Saddledome, Calgary - May 26, 2009

LISA WILTON - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 5:07 AM ET

CALGARY - It seems everything Simon Cowell touches turns to gold -- or rather, platinum.

So when the American Idol impresario took four good-looking international vocalists, dressed them up pretty and made them sing pop hits in an operatic style, there was no doubt he would be lining his eight-car garages with even more bank notes.

But Cowell's knack comes with a certain middle-of-the-road blandness. And as attractive as they may be, Il Divo is among the most vanilla-lite groups you are likely to come across.

The group's inoffensive pop-opera appeals to all ages, although last night it was the middle-aged women who made the most noise during the two-hour Saddledome show.

After a short instrumental introduction by the four-piece band and 12-strong string section, American tenor David Miller, French singer Sebastien Izambard, Spanish baritone Carlos Marin and Swiss tenor Urs Buhler appeared atop a staircase to the squeals of thousands of besotted women. The performers descended individually, each taking a verse of the opening song Somewhere from West Side Story.

They continued with a well-polished and multi-lingual rendition of their hit Toni Braxton cover, Unbreak My Heart.

Despite the initial response, the audience became surprisingly muted after the first two songs. That is until Miller greeted the audience and hollered, "we're gonna have fun tonight!"

While the statement didn't exactly galvanize the crowd, those on the floor and lower-bowl seats seemed much more engaged.

The group looked sophisticated in well-tailored matching black suits (before changing into a few more smart outfits.) But their sartorial splendour did little to enliven the performance.

It's not that the men of Il Divo aren't talented. They are exceptional vocalists. Marin is probably the strongest singer, but their voices blend beautifully and more than once the rafters were shaking under the sheer force of their combined vocal power.

Unfortunately, 'popera' has a tendency to suck the soul out of both classical and pop numbers.

For example, Simon & Garfunkel's classic tearjerker Bridge Over Troubled Water is a powerful yet elegantly tasteful ballad, whereas Il Divo's popera-fied version is overwrought and bombastic.

Still, it was met with some of the loudest applause and cheers of the evening so obviously it managed to connect with the audience.

The first half of the concert lacked energy from the audience and performers, but thankfully both were redeemed after a much more entertaining second set.

Kicking off the second hour was a dramatic re-doing of ABBA's The Winner Takes It All and was followed by equally strong versions of Harry Nillson's Without You and Frankie Goes to Hollywood's The Power of Love.

However, there was a brief misstep with Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. Though the song has been covered numerous times, its gentle, melancholic vibe just doesn't fit the overly dramatic style of Il Divo.

Last night's concert -- which attracted about 11,000 fans -- was embellished by a visually impressive light show and set design masterminded by creative director William Baker, who has worked with Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham.

An Evening with Il Divo is a slick, well-rehearsed production, which could use a little spontaneity.

But in terms of pure vocal talent, Il Divo is sensational and they do have a way of being charming with very little effort.

It's almost enough to make you respect Simon Cowell.

Almost.


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