In the beginning the guys were called “awesome opera singers!” That’s how they described them. No, not in Italy! Here in America!
I love looking back at the beginning of their career and watching how they grew! One of the nice things about living in New York is you get all the interviews and promos firsthand!
In the late summer of 2011, the guys were getting ready for their first North American Tour. This involved a lot of preparation and a lot of appearances on TV talk shows to pave the way! I remember watching them on “Good Morning America” and thinking this is going to be an amazing journey for them. They have so much going for them but above all they had their youth which was an asset! Their voices were enticing and, they were adorable! Every teenage girl was going to fall in love with them. So would their mothers, and above all the grandmothers! It was the beginning of a journey that was going to take them to every corner of the earth. They would steal the hearts of all who came into contact with them. And, given their age, we could count on their music being around for a long time. That was the thing about their music, it came from the past and fit right into the present and would go well into the future. Everyone would come to love it! Yes, there were others who sang the same songs but, they were not Il Volo! Only Il Volo could pierce our hearts with their beautiful voices and leave us memories that would grow with age and expand with every new song!
During the last days of summer in September of 2011, the guys were taping the “Today” show. They were teenagers and they were belting out their favorite song “O Sole Mio” in front of projections of stained-glass windows. Their appearance capped a few months that brought them from “American Idol” to the morning talk shows to the final episode of “Entourage.” The idea was carefully designed to expose them to both mothers and daughters, before their first North American tour, which included theaters like the Beacon Theater in Manhattan.
In the NBC studio at Rockefeller Center, a sleepy-eyed Gianluca, 16, crooned the opening verse, and Piero, 18, and Ignazio, who was turning 17 the following Tuesday, released ringing high notes. Hoda Kotb, “Today’s” co-host, put her hand on her heart and smiled wistfully behind the cameras.
“We are Il Volo,” Ignazio said at the end with a heavy accent and a dimpled grin. “It means ‘flight.’ Thank you for flying with us!
After the taping Hoda said, “Believe me, everyone’s going to come running. They’re going to beat down the door.” How right she was!
The theory, Arias for teenagers, the crossover dream was being masterminded by some of the most savvy executives in the music business: Jimmy Iovine, who helped turn Eminem and Lady Gaga into superstars; Ron Fair, who nurtured the careers of Christina Aguilera and the Black Eyed Peas; and Steve Leber, a management legend who worked with the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and AC/DC and has come out of pop retirement to try to make Il Volo explode. And explode they did!
The group was introducing the same Italian pop standards and power ballads that performers like Bocelli used to rocket to superstardom. The difference, of course, is age: theirs, and that of their potential audience.
“In the beginning all of us thought that because of their kind of music, the audience would be from 35 and up,” said producer Tony Renis. “But now we realize that they can conquer the kids. The younger generation all over the world. The kids are used to rap but they never had the chance to listen to this kind of music. But now Il Volo is spreading a new kind of feeling. They are conquering every age.”
The group caught Mr. Renis’s eye in the spring of 2009, when the three boys were competing individually on “Ti Lascio una Canzone,” an Italian version of “American Idol.” A shrewd producer on the show, Roberto Cenci, suggested they combine forces, and their renditions of modern classics were hits.
“These kids were singing ‘O Sole Mio,’ and I heard such amazing, beautiful voices that I didn’t believe it,” Mr. Renis said. “I thought it was fake. They were singing with such mature voices, like men of 50 or 60 years.”
Mr. Iovine and Mr. Fair signed the guys to Geffen Records after hearing a clip that Mr. Renis played for them. Their debut album, “Il Volo,” a mélange of songs in Italian, English and Spanish calibrated for the widest possible appeal, was assembled over the next year and released in Italy in November 2010.
The label’s connections landed the guys a spot on “American Idol.” They also did a cameo on the final episode of “Entourage,” with their song “Un Amore Così Grande.”
Meanwhile, when Anthony Rugiero heard Il Volo sing, he was struck by the group’s similarity to both opera’s The Three Tenors and the pop music world’s Jonas Brothers.
“I was amazed,” said Rugiero. “It was, like wow! They are treating these kids like the Jonas Brothers in Italy and they’re singing opera, like The Three Tenors. You look at them and it’s like, these guys have it all. It’s too good to be true.”
Rugiero, who heard the group sing in Italy, knew Il Volo could help his charitable endeavors. He had been looking for a way to raise funds for Boys’ Town of Italy, Italian Language Inter-Cultural Alliance and the Volterra-Detroit.
“I was thinking, how can I get a group together that’s big enough that it would reach all age levels? I thought about singing groups and was trying to think of who I could get, when I see these young kids in Italy,” Rugiero recalled. “They take classical music and put a little something into it. These kids are wonderful.”
