DAVID

DAVID

“The first moment of real excitement with Il Divo was in Simon Cowell’s office listening to the mix of Regresa Mi,” recalls David Miller. “Simon was sitting there with the biggest smug look on his face, and let’s face it, he can do a smug look better than anyone. But this was like ‘OK boys, sit back and brace yourselves!’ And he put it in and played it for us, we were blown away. It was phenomenal. We record the vocal tracks separately, so we are never in the booth together, so the first time we really hear what everyone else has done is at the playback. At that point, we had probably attempted about five songs, and, to be honest, none of us was sure if this was really working. That was the moment when it suddenly came together, and I remember thinking this could really be something. This could be huge!”

Studious, intense and driven, 39-year-old American tenor David Miller is arguably the most musically accomplished member of Il Divo. Growing up in Littleton, Colorado, he discovered his love of music at an early age, playing piano and trombone, singing in a children’s choir and starring in musical productions at high school. David attended Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, graduating in 1996 with a BA in Vocal Performance and Masters of Opera Theatre. He was artist in residence with Pittsburgh opera, and has sung lead with major opera companies all over the Americas, Australia and Europe. In 2002/2003 he appeared on Broadway as Rodolfo in Baz Lurhman’s groundbreaking production of ‘La Boheme’, and was about to make his New York Metropolitan opera debut when he was asked to join Il Divo.

“I think that opera is the pinnacle of expression through the voice,” says David. The experience of Lurhman’s populist ‘La Boheme’, however, had encouraged him to “get my head out of the operatic box, in order to use my voice in an even more emotional way. In opera, you study, you work technically, you work with a teacher, you get everything letter perfect but you don’t necessarily really feel it in the same kind of exposed way. It’s all about making sure the sound is perfect, and so much of the brain is taken up with that, you lose some of the connection with other people. In Il Divo, the focus is the feeling of it, how it comes across, so all that worrying about getting it perfect, I don’t focus on that anymore. I am now connecting to the music. Having the technical aspect is really just an extra vehicle for moving the emotion.”

While his pop colleague Sebastian Izambard raised his game to perform with trained opera singers, David argues the learning curve has been steeper for him. “Whereas Sebastian has a very natural technique and has been stepping it up and learning the parts of his voice that were maybe undiscovered, all of the parts of my voice that have been discovered can’t be undiscovered. I actually had to learn the pop technique. It’s a very raw sound, very emotive, its something that in opera tends to get covered up through technique. It’s like trying to find the raw part of a diamond in a way. But it’s in there.”

David vividly recalls the excitement and adrenaline of the early days of Il Divo. “In Opera, you record a CD, say ‘thanks very much’, put it on the shelves, and either people will buy it or they won’t. There’s no promo involved, no machine surrounding it. So when we went on the Michael Parkinson show in London in 2004, I’d never even been in a TV studio before, Il Divo had never really performed before, the nerves were out of control, it was all I could do to keep my legs from shaking. I realised this was going to be a much bigger endeavour than I previously understood.”

As an American, an even bigger moment for David was their first appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2005. “For me that was huge, Oprah stood up and the whole audience gave us a standing ovation. My family had all flown out to Chicago to be there. We sang Regresa Mi on air, then after the show they asked us to sing one more just for the studio audience, so we did Mama with my mother there. It was a struggle for me just to hold it together, because my parents have always been very supportive and proud of me while I’d been holding fast to the trapeze bar, as I call it. I’m in a career with no guarantees. Until Il Divo took off, being an opera singer for ten years, it was living gig to gig, worrying about when’s the next job coming in, trying to squirrel every little bit away. The numbers dwindle and you’re kind of doing that whole starving artist thing - eating Ramen noodles out of a cup. And then to have it take off like that … it still boggles my mind.”

Il Divo have had their critics but David visibly rankles at the idea that they could, in any way, be considered to be defiling the opera. “We don’t sing any opera repertoire, we don’t dumb it down for anybody. If anything, we create a gateway for a wider fanbase. If we can create a scenario whereby the mass public no longer holds the stereotype in mind of opera as some kind of unobtainable high art, then that would be an achievement. Because it’s all music. If we can bring those two worlds closer together, that’s an art form in itself.”

