With long hair, chiselled looks, athlete’s build and air of zen calm, 39-year-old motorcycle fanatic Urs Buhler seems more like a rock idol than a dedicated opera singer. Indeed, as a teenager growing up in Switzerland, he sang with local heavy rock band The Conspiracy, who released an album in 1991, ‘One To One’. But while studying to be a music teacher, Urs had an epiphany.
“I switched, almost one day to the other, and started listening to only classical music,” recalls Urs. “The quality of the great composers, the arrangements, the richness of the ideas, I find incredibly fascinating, so beautiful, so well constructed, it does something to me, it reaches me deep within.”
A serious, focussed individual, Urs received degrees in music education and voice studies from The Academy of School and Church Music in Switzerland, before gaining a masters degree in classical music from the Amsterdam Conservatory. “I was singing in the opera choir in Amsterdam, one of the top ten opera houses in the world. I have seen the greatest singers there performing live on stage. I remember so many times when we have done a show, that took you from six when you get in the theatre for makeup till eleven when you get out, and I went home to listen to the entire opera again on the stereo til two in the morning, cause I was so wrapped up in it. Good classical music has something that just cannot leave me indifferent.”
For the next seven years, Urs made a living as a freelance singer in Holland, Belgium, Germany and France, performing oratorio and opera. “It is not an easy life, but I have always managed to live purely on my profession.” When he got the offer to join Il Divo, he was, he admits, extremely sceptical. “I was an opera purist, and I said to Simon, ‘I’m happy to try but I don’t think its gonna get us anywhere.’”
Urs is, of course, delighted to have been proven wrong. “I have learned a lot. Singing with Il Divo you have to be very flexible with your voice. In classical music there is technique, a way of producing a sound which is right, and another which is not right. In pop it is all about the feeling, which might be a breath or a croak, which comes naturally to Sebastian but I have to work myself into it. I have learned a lot about classical singing as well, especially because Carlos and David are just great singers. All the vocal arrangement is a very fluid process that happens in the studio, amongst us. When it works, it is fantastic.”
These days, he admits, he is not quite so purist in his tastes. “I listen to a bit of everything, pop, classical, heavy metal. Its to do with growing up, settling into your own personality.” His taste in rock, he says, veers towards “quite violent stuff”, like Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish. “There are similarities with opera, it can be very virtuosic, dramatic. In an orchestra, when everything is going, and the double bass is sawing very fast, it has the power rock bands get with distorted guitars. But classical is my love. When I sing at home, I sing Mozart.”
He has about ten motorbikes, Harleys and Goldwings, in various states of repair. “I take them to pieces, restore them myself, go to sports meets and fairs to find parts. That’s a fascinating thing for me.”
Urs ambition, he says, is simply to be happy. So far so good. “I take my life step by step, see what doors open, make a choice, walk through one and see what’s behind it. I always have done that. That’s what brought me to Il Divo. It’s worked out OK.”