The Britons, who are notoriously proud to be British at any given moment in their days and lives – even when their Royals run away from the stadium after having lost EURO 2020 so they won’t have to crown somebody else – invented the term British Invasion to define bands like The Beatles, The Animals, The Tremeloes, The Merseybeats, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Christie, The Zombies and many others that entered the US charts in the 1960s and became famous and acclaimed in America ever since.
And they’re right in having conceived a special word for that, because breaking in the States is really a special achievement that deserves headlines, respect and praise: placing a record in the US charts is extremely difficult even for well-established bands and affluent solo artists.
Take someone like Robbie Williams, for example: acclaimed everywhere, unknown in America. Despite being the British solo artist with the most number 1 albums on the UK’s Official Albums Chart of all time (he got more number 1 albums than the likes of Elton John and David Bowie), he still didn’t make it in the USA after over 30 years in music.
Since The Beatles’ times, things in the industry have always worked this way: singers start off with local gigs, they work their way up, they rise through the ranks and they get famous in their own country first. It’s only after they’ve achieved considerable fame and success at home that they will try and do something abroad.
This is how it works. It wouldn’t make sense the other way around.
And it’s exactly because it wouldn’t make sense that this has become the norm in Italy.
Remember what happened to Andrea Bocelli at the beginning of his career? In 1996, Germany got him to duet with British Soprano Sarah Brightman in Time to Say Goodbye, a version of Con Te Partirò partially chanted in English which got certified 11x Gold after breaking the all-time sales record in Germany for selling over 2,750,000 copies.
Only after this, and only after the single sold another 750,000 further copies across Austria, Switzerland and the UK and reached number one on single charts everywhere in Europe, somebody in Italy eventually thought that maybe Andrea Bocelli deserved a chance in his home country too, and look what happened afterwards: the tenor sold 90 million records worldwide, scored a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records for holding simultaneously all the three top positions on the US Classical Albums, and his 1999 record Sacred Arias has become the biggest selling classical album ever sold by any solo artist in history.
Well, the story of the Italian band I’m interviewing today is even more unbelievable.
Today, I’m having the distinct pleasure and joy of meeting the Italian operatic pop trio Il Volo [Italian for ‘the flight’] made up of tenors Piero Barone and Ignazio Boschetto and baritone Gianluca Ginoble who have been dominating the world of pop opera for over a decade now – despite being still in their late 20s and early 30s.
These three young men created something every single Italian citizen should be proud of.
Il Volo was launched, promoted and sent on tours in the US and elsewhere for 5 years before they made anything in Italy – apart from briefly appearing on the national TV show for aspiring kid singers Ti lascio una canzone in 2009, where they were originally discovered, aged just 14 and 15, and put together by the management to create a trio similar to The Three Tenors Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti.
Their first TV performance together as teens singing the Neapolitan classic song ‘O Sole Mio triggered a series of fortunate events and right people met at the right time, and so Il Volo was offered a 2-million-dollar recording deal in America by the prestigious Geffen Records which, over the years, signed and released artists like John Lennon, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Elton John and Snoop Dogg.
This is how Ignazio Boschetto, Gianluca Ginoble and Piero Barone became the first Italian artists in history being signed directly by a major US label.
Their self-titled debut album, Il Volo, recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in London and released in Europe in 2010 and in the US in 2011, mostly included covers of international songs like Il Mondo, El Reloj and Smile by Charlie Chaplin performed in different languages.
The record entered the US Top Classical Albums straight at number one, debuted on the US Billboard 200 at number 10 and reached the top 10 in Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ireland, Mexico and New Zealand.
Obviously, it debuted just at number 33 in Italy, and then, quietly, calmly and with no rush whatsoever, it eventually peaked at number 6 one month later, scoring a certified Platinum.
I will never forget the interview Il Volo gave to the Australian network Channel 10 in 2011, with the journalist admitting: “incredibly, their album wins Platinum in Italy with no radio hit play and no promotion”:
And so, 5 years of no radio hit play and no promotion in their homeland later, Il Volo eventually toured Italy for the first time in 2014. If you wonder how this may even be possible and how the country which originally gave birth to Verdi and Puccini might have now become so deaf and dull-eared, read also what happened to Andrea Bocelli and Zucchero.
As a result, Il Volo’s presence in Italy was made “legit” just in 2015 by them winning the Sanremo Music Festival and finishing third at the Eurovision Song Contest with the unbelievably beautiful song Grande Amore which translates as Big Love and I recommend you don’t dedicate to anyone you think you love because it’s just too beautiful to be wasted away on your next ex.
