Sometimes even the most innocent of meetings can have the most spectacular outcomes. Late last summer two executives from Warner Bros Records were having a coffee in their local Starbucks. They were discussing how to go about finding young singers for a fresh, commercial and totally British classical group. What they didn’t know was a senior tutor from the Royal College of Music was sat behind them hearing the whole conversation.
He immediately thought of four of his young opera students who would fit the brief perfectly and after an exchange of details and a few phone calls later both parties met. To the Warner team it was immediately clear this group was uniquely talented, charismatic and passionate - they were signed straight away to a 6-album deal.
There have, over the past few years, been an increasing number of artists who have attempted to bring operatic, classical music to a mainstream audience. Some have been wildly successful, others have bordered on the downright silly. But all have been held back by one uncomfortable truth – the artists in question aren’t serious, trained singers. None of them have stood upon the opera stages of the world and actually performed to an unshakable, world class standard. In fact, not since The Three Tenors has their been a group capable of singing the material as it’s meant to be sung. No dumbing down, no gimmicks, no trickery – just a fresh collection of astonishing talent, four people with a desire to treat the music – the art – with the respect it deserves. That’s Amore.
If you ever have five or six hours to spare, sit back and take a trip through the group’s individual CVs. These people might only be in their early-to-mid 20s, but they have done a colossal amount of work, from recitals and festivals, to performing for Presidents, for royalty, for the experts who gather on BBC Radio 3, even – as children – singing at the opening of the Millennium Dome. This is a story of four lives dedicated to music. The quartet of musicians in Amore can point to more than 30 years of training between them. These people know precisely what they’re doing.
“You’re born as an opera singer,” offers Monica McGhee (Soprano). “You don’t choose to become one. It’s a vocation and I couldn’t be satisfied doing anything else.”
“Those other groups and singers have brought in a lot of people,” says David Webb (Tenor), “but we’ve all sung the leads in operas, we’ve learnt the stagecraft side of it. We have credibility – now we want to show it’s not elitist. You can get a good opera ticket for the same price as the football, and it’s three hours long!”
“The truth it that you can hide behind an instrument,” says Victoria Gray (Mezzo Soprano), “but you can’t hide behind your voice. What we do is tough. Singing is deeply personal and people’s reactions can be painful. But it’s part of who you are.”
Victoria, Peter, Monica and David are friends who have lived, studied and worked together; even their boyfriends and girlfriends know each other. Their performances are driven by a real relationship with a real dynamic. There is a genuine camaraderie at work here that you only get from spending hours and hours in each other’s company.
Peter and David met while they were still teenagers and singing together as part of Truro Cathedral’s choir. “We did a service every day apart from Thursday,” Peter laughs. “So we all went out on Wednesday night…”
The pair were given a house to live in and £400 a month wages. Both needed other jobs; David got one in The Body Shop (“it was full of nice girls…”), while Peter ended up in Dixons (“terrible, we had Avril Lavigne on a loop all day…”)
Peter had planned to go to University to study architecture. But he got the prospectus for the Royal College of Music and both he and David loved the idea of going. “But way in the future,” Peter says. But then David auditioned – having read Barry Green’s inspirational book, The Inner Game Of Music – and, despite claiming to be, “rubbish at singing” he was stopped halfway through his audition Aria and offered a scholarship.
When it was Peter’s turn to audition he was told to imagine he had a paintbrush in his mouth (“it was to get me over my nerves, it’s good not to focus on yourself…”) and soon he too won over the panel and ended up with a scholarship.
“They told me not to bother going anywhere else,” he says. “So from then on I was at the Royal College of Music. Life became a bit, well, different.”
Monica and Victoria met at the Royal College, having both sung since they were young children. “Monica makes things happen,” Victoria says. “She’s a motivator.” The pair would sing and perform together as often as they possibly could, as pianist and singer or singer and singer.
Victoria says she used to be, “painfully shy”, but she’s nothing like that now. From 6 to 8 she barely spoke, but one day in choir at school everyone had to do a solo – just one line – and when she sang her teacher stopped the class and asked when she’d had singing lessons.
“But I never had,” Victoria says. “He didn’t believe me so he rang my mum!”
Aged 8 she auditioned for Cantamus Girls Choir (Twice Choral Olympic Champions and Choir of the World) and so began this incredible journey.
“I never thought I wanted to be an opera singer,” she says. “I just liked singing.”
Monica always wanted to be an opera singer. Aged three she was singing along with Montserrat Caballe and wrote her own opera – based on Baa Baa Black Sheep - aged five. “I come from a part of Scotland where you don’t do anything fancy,” she says. “But my dad says by 2 I couldn’t be contained. I showed off all the time, I was a hideous child with a weird voice everyone was terrified of!”
The girls have known the boys for six years now, but all of them say something special happens when they sing together. “Our voices match so well,” Monica says. “It’s true for personality and sound and energy too. We also have a lot of fun together!”
Not so long ago, as students, Amore would claim to be an opera group signed to a major label just to get onto club and party guest lists. Now they actually are signed to a major label and they’ve made their debut album with the Grammy winning producer and arranger,
Simon Franglen. As for the music, among others there are crisp, true to the score performances of ‘Nimrod’, ‘Nella Fantasia’,
‘The Flower Duet’, ‘Brindisi’, ‘The Pearl Fishers’ and ‘Amazing Grace’.
Conrad Withey, President of Warner Music Entertainment says, “My ambition at the start was to find a young, world class, all British operatic group to really make an impact on the classical sector. We set the bar very high, but in finding the four singers that make up Amore we’ve gone beyond even my wildest dreams. They are sensational in every way. All can say now is we’ll be having all our A&R meetings in Starbucks!”
“I feel protective of this music,” says Victoria. “As classical musicians we want to keep its vibrancy alive.”
“We’re not trying to make opera cool or sexy,” David says. “It already is cool and sexy. It’s also funny and tragic and amazing.”
“Everyone loves a good movie or a great play and opera tells a story like that,” Monica says. “What we want to show people more than anything is that opera is the combination of every art form perfected. So try it. You never know, you might just fall in love.”