First there were the three tenors - Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras. These magnificent opera singers created a global demand for beautiful music beautifully sung. In the almost two decades since they first performed, that demand has been filled by a veritable arpeggio of successors - the Celtic Tenors, the Irish Tenors, the Tenor Australis, the Ten Tenors, the Three Mo' Tenors, the Three Tenors and a Soprano, the Three Chinese Tenors (no joke) and the Simon Cowell-produced tenors Il Divo. Several solo artists, among them Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and, this year, Paul Potts, the 37-year-old British mobile-phone salesman turned operatic singing sensation, are mining the same middle of the road pop/opera territory.
Now, this fiercely competitive tenor market is about to get even more crowded. Two separate acts - the Canadian Tenors, a four-member group created by Victoria composer and voice teacher Jill Ann Siemens, and Destino, a quartet managed by Vancouver's John Dexter - are throwing their arias into the ring. Both are now on tour with Christmas concerts.
Can the market support two new players, as well as the others?
Destino, which bills itself as delivering "popera with soul infusion," seems to be duplicating the hugely successful Il Divo model, both in terms of repertoire and style of dress. The group, which is composed of Paul Ouellette, Joey Niceforo, Giovanni Amenta and Leon Leontaridis, has already released two albums, including a Christmas-themed CD.
The newer foursome, the Canadian Tenors (Fraser Walters, Victor Micallef, Remigio Pereira and Jamie McKnight) seem to be seeking a folkier, more Canadian sound. Although they have recorded their first album they are still negotiating for a distribution and marketing deal with a major label. The quartet recently returned from a tour of the Netherlands, performed for Bill Clinton in Toronto, and have a series of Western Canadian and Irish concert dates with the Celtic Divas set for next month and the new year.
Siemens, who is artistic director, says she has been seeking the right harmony for a tenor group for several years, ever since she saw the Celtic Tenors perform in Ireland. In fact, her current foursome is the third incarnation in three years of Canadian tenors (two previous members are now part of Destino). It was only a few months ago that she settled on the fourth member - lyric tenor McKnight, a former member of the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus. The group chemistry with the previous fourth tenor, Peter McCutcheon, was not working, so he left the group several months ago.
Siemens thinks that there's plenty of room for more tenor groups. "It's like pop music," she says. "There's lots of Gwen Stefanis and Mariah Careys. It doesn't matter what you call them. I could call them the Trash Can Boys. The name is irrelevant. It's the music. People want to hear the music."
All of the Canadian tenors had solo careers at various stages of development when they agreed to form the group. McKnight, a native of Scarborough, Ont., had been at the Stratford Festival and had appeared in the Toronto production of The Producers. Walters, 27, of Vancouver, is a former member of Canada's national track and field team, performed with Chanticleer, the Grammy-winning a cappella group. Toronto's Victor Micallef, whose background is Maltese, had studied and sung opera in Europe under such conductors as Zubin Mehta, Daniel Oren and Claudio Abbado. The fourth, Portuguese-Canadian Remigio Pereira, was raised in Ottawa and had a successful career as a classical guitarist and composer before turning to voice.
"It was understood from Day 1 you'd have to leave your ego at the door," Micallef says. "That doesn't work with everybody, but we all have the same vision. We all think as group members and we have one objective - to further the group."
McKnight, 28, says he wrestled with the decision about whether to leave Stratford and join the group, but "when I saw and heard these guys, I knew I wanted to be part of it. It was hard, but at the same time a no-brainer."
Micallef, 34, faced a similar dilemma, whether to turn his back on a third-year contract with the Canadian Opera Company. "They were upset because I had a whole season with them ready to go, but sometimes you have to spread your wings."
Of course, they could potentially eclipse whatever success they might otherwise have achieved as solo acts.
"I actually don't see a downside," Walters says. "As a group we can raise each other to new levels. We can still be ourselves and perform solo within the group. No one is trying to make us anything that we aren't. The process is entirely collaborative and we can bring our own ideas for repertoire, performance opportunities, dress - all of these things - to the table. We have to be ourselves, or else people will see through that."
Music promoters have been anxious to get a piece of the impending action. Destino has signed with Vancouver's Sam Feldman, but the Canadian Tenors are biding their time, waiting for the right moment and the right deal. Siemens eventually wants to cede management reins to a larger player, but is treading carefully, trying to find someone who will retain her vision.
Micallef compares finding good management to finding a good voice teacher. "It's a chemistry thing. Some teachers work for some singers and others don't. Same with managers. It has to be the right fit."
"I think we have a blank slate," Walters adds. "We have an opportunity to take this model and say, 'How can we make it different?' "
The Canadian Tenors are in Montreal tomorrow; London, Ont., Nov. 29; and Toronto, Nov. 30. Victoria, Dec. 3 and 16; Moose Jaw, Sask., Dec. 5; Calgary, Dec. 8 and 9, Edmonton, Dec. 12 and various B.C. cities Dec. 13 to 18.