David Miller, an American tenor with classical crossover group Il Divo chats with Kevin Cooper about the passing of their friend Carlos Marin and their forthcoming 2022 Greatest Hits: Carlos Marin Memorial Tour.

David Miller is an American tenor. Since 2004, he has been a member of the successful classical crossover group Il Divo, who have sold over thirty million copies worldwide.

Miller was a member of the Pittsburgh Opera Center in 1996. He first came to attention after his highly acclaimed Washington Opera debut in March 1997 as Alfredo in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.

In 2000, he made his debut with Opera Australia and at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, singing Tony in West Side Story. In 2003, he sang with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Audra McDonald at the Hollywood Bowl in excerpts from West Side Story.

In December 2007, while Il Divo were taking a break from a world tour, Miller made a return to the classical opera stage. He performed in recitals with the Chicago Pops Orchestra, singing a variety of tenor arias as well as some show tunes and Christmas favourites.

Il Divo was composed of four singers, three of whom are classically trained. They hailed from four countries; Spanish baritone Carlos Marin, two classically trained tenors, Sweed Urs Buhler and American Miller and French pop singer-songwriter Sebastien Izambard.

In December 2021 Carlos Marin passed away from Covid-19. As a tribute to him, Il Divo perform a Greatest Hits Tour, with Mexican/American baritone Steven Labrie joining the group as a special guest.

Whilst busy preparing for their forthcoming tour, David Miller took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.


Good afternoon David, how are you?

Hi there Kevin, I’m very well thank you. How are you today?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on, let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

I’m very happy to chat with you once again Kevin.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Well, what can I say, we are touring around the Eastern Europe area, bringing our Greatest Hits: Carlos Marín Memorial Tour to basically everywhere that we have ever visited previously. This has been the general vibe for the whole of last year, bringing this tour and remembering Carlos pretty much everywhere we had toured during the last eighteen years. I have to say that it has been an emotionally challenged year for everyone, and I think that this tour really brings the audience a lot closer to us and it also brings us closer to the audience. It is a deep and heavy thing what we are doing, but we are getting through it and we are healing a little bit more with every concert, so yes, that’s the quick catch up (laughter).

You and I last spoke on the 9th November last year prior to your Christmas With Il Divo tour. How did it feel when you had to cancel the tour midstream?

Firstly, I have to say that it was a shock obviously. We had initially thought when we were putting the tour together that we were over the hump of the whole Covid thing. We all thought that we were going to take all of the precautions; we thought that we were going to get through this. Literally, since the beginning of Il Divo we have always secretly amongst ourselves called ourselves the luckiest band in the world; lucky that Simon Cowell found the four of us and put us together; lucky that we were able to shoot to the success that we did, and we were so fortunate and lucky at every turn. So, when it was like, ‘okay we can pull off going over to the UK to play a few Christmas shows’, we again thought ‘we are the luckiest band in the world; we are going to get through this, no problem’.

Then we got about five shows in and on the drive from Bath to Manchester, Carlos started complaining that he couldn’t get a deep breath. So we checked into our hotel in Manchester, and we all received a text message the next morning informing us that Carlos had gone to hospital and that it was Covid. So we thought, ‘okay, you know what, these things happen, so let’s just take things day by day and see how things go’. At a certain point things began to get more serious, and we knew that we were going to have to pull the remaining dates for that tour. We agreed that we would postpone and that we would figure something out. All the way up until the end, we all believed that Carlos was going to pull though and when he didn’t; it was devastating for all of us.

Was there ever a time when the three of you thought that Il Divo was no more?

To be totally honest with you, that was the very first thought that crossed our minds. We actually thought, ‘how can we do this without Carlos’. Obviously, he was such a huge personality and such a ball of bubbling enthusiasm that he was. Beyond that, it was his voice together with the nature of the songs, the nature of what we had developed over those first few albums and the sound that we had created and melodically hinged upon. We all shared the melody but really it was like, ‘when we hit the key change, when we hit that final chorus, it goes into Carlos’ sweet spot, and we are all working around him’. The three of us just don’t have that same, deep richness in our voices. The three of us are tenors whilst Carlos was a baritone. That was just the nature of it and we all thought, ‘that’s it, how can we do this’. So we tried the idea of rearranging the songs, but it just didn’t work. So, for the first month or so we really did think that was it.

