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Il Divo’s pop-opera hybrid proves unwieldy at the Midland theater

Il Divo, from left: David Miller, Sebastien Izambard, Carlos Marin and Urs Buhler
Il Divo, from left: David Miller, Sebastien Izambard, Carlos Marin and Urs Buhler Invision

Il Divo’s concert at the Midland theater on Friday teetered between irredeemable schmaltz and radiant elegance.

The creation of music industry raconteur Simon Cowell, Il Divo is the world’s foremost popera group. The quartet’s occasionally unwieldy hybrid of pop and opera entertained an audience of about 1,500 for more than two hours.

Urs Bühler’s turn in the spotlight during “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” exemplified the uncomfortable dichotomy between high art and lowbrow mawkishness that plagued the performance. As the Swiss-born tenor delivered a heartfelt reading of the magnificent German aria, two scantily clad dancers cavorted behind him. The unsuitable juxtaposition detracted from Bühler’s singing and suggested that the show’s producers feared the audience couldn’t appreciate a few minutes of unadulterated opera.

Bühler and his three band mates shared vocal duties for most selections. The round robin format never grew tiresome. Each man’s voice possesses the power and technical expertise of an operatic heavyweight, but each tempers his approach with the genial warmth associated with pop vocalists.

The quartet’s interactions with fans also broke with operatic convention. The Spanish baritone Carlos Marín led the charm offensive by demonstrating his smooth pick-up lines and by suggesting that the venue and its patrons resembled “a garden with so many beautiful flowers.”

The elaborate production lacked Marín’s innate magnetism. A few supplemental amenities, such as the images that often resembled commercials for expensive colognes that flashed across the video screen above the small orchestra that adeptly backed Il Divo, were alluring.

The chintzy stage set that was employed at the beginning of the second act, however, made the show look like a high school production of “Evita.” The eight-member dance troupe was even more problematic. Their gyrations enlivened the dance number “La Vida Sin Amor,” but the garish commotion they instigated diminished otherwise potent renderings of songs including “Por una Cabeza.”

The best selections — a slightly overripe but nonetheless gorgeous version of “Contigo en la Distancia,” the Paris-born Sébastien Izambard’s magnificent interpretation of “Hymne à l’amour,” and Miller’s breathtaking rendition of the Puccini aria “Nessun dorma” — indicated that Il Divo’s formidable abilities don’t require ostentatious enhancements.

That’s why the screams that erupted when Miller took off his tie near the conclusion of the concert were bewildering. In spite of the aptitude demonstrated by the quartet during the previous two hours, many of its admirers still considered Il Divo to be little more than a boy band for cosmopolitan adults.