REVIEW: Il Divo, with special guest Michael Ball, Alnwick Castle - Sunday, July 15
There was no getting away from the World Cup in the last few weeks, even after the final whistle had blown on the tournament.
Classical-pop man-band Il Divo, accustomed to the global stage themselves, were last night wrapping up what has been a spectacular series of concerts, including CHIC, Tom Jones and Madness, in the shadow of Alnwick Castle.
Among their team is Frenchman Sebastien Izambard who could barely contain his excitement after his national side had earlier beaten Croatia to lift the Jules Rimet trophy - you could argue that football's coming home, given that M Rimet also hailed from France!
Sebastien admitted to his adoring Alnwick audience that he had been screaming himself almost hoarse at the backstage TV ahead of the gig. Bravo, Sebastien!
But before the multi-national group that was established by Simon Cowell 15 years ago were able to embark on their Timeless journey, Alnwick was treated to a fabulous hors d'oeuvre from pop wannabes Bring It North, the 2018 Britain's Got Talent semi-finalists, followed by one of the best support acts you'll ever see.
Michael Ball OBE strolled on stage for a virtuoso performance that would have counted as the headline act at any other gig. He warmed up with Something Inside So Strong and John Farnham's You're the Voice before slipping into his favoured genre, musical theatre.
With reference to everyone's emotions on waking up on Thursday morning after the previous night's World Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of Croatia, Tell Me It's Not True, from Blood Brothers seemed apt. There followed a brilliant rendition of the anthemic I Only Want To Say (Gethsemane), from Jesus Christ Superstar, to get the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, followed by the equally moving Empty Chairs At Empty Tables and Stars, tasters from Les Miserables that left us wanting more.
Love Changes Everything, with that belting note at the end, and The Wonder of You concluded a cameo that laid down a marker in the sand - top that, Il Divo!
Mr Ball, you were fantastic, thank you.
And so the four men from four countries - Spaniard Carlos Marin, Swiss tenor Urs Buhler, the aforementioned M Izambard and American tenor David Miller - took to the stage with a belting number of their own - Hola, a Spanish version of Adele’s hit song Hello. They might not have quite trumped Michael Ball yet but there was much more to come over two hour-long sessions that blew the musical mind.
In different languages, mainly Italian and Spanish, they gave a masterclass in the art of operatic genius blended with popular tunes for a cocktail as intoxicating as a heatwave in Northumberland. Miller described the Alnwick crowd as the 'coolest audience ever', with the majority wearing shades in the early evening sunshine.
As the castle glowed in the background, the scene was set for a night of passion, laughter and powerful vocals. Many of the tracks were from their new album Timeless, including John Legend’s All Of Me, Robbie William’s Angels, Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable and Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World.
A dreamily romantic section of love songs, paying homage to the cinema, featuring A Love Song, Unchained Melody and Nat King Cole's Smile, was a hit with the ladies.
Throughout, each of the guys performed their favourite solo pieces. My vote went to Miller's extraordinary Vesti la Giubba, the tenor aria from Ruggero Leoncavallo's 1892 opera Pagliacci sung by the character Canio. It was controlled and struck like a lightning bolt of emotion through everyone's heart - and deservedly received an standing ovation.
Il Divo were backed by a superb orchestra and a dance troupe that added to the theatre of the occasion.
As the strains of Unbreak My Heart and My Way rang out across the Pastures at the end of the show, with Sebastien by now sporting the Tricolore painted on each cheek, it was abundantly clear that we had witnessed something very special, an evening that, to use a footballing term, would take some beating.