Rugiero, who also is a board member of the Detroit Opera House, was determined to bring the group to Detroit as a fundraiser for three organizations and began working on a plan to produce the concert himself. After Live Nation bought the group’s North American concert tour, Rugiero suggested a benefit dinner that would be held in conjunction with the show on Sunday, October 16. Concert promoters liked the idea.
This video is the best example of how they were able to steal the hearts of the American people. The video shows them on a simple stage with limit musicians and their voices shine!
“I purchased the first 20 rows, center section, all premium seats,” Rugiero said, describing seats at the Fox Theatre. “We hope to have a great evening.”
Fiat was the sponsor of the event, along with several Italian-American business leaders including Tom Celani and Anthony Soave.
The Volterra-Detroit Foundation supports The University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture and Comune di Volterra, which had formed a partnership to provide a new educational opportunity in the City of Volterra, Italy, for students in metro Detroit. Through the partnership, U.S. students can study in Italy for no additional fee, after paying their regular college tuition.
“I love programs that bridge the gap between Italy and the U.S.,” Rugiero said.
Rugiero didn’t get to produce the concert but he was able to use it as a fundraiser for three worthy organizations.
Back in New York, the “Today Show” was not their only talk-show appearance. They were on “The Tonight Show,” “Good Morning America,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and CBS’s “Early Show” in May, when their album was released in the United States. And they were preparing for a PBS special.
In the meantime, their album made its debut on the Billboard 100 chart at No. 10. The Italian and American management teams butted heads about where, when and how to spend the boys’ time. Should they stay in America a full year and play smallish clubs? Make one-off appearances all over the world? Play theaters seating 1,000 or 3,000?
“No one had a real game plan,” said Mr. Leber, who persuaded the families to bring him and his son, Jordan, on to help manage the group as it rolled out. “They need to tour, tour, tour, tour. The kids and the parents were nervous about going on the road. But the most important thing was to go on the road.”
So, on the road they were. Each of the boys was accompanied by one parent, a substantial sacrifice, since all three left their jobs to join their sons, and none are wealthy: Piero’s father is an auto-body mechanic, Gianluca’s a truck driver, and Ignazio’s mother owned a pizzeria that her 25-year-old daughter was running in her absence. None of the three spoke English.
The group had already been to Singapore, New Zealand, Sydney, Miami, jumping on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival. With the upcoming North American Tour, it was necessary to get a new wardrobe. The guys were taken to Dolce & Gabbana on Madison Avenue to shop for a tour wardrobe. When they arrived at the store, Barbara Vitali told the sales associate, “We have to balance the repertory they are performing with the teenagers that they are.”
The scene in D & G was confusing! A series of slim blazers failed to fit Ignazio, who has lost more than 30 pounds but remains wide in the shoulders. Ignazio sang “All Nylon” to the tune of “All Night Long.” Gianluca emerged from the dressing room in tight black velvet pants and a shiny black blazer. Piero ended up with boots spattered Pollock style.
“They’re very, very different from one another,” Mr. Fair said. “Gianluca’s like a young Tony Curtis or a Mario Lanza, almost a Presley character, handsome and dark and Italian with fabulous hair. Ignazio is a crowd pleaser and a people person, adorable and funny. Piero is more studious, very serious.”
Three hours and well into five figures’ worth of clothing later, the group headed to theBorgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, site of the tour’s first performance of the guys first full concert ever. They allotted two days for preparation.
The following morning’s rehearsal began well. The boys sounded fresh as they warmed up; the echo of one of Ignazio’s high notes stayed in the ice-cold air of the theater for five full seconds. But Gianluca missed an entrance — he had, as usual, been on his cellphone with his girlfriend — and things quickly dissolved into backstage shouting.
The next day was the opening show, and the boys had still not run a single song all the way through. Mr. Leber arrived, doling out hugs. “This is not music,” he said. “This is a happening. This is an event.”
And it was. It got off to a rough start. The lighting careened from darkness to glare. The sound mix, including the vocal track augmenting some of the group’s harmonies, was murky; the video projections — a mixture of slow-motion Italian film clips and animations — were distracting. The boys seemed unsure of exactly where to stand and how to move.
Then they opened their mouths. The first song was “Il Mondo,” a sweeping heart tugger. Like many of the numbers in Il Volo’s playbook, it started quietly, with a verse from Gianluca. It built and built, until Ignazio, oozing delight at being onstage, let loose a startlingly full and mature high note.
A girl literally screamed with delight!
Gianluca glanced at Piero with relief in his eyes. The audience gave standing ovation after standing ovation.
