Blurred Lines
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Blurred Lines

Can the young singing group Il Volo use an eclectic mix of repertoire to inspire a new generation to love music steeped in tradition?
by Maria Mazzaro. 

Il Volo Group hdl 316
Il Volo: Gianluca Ginoble, Ignazio Boschetto and Piero Barone

IT'S A WEDNESDAY EVENING, and I’m attending a performance in a venue unlike any other I’ve attended on behalf of OPERA NEWS. The venue is the Barclays Center, Brooklyn’s giant sporting–concert venue, and the occasion is a production by Il Volo, a young Italian vocal group hailing from Italy that’s currently on the first leg of a U.S. tour. As I look up at the sports jerseys hanging from the ceiling, I can’t help but think this assignment was a mistake; I had been to Barclays to sit in the nosebleeds for a rock concert, and I see where the court could be for a Nets game, but I’m having trouble justifying being here on assignment from an opera magazine.

And then the orchestra begins and I am reminded of how much I like Il Volo’s music. I discovered the young talents on one of their PBS specials and was immediately hooked by their choice of repertoire. In this U.S. tour concert alone, the group sang Neapolitan and Italian songs, musical theater numbers, zarzuela, opera, and original pop songs, in Italian, English and Spanish. But what’s more is the vibrancy that each of the singers—who are Piero Barone, tenor; Ignazio Boschetto, tenor; and Gianluca Ginoble, baritone—bring to the selections, old and new alike. How often does a trio perform this repertoire in three-part harmony, and how many tenors are willing to run into the audience and stand on a chair while popping out that impressive, full-voiced high note? It’s a quality of their music that’s hard to ignore, and easy to understand: each is under the age of twenty-five, and from where they are currently in their careers, it seems they can only go up from here. 

“We want to show to the young generation how beautiful this music is,” one of the group’s members, Ginoble, explains to me over the phone. It’s the day after his appearance at the Barclay’s Center, and he’s resting for a day before repeating the concert in D.C.; he has subsequent appearances in eighteen cities in the month of March alone. He admits that the group’s approach is unconventional; they get titles thrown out like “popera boy band” or “operatic pop singers,” and for justifiable reasons: Il Volo is a twenty-something-year-old Three-Tenors-meets-NSYNC. But Ginoble explains to me that Il Volo’s approach has so far been met with success. “In Italy, we sing in arenas of 20,000 people. And it’s normal [to try and reach young people in this way] because young people are used to different kinds of boy bands—of rock boy bands and pop boy bands. It’s an important part of music culture.”

Ginoble notes that this music is timeless, and yet not enough young people are familiar with it, despite the large influx of immigration from Italy to the U.S. in the last century. “We’ve always wanted to communicate the beauty of Italian culture, since the beginning. This music conveys the emotions. We can be funny, we can be emotional. It’s all in the music.” Ginoble has a warm lyric baritone, and his speaking voice is equally mellifluous as he explains to me his passion for Italian songs and arias as well as music made popular by Italian–American singers. “The golden age of pop singing—Sinatra and [Dean] Martin—is all an evolution of singing stooped in Italian tradition—Mario Lanza and Caruso. They all had the same type of voices, but the melodies and the type of music was different.”

THE THREE MEMBERS of Il Volo gained instant fame in their childhood, when they competed in 2009 as solo artists in a televised singing competition Sanremo, Italy. On the heels of the recent successes of The Three Tenors and various other Three Tenor spinoff groups, a television exec had the idea to put the then-children together as a trio. Il Volo certainly isn’t the first group born out of the Three Tenors fame—have you heard of China’s Three Tenors? The Irish Tenors? Il Divo?—but it could be the freshest, and, what’s more, it’s been the three original members since the beginning. Il Volo has also recorded and performed in concert with Plácido Domingo, and the group will perform at a tribute to the great tenor in June in Madrid, at the Real Madrid Santiago Bernabéu stadium. “He is our friend,” Ginoble tells me, citing the wealth of knowledge and wisdom Domingo has imparted onto the group. 

Besides having worked with Domingo, Il Volo has also toured with Barbra Streisand and has racked up a fair share of recording accolades. They are three-time platinum-recording artists in Italy; have an album and video produced by music-giant Emilio Estefan; are the first Italian artists to directly sign with an American record label; and released a Christmas album that hit iTunes’s Top 10 albums of the season.

Ginoble explains to me that their U.S. tour concert is more diverse than their performances in their homeland to cater to the different audiences. “In American tour, we sing all the classical songs. In Italy, we have new songs, no covers. It’s a completely different concert.” OPERA NEWS audiences will be familiar with a majority of the “classical song” selections; opera singers have been championing these Neapolitan standards in entire albums or as concert encores for centuries. “O Sole Mio,” composed in the late 1800s, won Luciano Pavarotti a Grammy Award in 1980; in the mid-twentieth century, Tito Schipa introduced the world to “Anema e Core;” and in 2015, Juan Diego Flórez released his Italia album. I’ve been a fan of these songs and artists all my life, and yet I can’t ever remember hearing any of these songs performed in three-part harmony, as Il Volo performs them. Their complete string section is also fortified by an electric guitar and drums. When I asked Ginoble about traveling with a conductor and orchestra, as opposed to a pianist, he almost didn’t understand the question. “We need the orchestra,” he replied simply. “It’s part of our music.”

They also perform duets and solos throughout the concert, and this is when the individual voices of the members were truly able to shine. Barone and Ginoble performed “My Way,” in a version made popular as a duet by Frank Sinatra and Pavarotti, released on the album Sinatra 80th: Live in Concert. This duet perhaps most accurately demonstrated what Il Volo is about: Ginoble’s voice is that of a smooth crooner, sultry with a delicate vibrato and a warm forward residence; Barone’s is a hard punch of an operatic powerhouse. It’s a broad-based mix, and I haven’t even gotten to the Bernstein or Lloyd Webber selections, nor late-twentieth century song selections (like “Caruso,” a 1980s tribute song to the opera icon).

Perhaps the most “classical” selections would be those of Barone, whose dream, he told the audience at Barclays, is to be an opera singer. He sang Cavaradossi’s “E lucevan le stelle” and the zarzuela aria “No puede ser” with powerful command of forte and mezza voce. He also sang them with a microphone, to fill out the vast expanse of the more than 18,000-seat arena at Barclays. But it didn’t detract from the emotional impact of the performance, and he received a standing ovation—as did an overwhelming majority of the songs in the two-hour concert.

If you don’t have any preconceived notions about the border between opera and pop, or if you’re willing to suspend them, then these concerts are for you. (Full tour information can be found on the artists’ website.) 

“We are just simple guys who want to show to the world how beautiful is our country,” Ginoble concludes. He’s just told me that he has to cut our conversation short because the group has yet another interview directly after ours. It must be exhausting, but his passion for the art form still rings clear. “In Italy, we’ve got it. We need to be more present in the United States.” He laughs. “But we are [in our] twenties. We have time.” spacer 

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