And the video clip that goes with it is fantastic, with Piero, Gianluca and Ignazio turned into actors and starring in movie parodies of Spiderman, Back to the Future and Ghost.
In the meantime, their second album, We are love, had reached number 3 of the US Top Classical Albums in 2012, while their third and fourth albums, Buon Natale: The Christmas Album and L’amore si muove – Love Moves, had both returned straight to number one on the same chart in 2013 and 2015.
Nearly all the albums by Il Volo have also been released in Spanish versions which topped the charts of the Billboard Latin Pop Albums and the Billboard Top Latin Albums over the years.
The trio sang with Barbra Streisand in 12 concerts, dueted with Andrea Bocelli and Plácido Domingo, appeared on America’s Got Talent, American Idol and Good Morning America, performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, at the Emmy Awards and at the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting in New York.
Their monumental pop opera success knows no boundaries: everywhere they go, from Japan to Australia, from South America to Scandinavia, they sell out concerts, fill up stadiums, entertain the vastest and most varied audience and have little girls and sexy grandmothers screaming their heads off.
Il Volo were also the only Italians invited by music legend Quincy Jones to join Artists for Haiti, a supergroup composed of 80 artists including Bono, Carlos Santana, Enrique Iglesias and Céline Dion to record the charity single We Are the World 25 for Haiti, a remake of the Michael Jackson’s 1985 hit song We Are the World which was released to benefit the Haitians after the 2010 earthquake that killed 230,000 people in the country.
In 2019, as many as 10 years after first breaking into music, the trio eventually had one of their dreams becoming reality. They were finally given the chance to perform for the Pope – something they’d always wished to do – but do you know where this happened? They live in Italy, in the same territory as the Pope – you cannot really say the same country as the Vatican is another state, but it is definitely the same place geographically speaking, so where do you think they had to go to sing for Pope Francis?
Nine million five hundred thousand seventy-nine hundred and fifty-one kilometres away from Rome, in Panama, off Costa Rica and Colombia – in the other hemisphere, on the occasion of the 16th World Youth Day (WYD).
Two years later, the band released their seventh studio album, Il Volo Sings Morricone, a tribute dedicated to one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, the Italian Maestro Ennio Morricone who passed away in 2020.
Released worldwide in 2021 on Sony Music and anticipated by the single The Ecstasy of Gold from the movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Il Volo Sings Morricone is a 14-track masterpiece medley of the most famous melodies by the Maestro, including the original scores from the films Once Upon A Time In America, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, Cinema Paradiso and several others. Eight songs are recorded in Italian, five in English and one in Spanish and all go straight to your heart regardless of the language.
The three singers appeared on stage with Maestro Morricone in 2011 at an open-air concert in Rome to sing E Più Ti Penso, and their honesty in admitting that they were still too young at the time to fully realise the extent of the honour they were offered just gives you an idea of how unpretentious and down-to-earth Gianluca, Piero and Ignazio are.
But I wouldn’t exactly say they are like the boy next door, first because the boy next door – like all your neighbours – is somebody you don’t like by default, and also because, as a matter of fact, these singing sensations are not precisely “normal”: they are extraordinarily intelligent, driven and charming young men who chose to dedicate their lives to music for the sake of music, not money – which is something you can observe just rarely in musicians three times their age, and literally almost never in people that young.
As we say ciao ciao, they tell me three times that I must go and see them live, and trust me, man, there was nothing I would have loved to do more at the time of this interview in 2021 than getting lost in the crowd of a concert and finally singing my heart out again.
But my heart was sadly aware that I wouldn’t be returning to concerts until the Western war on civil liberties would be over and live shows would stop being used as a weapon to discriminate against people because of their health-related statuses and choices, if you get what I am referring to.
For me, live music is like medicine: if it’s not for everybody then I’m not taking it.
And so I waited and waited, and I missed so many concerts and shows, and then I eventually went to see Il Volo live the following year, in 2022, in a venue filled to full capacity and with no eyes without a face anymore, to my greatest joy – even though at the time we spoke, all I could answer Piero, Gianluca and Ignazio was “I really hope so” and all I could give these three adorable gentlemen back then was a smile.
But you see?
In the end, peace begins with a smile.
How was Il Volo Sings Morricone born and what does it mean to you all?