Next stop, Toronto. In contrast to the Borgata show — which, like much of the tour, was organized by the American concert-promotion monolith Live Nation — the Toronto appearance was the work of a local promoter, Mimmo Pellegrino. It was at Roy Thomson Hall, where the Toronto Symphony Orchestra plays and, which is about three times the size of the Borgata theater.
The Borgata show had, as Mr. Leber had predicted, the feel of an event – sold out, electric. In Toronto about a quarter of the seats remained empty. Some odd scenic elements had been added, like three enormous white masks that were revealed at the end to be swivel chairs. The audience response was warm, but it was hard for even the loudest of the recorded string arrangements to fill the big space.
The audience at both shows was mostly older, but there were the seeds of what could become a classic boy-band phenomenon: that girl screaming in the audience at the Borgata, high-pitched shrieks of “We love you!” in Toronto, a high school senior who asked Piero to be her date for homecoming. (He said yes.) And maybe, just maybe, they will inspire young people to try “real” opera. The thought was, if Il Volo can persuade teenagers to notice and care about vocal production in a classical — or at least classic — style, who knows?
“By January they could sell 1.5 million records around the world,” predicted Mr. Fair, who arrived at the theater in Toronto just as the boys were exiting the stage. “Everyone will know who Il Volo is. It’s going to be a gigantic live act. Tickets are going to sell like crazy. And then a song will come along, like a Coldplay-type song, a pop record that’s introspective and beautiful, and everyone on the more pop end of things will know them.”
But before everyone knew them there was a degree of fame and it was pleasant and inviting. There was some discussion after the Borgata show about whether the boys should exit through a back door. They decided instead to greet the public, and as they walked into the lobby, what can only be called a polite mob ensued, just the right size and just the right amount of enthusiasm. The boys thanked everyone graciously as they signed autographs and posed for photos.
Earlier in the day Ignazio was doing a sound check onstage with the band. Steve Leber watched from the seats. As if on cue, Ignazio hit one of his shining high notes. Mr. Leber smiled. “Our game plan is working,” he said.
And it certainly worked well. The crowds grew and, the enthusiasm grew and, it has never stopped working since then. The 2011 North American Tour was just the beginning of their success in America. A success that ten years later continues not just in North American but around the world.
And over the last year the call from our guys and the world was Let the Concerts Begin.
2022 should prove to be the best year yet! Welcome Back guys! You have really given us great pleasure with your Tribute to Ennio Morricone and we look forward to its arrival in North America and around the world!
Join me next week as I go back Through the Fields of My Mind and open the door to a new adventure!
Excerpts from an article in the New York Times by Zachary Woolfe on Sept. 29, 2011
Today I would like to share a letter with you from a lady named Marilyn Andrews in Seattle.
In 2020, at the height of the covid pandemic, my husband passed away from a long illness. I had been caring for him for several years prior to his passing. I loved him so deeply, but yet, after many months, I had been unable to grieve for him. Let me describe my husband, and you may be able to make an association with someone else:
Professional singer; glorious baritone voice; a repertoire of thousands of songs; offered a chance at fame on national TV (but turned it down over concerns for impact on the family); opened a show for Tony Bennett; musically inspired by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Mario Lanza, the Three Tenors, etc.; private in nature but a consummate perfectionist in public performance; intelligent, serious, articulate, a philosopher of the mind; handsome, part time model with a stunning smile; fit and athletic runner and weight lifter; self taught in many things, including guitar and piano; a lover of beautiful clothes (Armani in particular); a lover of all things Italian – culture, art, history, wine. Above all, lover of family. The list could go on….
In the fall of 2020, I happened to hear a televised concert of Il Volo on TV. I loved the music and began to follow the group online and joined the fan club – my first and only one ever. As I read more about Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca individually, I was startled by the many things Gianluca and, my husband had in common. “How odd”, I thought. The more I learned, the more things I found they had in common, the stranger it became, and so the more I followed.
Sometime in the winter of 2020, I viewed and heard Gianluca’s performance of “Mi Mancherai” in Rome on YouTube. At that time, I knew virtually no Italian words, and so had no idea of the song’s meaning. But upon hearing it, something inside me just broke. It was such a jolt that I actually felt it physically. The timbre of the song, the sadness and the passion with which it was delivered instantly touched my soul at such a deep level that I cannot even describe it. I wept, and wept and wept, and realized that I was finally, finally grieving for my lost husband. Two days later, I searched online for an English translation of the song. And the tears came all over again, as I learned that the song is about losing someone so very close to you that you are overwhelmed with the “missing” and the sense of loss. It was quite literally a musical expression of grief – my grief. Without realizing it, I had been led, seemingly step by step, to the music of Il Volo, then to the character of Gianluca, then to his song, then to the expression of my grief. How could this even be possible – that a complete stranger helped me begin to overcome my deepest loss? I have no idea. But I somehow need to thank Il Volo and specifically Gianluca for the gift that he gave me, even without his knowledge of it.
