Studious, intense and driven, 38-year-old American tenor David Miller is probably the most musically accomplished member of Il Divo. Having discovered his love of music at an early age, David attended Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, where he graduated with a BA in Vocal Performance and 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 passionate 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 need 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 Sebastien Izambard had to dramatically raise his game to perform with trained opera singers, David argues the learning curve has been even 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 pyrotechnics. It’s like trying to find the raw part of a diamond in a way. But it’s in there.”
David visibly rankles at the idea that Il Divo 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.”
He 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 four years stronger, with a schedule no other opera singer in their right mind would ever consider. 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, cause 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. I think we’re only just getting started. With Il Divo, I think the sky’s the limit.”