While working with our team in 2020 and 2021, we came up with the idea of putting together a tribute album to Maestro Morricone. We would normally be on tour for most of the year, but we couldn’t travel because of the pandemic, so we tried to look on the bright side, get creative and make the most out of that time. Our idea was endorsed by the Maestro’s family, and Andrea Morricone [Ennio Morricone’s son], who is also a composer, immediately showed interest in working with us. And so here’s how the whole project was born.
The feelings aren’t exactly the same for each one of us because during this pandemic we all took some time to reflect on what to do and what not to do. We felt compelled to honour Maestro Morricone, his music was very close to what we have always done: getting people all around the world to discover the beautiful Italian classics. I think Maestro Morricone has been and will always be one of the main emblems of Italian melody abroad, and so we decided to undertake a quest to do something that not many male artists had tried before us: turning Morricone’s scores into songs and putting together a full album with tracks that had only been chanted by a few women in the past. There’s also an absolute gem: not everybody knows that The Ecstasy of Gold – L’Estasi dell’Oro from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly had never been put in writing before, but the Maestro’s family gave us permission to do so, and so we did it. We turned The Ecstasy into an original, unreleased piece that was never done before.
Of course, music projects like this make you more mature both personally and artistically, and a big part of the process is cultural: to bring this music genre to younger people who may be used to listening to completely different music requires a lot of work and effort from our side. We all know that culture requires effort and struggle, and to be able to bring operatic pop to the youngsters there is a need for much more in-depth and detailed listening. This was our main goal, and we put everything, we really put anema e core [Neapolitan idiom for ‘heart and soul’] into this. This is the way we are, this is the way we have always been since we were kids, since we were 14 years old. Our intention is to always get better and use our voices and our music to pay tribute to our country everywhere in the world.
In 2011, you were directed by Maestro Ennio Morricone at a concert in Rome. What do you remember from that experience?
Collaborating with Maestro Morricone was one of the most important highlights of our career. We were so young, we were like 15 and 16 years old and we have to admit that there was no real understanding of what we were doing at that moment. Today, we realise the extent of the honour we’ve got in being able to tell this story 10 years later. We eventually carried out some research and found out that Maestro Morricone did not collaborate with many artists; he exclusively devoted himself to the symphonies and the orchestra, and so having received his support and blessing and having had him accepting to direct us in 2011 is something that fills us with pride.
In the end, we have all lived the same experience here, and we have all felt the same way. It’s a sense of pride and emotion that will be with us forever, and there’s not much left to say about it.
That was one of our first experiences in music, we were 16 years old and I remember we went up on that stage with a lot of naivety, without really realising who the man we had in front of us was. These are the things that make you grow artistically, and there’s also a childlike part in all this; in many aspects, we are still like kids marvelling at everything happening in our lives, every single day. Every time we come up with a new project, we always hope it will represent a further achievement for us.
What achievements are you most proud of?
Our greatest strength is to jump off the stage and immediately start to think about the next project; we are never satisfied, which doesn’t mean being greedy, though: we are hard-working ambitious guys who love to work really hard and always add that extra bit to our artistic journey. I personally had a wish to sing for Pope Francis, and the dream came true in 2019 at the World Youth Day in Panama. I think that was one of the most important moments in our career.
I agree with Piero. The main achievement was singing for Pope Francis, and I would also mention our act at the Verona Arena in Italy, in June 2021. We held the first-ever post-pandemic concert in the country with a live audience; performing again in front of the people’s very eyes after one year and a half of hiatus gives you feelings and emotions you can hardly forget.
To me, there are many achievements to acknowledge: winning the Sanremo Music Festival, singing at the Eurovision Song Contest, and performing with Barbra Streisand: these highlights allowed us to experience a wonderful life. And hey, we will invite you to an upcoming Il Volo concert next year!
Oh, thank you… I really hope so. Which one of your songs are you most attached to?
For me, it is certainly Grande Amore, for everything it represents regarding the launch of our career in Italy. Prior to that, prior to 2015, we had a strong desire to perform in Italy someday, because as you know – as soon as we got to meet each other in 2009 – we immediately went to the United States. We’ve been the first Italian act to get their first contract with a major US label and we’ve exclusively performed outside of Italy ever since. We started off in the United States, then South America, Japan, Australia, Russia and the rest of the world: anywhere but Italy. We didn’t have a non-cover song for the Italian market as yet, and probably the right time still needed to come. We gave the Italian audience space and time, and eventually, the right time came in 2015. Everything changed for us in Italy after we won the Sanremo Music Festival, that was the turning point for the beginning of our career in the country. You know, we really really wanted to perform at home… it’s completely different, it’s a completely different feeling!
