If you’ve never experienced the sensational blended vocalism of Il Divo—a multinational, multilingual male quartet of two operatic tenors, a baritone, and a pop singer—then rush for tickets to their June 5 concert, held in NJPAC’s Prudential Hall. You will revel in their splendid lush sound accompanied by an orchestra. Three members are classically trained and regularly perform in opera and musical theatre, but their sleek ensemble presents selections mainly from the pop sector. Thus their designation “classical crossover quartet.”
And what of the fourth member? Sébastien Izambard, born in Paris, led a pop group performing songs largely composed by him, before Simon Cowell discovered him in a two-year search for the perfect combination of male talent. He integrates the group of Il Divo along with baritone Carlos Marín, a Spaniard, Swiss tenor Urs Bühler, and American tenor David Miller. Mr Izambard, speaking perfect English, kindly took time from his schedule in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, headed for concerts in Moncton and Saint John, New Brunswick, to talk to ovalpike.com.
ovalpike.com: What made you want to switch from being a soloist as leader of a pop group to form part of a group where no one is a standout but the outstanding feature is the way you all blend?
Sébastien Izambard: For me it was the challenge of doing something different. I used to compose my own songs and was heavily involved in that. Doing pop songs, I really never had touched opera; I never had any experience in that sense. All of a sudden, they had chosen me to bring the pop side to Il Divo. I remember going into the studio for the first time when we first met after a two-year search. When I first heard all the vibrato in the other voices, it was really strange for me. I wasn’t sure this would work with my type of voice. What convinced me was the songs. When we started recording, I felt as if we had something different from any other band, a unique sound. It was where I think I connected to people, it’s where I felt we were unique and it was going to work. I made the right decision, and I’m really happy I did.
E: Gather four men of diverse backgrounds, nationalities, languages, and customs, and unique challenges are bound to arise. How did you face and overcome such challenges?
SI: Oh, initially it was a bit complicated, with one being American, one being Spanish, another being Swiss, and the other being French. I would say it was very difficult at first, and we tended to argue, to disagree. Even though Spain, Switzerland, and France are very close, somehow our cultures a quite distinct. All of us wanted to deal with each other in English because that is David’s first language. When English is not your first language, you find yourself translating into your native language, but things can get lost in translation. On top of that, our past experiences differ, our education, who we are … Another factor that was a big one is that we are all solo singers. Getting together and being men and learning to share is a bit like my kids when I tell them they’ve got to share their toys; it takes time, you know? I think we grew up, basically all four together, and we’ve reached the point where we find it very easy now.
E: Has Il Divo performed any of your compositions?
SI: No, I wish we had done. Unfortunately, I tried a few years ago. We put a song forward to management and our record company, and to be honest I found it very difficult to make something in the Il Divo style. I remember I went to Guy Chambers and others to try and make some songs. It’s hard when you don’t have enough distance so you can surprise yourselves musically. So I’ve kind of given up on the idea. I’m better at writing pop rock songs or R&B or that type of thing.
E: How much say does each member of Il Divo have regarding song selections or interpretation?
SI: Interpretation is a personal matter that is left up to us. I think the four of us have grown up musically to know what works best for the group. As for the tour, our management makes that work. No one has any power over the group other than the four of us. It’s a democracy. The four of us have equal power—we are like four captains of our own boat.
E: How is it that the group’s Spanish diction is so authentic in the numbers Il Divo performs in that language?
SI: Well, Carlos [Marín] is really good in that way. He’s always helping us to make sure the pronunciation is right, so I’d say he’s our Spanish teacher. But I think we also have a pretty good ear because we speak quite a few languages.
E: When Il Divo performs with a guest artist, say, Celine Dion, who would obviously feature as soloist in the numbers she performs with the group, what musical adjustments does the group make to allow her to perform in a principal role?
SI: It has been a wonderful experience, performing with Celine Dion and other extremely talented artists. How to adjust our part in each number pretty much depends on the producers of the songs; they have worked with us for years. We know our tunes, and they know exactly what our voices can do. If a song is written in the key of A, then they know it’s very likely we’ll be singing a high C during it. But if Celine usually sings that song in a different key or does a key change somewhere, then we will want to do what’s comfortable for her. In some ways it just works by itself. Ultimately we sit down with the producers and decide on the key that works best for everyone, and they have a way of making it work. And I’m sure that Celine does the same thing. It’s really teamwork.
E: You are the proud father of twins, Lucas and Rose, and now a newborn boy, Jude. How has fatherhood affected you as part of an all-male group?
SI: I am very fortunate because the other members of the group are very respectful of my children and of me. They really love my children. I’ve been traveling like mad. Every day is a new place. My family are with me right now in North America. For the next couple weeks they’ll be based in New York, and I will travel back and forth to be with them. There’s a limit where you can’t ask too much of them because they get tired, so they go home.
What if the group tires at some point or runs out of ideas to keep the act fresh for the public or indeed, interesting for themselves? Would a pop rock or R&B album by Sébastien Izambard be just the thing to shake up the group, musically speaking, and renew their fresh approach to other pop classics? Let’s hope he won’t give up all hope of ever getting Il Divo to perform his works.
Multiplatinum Il Divo, in less than ten years, has achieved tremendous success in album and concert ticket sales. The group has also won merit and esteem as “the first-ever recipient of the special recognition ‘Artist of the Decade’ award at the Classic BRIT Awards 2011.” Would-be imitators abound, which is a form of tribute in itself, but Il Divo stands alone in the stature they have attained in their unique corner of the entertainment world.
Newark is fortunate to have landed one of their 60 or so engagements during the next four months, engagements that take them all over Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Europe. Will you be in the audience in NJPAC’s Prudential Hall Tuesday evening, June 5, to see and hear the phenomenon for yourself? Only 2,750 who are fortunate enough to get tickets will have this extraordinary opportunity.