Was it not at that point that your management planted the seed regarding bringing in someone as a special guest in order to help you out?

(Laughter) just who have you been talking to? As you rightly point out it was at that point that our management popped the question to us, “what if we invited along a special guest to help us complete the sound of Il Divo. What if we find a baritone who would be willing to do that”. So, suddenly there were all sorts of thoughts going through our heads. Carlos’ voice was operatic baritone, but most opera singers only want to sing opera. That is really true. I know that because myself, being an opera singer, when I was first approached about being a part of this, I was like, ‘you want me to do what with my voice. I’m an opera singer, I don’t do that’ (laughter).

As you Brits would say I was really up my own arse about that (laughter). With a certain amount of convincing, and Carlos was one of the chief convincers, by saying to me, “we are not asking you not to be an opera singer, we actually want you to be an opera singer, but just singing this repertoire” (laughter). So, I had to apply that approach to finding an opera singer, going through my list of people who I had worked with over the years. We all put their names on the table. Sébastien (Izambard) doesn’t have much experience working with opera singers, so he didn’t have a very long list. Urs (Bühler) at that time was not in contact with any of the people who he knew, so it really did fall upon my shoulders.

So, I reached out to the people who I knew; who I thought might be interested and the only person who got back to me and who was actually really interested beyond the operatic repertoire was Steven LaBrie. Steven and I had sung opera together outside of Il Divo since 2011, so we went through a whole process of bringing Steven up to speed with what we wanted from him. He was familiar with our music, but he didn’t know it that well, so we asked him to learn a couple of the songs, and listen to Carlos’ part, and we asked him to send over a few clips of him singing our songs a capella and singing the final chorus of a few of our songs. Steven did that for us, and we were like, ‘okay, Steven has got something’, and that was really impressive simply because we hadn’t expected him to be at that level already.

To be fair, Steven is a fantastic singer. I remember when I first worked with him in 2011, and at that time he was twenty-three years old, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘okay, this guy is going places; he has got a voice for sure’. When he sent us those tracks back, he didn’t sing the songs fully operatic; he sang them in the crossover style that we were looking for. So, we worked a little bit more and a little bit more, and we asked him if he would be okay with stepping in and supporting us in this way, and he was most definitely up for it. So, from that point it became a case of, ‘let’s put one foot In front of the other; we are going to get there and we are going to make this happen’.

This current tour really is something very special.

Yes, it is, you are so right when you say that. Obviously, this tour is no longer going to be just a random old tour; it has got to be the Carlos Memorial Tour and the question is, just how are we going to achieve that. What are the songs that we want to do in order to really reflect the nature of our relationship with Carlos. Steven was humble enough and willing enough to step in. It’s not like he is stepping into a situation where it is like, ‘hey, here’s the new guy; here’s the new member of the group, isn’t he great, let’s get on with it’. Steven will really be taking a back seat which as a leading male baritone, or for any singer in fact, taking a back seat is a hard thing to do for the ego, but he was most definitely up for it, and we just kept on putting one foot in front of the other, and in a way we were stifling the shock, stifling our sadness, and stifling our anger. We are still going through all of those emotions which one has in the midst of tragedy.

We were just trying to work out how we were going to get to the opening night. We did that, we got to opening night, and I have to say that it was probably the most difficult moment of my career; possibly one of the most difficult moments of my whole life. I found myself standing backstage, with the curtain down, and I looked around and Carlos wasn’t there. We open the show with just the three of us singing one of the songs from the Motown album, and Carlos wasn’t there. It was just the three of us standing there, and we all lost it. All of the emotion came flooding out from December all the way through all the steps along the way; it all came flooding back to us. We walked out onstage, the music was playing, and we couldn’t sing because we were all choked; we were all choked up. For the first three weeks of the tour, we didn’t get through a single show without at least one or more of us breaking down.

Is Steven now an official member of the group? Will he remain a special guest or are negotiations taking place as we speak (laughter).