Far from having turned his back on opera, David still tries to fit operatic engagements into his schedule whenever he can. “It’s like medicine to me,” he says. “But opera will always be there. It’s not going anywhere.” In 2007, David performed with the Chicago Pops Orchestra, singing a variety of tenor arias. In 2011, he did a production of The Magic Flute with the Detroit Opera. And in January 2013, David and his wife, soprano Sarah Joy, will star together in La Traviata at the Palm Beach Opera. “It’s been ten years since we first got together singing in the cast of La Boheme, so it seems like good timing.”

David says his “first priority is family, before and after Il Divo. But my wife, my mom, my sisters, they all understand what the schedule is and what I am trying to do, so there is no conflict really. A couple of years ago my dad passed away, and it was during a busy period for us but the other guys were great, they said take your time, go do what you’ve got to do. We all have that same feeling, if any of our family is having major issue or dealing with something, you’ve got to take care of your life.”

David marvels at the way relationships within the band have changed. “It has gotten so much easier over the years. It was an arranged marriage, we weren’t a band who formed at school, or friends at college or whatever. The four of us literally met each other on the first day of recording. All being solo singers and having relatively successful careers, going from complete autonomy to democracy, there was a lot to deal with. The language barriers were a problem, the culture barriers were a problem, there was a lot of scope for misunderstanding. There’s this Spanish guy, talking loud, with flourish and bravado, and the Swiss guy being kind of introvert. I’m the middle child, so it was not unusual for me to be sat between two people having an argument, so I became a translator, always trying to call time out and resolve communication problems. The arguments were usually about nothing, just different sensibilities rubbing each other the wrong way. Eventually, over a couple of years of having experiences, tasting success and working together as a team, it brought us so much closer together. And as the guys learned more and more English, they started to kind of tolerate each other’s differences, and it really became a friend set, all the experiences we were having, going on tour for the first time, getting to number one, every single thing that happened became a kind of bonding event. It’s kind of like a football team in a way. We’re all big game players, we take our jobs seriously but we know how to have a good time, there’s a lot of locker room humour. But really, we’re all looking out for each other, trying to help each other through. Because we know we’re all in this together.”

David takes a keen interest in arrangement and production. “The four of us are continually searching for what it is that defines Il Divo. When we go in the studio with a song, it’s usually a case of saying here’s where it starts, here’s where we think it’s gonna end, and just take it in a very moment by moment way, let the song evolve by itself. But sometimes we’ve had to really struggle to work things out, because each track has its own melodic or harmonic structure and trying to navigate through that can require a lot of technical understanding. Urs and myself are both good at music theory, so we would sit down at the piano and look at the chord structure and do some problem solving. It’s a case by case basis, and if it’s not gelling we’ll all sit down together and figure it out.”

Pushed to choose a favourite from the Il Divo canon, David plumps for Adagio from The Promise. “Before that, it was all about taking pop tunes and making them feel like they are classical songs, and that worked great. But then we started broaching the idea of taking classical instrumental themes and turning them into songs, and Adagio was the first one. I’ve got a real place in my heart for that song.”

David is proud of his venture into the world of popular song. “The biggest gain I’ve received is continuing to think outside the box in terms of music. I now have much greater control over my instrument. My voice is so much stronger, with a schedule other opera singers in their right mind would consider crazy. It really takes a strength of will to move on this fast paced course, and I feel I’ve gained in stamina. And I have certainly gained a new respect for cultures, which as an American is kind of saying something! I have had the opportunity to see humanity as a whole, as they relate to music, because there seems to be a universality in what we do, something about it that appeals to Koreans as well as Venezualans, South Africans, Norwegians. I’ve learned that everyone has a passion, everyone has an inner music about them. To tap into that is an amazing opportunity.”

An energetic character, David has “a ton of hobbies” outside of Il Divo. “I’m the kind of personality that always likes to be doing something. I’m a fan of life, I love all that life has to offer.” He has been studying Japanese, teaching himself to play cello, making fly-on-the-wall documentaries for Il Divo’s website and composing his own music. “I definitely have ambitions beyond Il Divo,” he says, “but also within Il Divo. There is so much talent and potential in this group, I think the sky’s the limit. Until someone’s voice gives out, I think this could go on forever.”