It is important to say that our repertoire varies according to the country we are visiting because this is not just a matter of bringing Italy abroad; there’s a lot more. For those who are not familiar with our repertoire yet, I can say that we also do some wonderful American songs because our journey started in the United States – as Piero just said. By being offered a recording deal by a US label, we were allowed to put together a project dedicated to the United States, and there were so many wonderful singers in America. So, in addition to ‘O Sole Mio and Il Mondo, we cover songs like Smile and Eternally, both by Charlie Chaplin. Our duet with Barbra Streisand was Smile. And then all our tunes are also released in Spanish – we sing Spanish versions of all the tracks and some of the lyrics are original, so it’s not true that we only do covers; we also sing original and unreleased songs. Some of our originals received a very positive response in South America, and we also got nominations for the Latin Grammy Awards. So it all depends, we adapt to every country’s culture because we are probably seen in a certain way in Italy but perceived in yet another way in America. We are performers who use their voices to bring music to life, based also on our personal experiences.
I agree with Gianluca, every song we perform and have recorded tells a bit of our story, because, in the end, we are always trying to put our personal experiences and feelings into singing to convey emotions through music. So every single piece is equally relevant – and yes, Grande Amore is obviously important, but I’m also thinking about Nessun Dorma which we had the opportunity to chant at various times, like for example on America’s Got Talent and also with Plácido Domingo as a duet in 2016. Il Mondo reminds me of performing at the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 and our trip to Norway, so every song brings back different memories.
How did you come up with the fantastic Grande Amore video clip with you guys starring in Ghost, Spiderman and Back to the Future?
This is a question you should ask the video clip director! We simply bought into his idea!
I guess you liked the idea to buy into it…
Absolutely, also because they were all films we had seen before.
Then well, let’s say that making a good video clip is always a good thing, but if the music and the song are not up to the level, then it wouldn’t work. Music is always the main thing, and if good music was missing, the video wouldn’t have had all that positive feedback. It’s hard to give importance to a video clip, for as cool as it may be, if there’s no good song behind it. But that was a great idea, don’t you think it was? And I was Spiderman!
Oh yes, that was amazing. And you were a great Spiderman.
And we didn’t even fight with each other to decide which film we wanted to pick, because Ghost and Unchained Melody are my parents’ song and film, so that was going to be mine. Gianluca is Spiderman by birth even if he doesn’t climb walls, and Piero is a bit of Back to the Future. Do you get me? Piero really came here from the future and he’s the one telling us what to do, did you know that?
Yes, exactly, I don’t belong to this reality so I’m back from the future!
Actually, I recently interviewed the creator of Back to the Future Bob Gale, and I wonder if he ever saw your video…
Oh, wow! Yes, tell him that you spoke with us!
Who are your biggest musical influences?
I think this is different for each of us because each of us has his own personality. Personally, I grew up listening to the famous project of The Three Tenors: Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras.
I’ve got several heroes. If we consider charisma and vocalities, Elvis Presley for me was the number one, vocally. Then, musically, there was no one else in the world who had a more beautiful voice than the great Frank Sinatra. I’m also a huge fan of John Mayer, so it really depends on the different facets of every artist; I try to get the best from them all.
It’s difficult. As absurd as it may sound, I don’t really listen to loads of music. Of course, I do listen to some music, but not massively. So the artists I refer to are the ones I was listening to when I was younger, and they are Stevie Wonder, Brian McNeill and Pino Daniele.
Ignazio, go and listen to the new track by Elton John and Stevie Wonder. It’s called Finish Line and we can sing it along and make a duet if you like…
What’s your favourite language for singing?
I prefer English.
Yes, well, I love to sing in all languages, it’s not that difficult… well, actually singing in German is a bit problematic but let’s say that Spanish is much closer to Italian in terms of chant and harmony. English is different but it really depends on the person. In the end, it’s all the same, the important thing is to sing and to express your feelings.
I am personally undertaking an educational path about operatic music, and I’m currently studying arias in French. Singing in French for everything concerning the lyrical content is really interesting because as you know very well, there is no r sound in French.