(Laughter) what can I say, at this point, Il Divo has always been a four man group and we have always had this work ethic of what is in front of us right now. Even way back with our first album, it was like we didn’t know what all of the songs were going to be, and we didn’t know when the end of the recording process was going to be; they would give us a song and we would record it. They would say, “try it in French” so then we were doing that. Then they would say, “why not try that one in Italian, oh and here’s another song”. Then it was, “why don’t you try that one in Spanish” or, “we are not quite sure, why don’t you try that one in English”.

We very quickly got into this mode of simply doing what was in front of us. We always stayed focused on what was in front of us and doing our best. I think that we got a certain degree of performance out of ourselves because we weren’t thinking, ‘oh wow, we are in an operatic boy band now; welcome to the gravy train easy life’. We didn’t let anything go to our heads; we simply stayed focused on the now. I think that it’s been almost ten months now, and even though we got over that first initial hump, it was still like, ‘okay now we are going to Japan’ and at every show we had to fight with our emotions.

Once we did get past that breaking down section of the tour; that first section of the show where we couldn’t deliver any songs, and now we were getting through the songs. We couldn’t pretend like we were not getting through the songs; you can’t conjure up these emotions, and we didn’t want to cross over into some sort of acting exercise. So, in Japan, it was still quite sad, but we were getting through it. After Japan, we went over to South America where every single day was just a nightmare of a slog logistically trying to get from country to country because they were still, at that point, besieged by Covid protocols.

They were still the hotbed of the world at that point. So, it very soon became, “let’s just get through today; just get through today” and it has been like that for the last ten months. It’s been like PTSD for ten months straight and we have been putting our PTSD on show for the whole world, and magnifying the whole thing. So, all that I can say in answer to your question is that we are not there yet, we simply do not know (laughter). Steven really has been such a wonderful source of support for us; he is a great guy, and he has a great voice but, in all honesty, going forward, we have absolutely no idea as to what is coming next.

2024 will be Il Divo’s twentieth anniversary. Do you have anything special in mind to commemorate the achievement?

(Laughter) yes, you are correct, 2024 will be Il Divo’s twentieth anniversary, if we manage to make it that far, and that is the feeling that we have right now. We haven’t even started to scratch the surface of the fact that 2024 will be our twentieth anniversary. I guess that we really should start thinking about doing something (laughter).

When you and I last spoke, we were talking about your then, latest album, For Once In My Life: A Celebration Of Motown. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic together with the loss of Carlos, it would appear that the album has taken a back seat and that you haven’t had the opportunity to tour and promote the album, have you?

Yes, that’s so true. We have built a Motown section into the show, which features the music of Motown. We start the show with one of the Motown songs, and we do it as Il Trio, if I can call it that; it’s just the three of us (laughter). We have speeded it up in a way, doing that on purpose, in order to show that if we were to continue as a three piece, and we were to sing all of these songs, then this is how the songs would sound. They would feel a little bit empty. It really sets the tone of the show, and we open with I’ll Be There. And it sets the tone of the show; it is an uplifting song, in the midst of a tragic situation.

That then segues into us talking to the audience, which then segues into us bringing Steven onto the stage. We then introduce some of the older repertoire and go back to that, and then moving into the greatest hits section of the show. A lot of the show is so thick with emotion musically, it activates us sometimes. But you can also see in the audience, that this is their first chance to process everything that has happened with losing Carlos who was one of their beloved stars of Il Divo who they loved. There are simply so many people around the world love Carlos. When you see the heartbreak on their faces, this is really their first opportunity to process just what has happened.

Then we get to two thirds into the show, and we shift gears a little bit and we go back into the Motown. And it really is this moment of a first breath of fresh air for the whole show. Without giving away too much, it really does highlight the album, and it is this moment that not only reminds the audience that there is another album out there, and it is always fun. It is like this slingshot of energy, where all of the heaviness is pulling this rubber band back, pulling a rubber band back, pulling it back and then we hit the Motown stuff and it’s like wow, everyone starts clapping, and when we sing Ain’t No Mountain High Enough everyone is ready to let it all go and I have to say that it is a truly fantastic moment.

On that note David, let me once again thank you for your time today, it really has been delightful. And if you do have a walk down to Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem, be careful what you drink before the show.

(Laughter) thanks for the advice, Kevin, I certainly need it (laughter). You be good and I hope to see you when we get up there to Nottingham. Bye for now.