("Protect you from the hooded claw, keep the vampires from your door"). Rendered in Italian, however, Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "The Power of Love" becomes a tender, operatic ballad, complete with four-part harmonies, classical guitar and full orchestral backing, coming to a close with a soft piano and tenor climax.
Il Divo transforms the song on "The Promise," the latest Syco/Columbia album from the classical-pop quartet. The concept that launched the group in 2005 seems improbable on paper. Take four singers from different countries (Switzerland, Spain, France and the United States), have them sing operatic versions of much-loved pop songs and give them an Italian name meaning "star"—although none of them is Italian.
Unlikely? Maybe. But successful? Definitely. So far, Il Divo has sold 25 million albums, according to the act's label, and more than 1.8 million concert tickets, according to its management company. The act has had 50 No. 1 albums globally and received 160 gold and platinum awards for albums that include "Il Divo," its 2005 debut; "The Christmas Collection," released in December of the same year; "Ancora" and "Siempre" in 2006; and "The Promise," released in November.
"The Promise" has sold 2.7 million copies, according to the act's label, and reached No. 1 in 12 countries, including the United States, Holland and Spain. The new album is a departure in that it features only one producer, Steve McCutcheon. It includes the aforementioned Frankie Goes to Hollywood track, a version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and ABBA's "Winner Takes It All." Its title derives from the Italian original "La Promessa," written by the Swedish pop writer Jörgen Elofsson (Britney Spears, Celine Dion).
Il Divo has performed in more than 30 countries on two previous sold-out world tours. The act has sung at the opening and closing ceremonies of the FIFA 2006 World Cup and—perhaps the ultimate accolade—it was the special guest of Barbra Streisand on her 2006 tour of North America, singing with her on three songs. The group's current world tour reaches the United States May 8 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va.
Il Divo was conceived when the British music mogul Simon Cowell heard the Italian operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli singing on the soundtrack to the HBO series "The Sopranos" and realized the potential of the combination of classical music with gangster-chic imagery.
Along with his record label, Syco, Cowell sought four matinee-idol singers. And he found them in American tenor David Miller, Spanish baritone Carlos Marín, Swiss tenor Urs Bühler and French tenor Sébastien Izambard.
None of them was a struggling "American Idol"-style wannabe. In fact, Bühler had a successful career with the Netherlands Operaa Gezelschap, Marín was a sought-after star, and Miller had sung for President Bill Clinton and was fresh from appearing in the lead role of Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann's successful 2002 Broadway version of Puccini's "La Bohème," which received seven Tony Award nominations. This wasn't Cowell's usual plucking-a-star-from-obscurity story.
In fact, not all the potential candidates were willing. "A couple of them took some persuading," says Peter Rudge of Octagon Music, the band's management company, based in London. "It was a great gamble at the time for everyone."
The band's commercial success has also been against the odds. Rudge says, "We don't really get radio play, which for years has been the promotional platform. We don't get our videos played on MTV. The opera critic doesn't like it, and the pop critic thinks it's pretentious."