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In "popera," it's not over till the phat ladies' boys sing
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Il Divo

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Classical music, especially opera, has done such a good job of making itself unapproachable, elitist and mysterious that many people feel shut out. The uninitiated feel intimidated about even attending a concert. What do I wear? When do I clap? Am I smart enough to get it? What if I hate it?

But when most people get a chance to hear a quality operatic voice, they're impressed, even moved — as long as the music isn't too "arty."

That's where "popera" comes in. The phenomenon of operatic-style pop singers — which reached its artistic peak with Andrea Bocelli, the blind crossover opera/pop star, and its commercial peak, so far, with Josh Groban — is a way for ordinary people to appreciate the classical form without all the baggage.

Crafty entrepreneur Simon Cowell, the meanie judge on "American Idol" who has presented everything from professional wrestlers to TV reality shows (like the short-lived "Cupid"), was smart enough to marry popera with the Chippendale dancers.

Voilà! Il Divo! (Divo is Italian for male diva.)

A yearlong international search yielded the handsome hunky quartet, which, while they don't strip, romances mostly female audiences with big voices and overwrought arrangements that ape opera.

The group is made up of Carlos, the Spanish Casanova; David, the all-American boy next door; Urs, the Swiss pretty boy; and Sebastien, the French hunk (they're identified only by their first names on their recordings). They all look sharp in Armani suits.

Cowell brought them around to all the right places — Oprah, Regis & Kelly, Martha Stewart, "The Young and the Restless" — to introduce them to a female audience too old for hip-hop but young enough to appreciate a good pop song.

By the time the first "Il Divo" album came out in the spring of 2005, the pump was primed. The disc surprised the recording industry by briskly selling 2 million copies. Its follow-up was last Christmas season's biggest holiday recording, "The Christmas Collection."

Il Divo's latest album, "Ancora," brought popera securely into the mainstream when it debuted at No. 1 in Billboard last month. It's well on its way to surpassing "Il Divo" in sales.

Most of the quartet's songs are in foreign languages. Il Divo's particular affectation is to take English-language hits and translate them into Spanish or French, apparently to make them more operalike.

Thus, on "Ancora," Eric Carmen's 1976 classic "All By Myself" (already with a melody borrowed from Rachmaninoff) becomes "Solo Otra Vez," and Celine Dion's hit "I Believe in You" is transformed into "Je Crois en Toi" (with Dion as guest artist).

Almost all Il Divo songs are the same. They start with a solo and end with a big, loud, dramatic quartet finish, augmented by a booming symphony orchestra.

Hayley Westenra, a young pop singer from New Zealand with an operatic-quality voice, will open the concert here on Wednesday in Benaroya Hall, where the Seattle Symphony plays (albeit without amplification, unlike Il Divo). Il Divo will be joined by a 20-piece orchestra and a four-person rock band.

The audience, sure to be at least 80 percent female, will be able to clap, scream and shout out, "We love you!" anytime they want.

source : Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company
credit : news item advised by John Iler
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