Yes, the r sound is pronounced εrεrεrεrεrεrεr in French [terrible guttural noise]
Exactly, r is pronounced εr in French but I found out that when you sing opera arias in French as a foreign singer, you are actually allowed to make the r sound. For example: ♫♫♫ Pourquoi me réveeeeeeeeeilleeeeeeeeeeeer ♫♫♫ can actually be pronounced with the proper Italian r.
Really? How come?
Well, they allow this for Italians, and it’s way better for us!
Of course, this only applies to those who are not French, so the French tenors sing it in proper French.
Do audiences from different countries behave differently at your live shows?
As I said before, it all depends. Each country has its own unique culture, and different people have different ways to show affection, and this certainly varies from country to country. For example, people in South America are very warm, while the Japanese are much calmer. In the States, the audience is very heterogeneous, so you’ve got teenage girls as well as 80-year-old ladies, and it’s just great to bring the whole family together for a concert. Italy is very similar to the United States and also to Russia. It’s beautiful to see how much the operatic pop music genre is appreciated not only by the Italians but by so many people everywhere in the world. It’s as if Ennio Morricone belongs not only to us, but really to everyone else out there because it moves every person’s heart regardless of culture or country… I think this is the real strength of our music.
When I went to see Maestro Ennio Morricone in London in 2018, I mainly expected an Italian audience, but in the end, there were people from everywhere.
Of course, that’s not surprising, we are talking about pure melodies here – they are universal.
Just think that Morricone made the sports halls, the stadiums and the arenas all across the United States…
We are actually realising the extent of his success and popularity just now, with the numbers and the results of this tribute album and the interest it is getting internationally… but we kind of expected this reaction, so chapeau to Maestro Morricone!
The album is amazing. I love it.
All: Thank you!
What was your dream job when you were kids?
I wanted to be a vet! As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but today I wouldn’t know what to answer, because as you grow up you take different paths. I don’t really know because we focused on music from a very early age, we started at 14, so it was just this in our lives and we didn’t have the time to think, hey – what am I going to do if this doesn’t work out? We are so grateful that everything has always turned out well. We are grateful to each other, we are grateful to our families and to our manager that things have always gone well – with a lot of work and effort from our side clearly, because you know – all that glitters is not gold, and there are many struggles, lots of obstacles to overcome, many things you need to give up and loads of work behind everything we do.
Exactly, I agree with Ignazio, there was not even time to think about it: at 14, you just want to sing and you are not part of the world of the grown-ups yet.
I was actually referring to when you were even younger, like aged 6 or 7.
It was always the same, I didn’t even know what a doctor or an architect was when I was 7 years old, so I just sang, I wasn’t part of the grown-up world yet, so I did what made me feel good without thinking that it could become a job one day, and then when it all happened suddenly, I happily jumped on it!
Ours is not a job because we don’t wake up in the morning and go to the office. We dedicate our lives to music, we dedicate all our days to music, we have no actual days off, and we never watch the clock: music transports us into its world and I believe that if I had to tell you how many days in my life I think I’ve “worked”, I think that I’ve never worked a day in my life. This is what I love to do, this is what we all love to do, all this requires a lot of time, effort and things that we have to give up to make this happen, but we are consciously aware of our privilege to be able to do what we love to do, and we think we’ll never stop – and all we hope is that this path that we have taken will never end, but rather it will continue to grow.
Is there something you feel you lost or missed out on in your childhood? How was it to grow up this way?
As long as life gives you what you want, you never lose or miss out on anything. There is nothing you lose because there is nothing you can do to change what has already happened, so the great privilege in life is having the peace of mind to be able to turn your passion into a job. Then, of course, we spent less time playing at the park with friends when we were kids, and certainly, we did not go to university – but we attend another type of university: the university of life. All the experiences you do in your life will shape you into a different person; if I hadn’t been a singer, I would have surely been a different person and I don’t regret anything – I don’t have any regrets or grudges.
Personally, I can say that the Covid lockdown made me realise many things regarding day-to-day life and the daily routine of waking up in the morning, going to the gym, have breakfast: this has never existed for us because in normal times we take one plane a day, we’re always touring and doing promotion, it’s a completely different life. For us, our everyday life is to travel, to perform, to make concerts and make music. And so I would say that yes, maybe I don’t have many friends, I’ve got like three or four friends, but they are enough for me because they contribute to making me find that inner balance I can have thanks to my family and the people who love me. And I obviously hope to create a family of my own in the future; we are guys with important core values inspired by the people around us.
I agree with everything they’ve both said, so I won’t say anything else because I don’t want to repeat ourselves!
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