Over time, I am healing. And I have begun the process of reinventing myself. Hesse says that “the true profession of man is finding his way to himself.” That is what I am doing. With my previous background in international business, I am learning Italian, working remotely here in Seattle for an Italian company in Vicenza, and planning a different life for myself. I may not stay in the U.S.; it is possible I may choose – Italy? Spain? Portugal? All of these changes involve a great deal of new thinking, new learning, and a lot of courage, but as I heal, I am becoming a true lioness!
Today the music of Il Volo brings me no tears, only incomparable joy. I have never had the opportunity or pleasure of seeing and hearing Il Volo in concert, but I hope to do so in the future, in Italy or somewhere in the world. It is highly unlikely that I will ever meet Gianluca in person. But if I did, I would shake his hand, thank him, and let him know that he has helped me more than he will ever know. “All things are possible.”
How do you begin to tell a story, more like a fairy tale, about three teenage boys who conquered the music industry?
They came from Italy from very different regions, very different families, very different backgrounds but, they had one thing in common, the ability to capture audiences with their amazingly, beautiful, voices.
Thinking back over the years, I realize they have put so much energy into such a short period of time. Twelve years of a lifetime but, in reality, they did it in five years! How is it possible that these three men could do, in such a short period of time, what most men cannot do in a lifetime? The secret is in the voices!
Going back to the beginning, I remember what Gianluca said, “I thought there were three hundred thousand boys singing like me, and instead that night I discovered that there are only two: Ignazio and Piero.” Of course, Gianluca was referring to the night they sang together for the first time onTi Lascio Una Canzone. So, let’s begin there!
When they came together as contestants on Ti Lasacio una Canzone, they never dreamt that they would walk off the stage as stars! Individually, they sang with some very famous Italian singers, Al Bano, Massimo Ranieri, Fausto Leali, Adamo, Piero Mazzoccheti and, they were singing their songs and these men were in absolute awe of these teenagers.
From the first note that came out of their mouths, everyone recognized how unique their voices were. Roberto Cenci the artistic director and director of Ti Lascio una Canzone recognized the importance of these three voices. He recognized that the voices were different but alike in their uniqueness. Cenci understood if you put the voices together, they will blend beautifully and, they will be very appealing. How right he was! An experiment that turned into stardom.
And how did Michele Torpedine put it?“The three casually put together to sing a song of the program possess an incredible vocality for their age.” Watching them on TV Michele is thinking these guys are good and again repeats it to himself, they’re good! He thinks, “What if I try to put them together seriously?” Michele and everyone else felt they were incredible!
But it needed much more than just a feeling and it went beyond incredible. It needed something to come to life. It needed a new idea. It needed to be different because they were different. So how do you make it different? Bel Canto!
Bel canto is Italian for “beautiful singing.” From the mid-18th century through the early 19th century, Italian opera developed what is now known as a bel canto style. Composers began to write long, sustained vocal lines intended to show off the beauty of the voice.
Well, that works! They certainly have beautiful voices!
If you start with the premise that bel canto can make the difference, then you need to find the best way to present it! First, have them sing all the Italian classics. If you look at the music industry at the time you have to say “it won’t work” but, it did. Why? It worked because their voices were unique, the presenters were teenagers, and the world was waiting for something different. The difference was they needed to go back to what was and present in a different light. A unique idea. A little risky for sure but, a lot of very talented people in the industry felt it could work. And it did!
Bel canto for sure! But those voices that embody bel canto needed to go beyond and so where do you go? In their concerts they sing beautiful arias because they have beautiful operatic voices but, they will tell you, they do not sing opera. So, they reinvented the idea of opera. Just as bel canto reinvented opera, so did they reinvent it with their Operatic Pop. Always light, free flowing, ethereal! They took away the rigidness and left the beauty of the words which they present in their special ways with their special voices!
A few days after I finished this article, Michele Torpedine appeared on the Marzia Roncacci show. During the interview Marzia surprised everyone with an appearance by Piero. She asked one very important question, that is the question I just presented. So, I would like you to hear it in Piero’s own words.
Marzia: Listen, Piero, and also Michele, how do you explain this great success of yours, of three young people, because you are now very well established, even abroad, it is not so easy, there are only a few who are known and, they can be counted on your fingertips.
Piero: Our success is the echo! It is the resonance of the music we sing. As Pavarotti did in the past, bel canto is the winning weapon. Bel canto is the most popular Italian music in the world, and it is nice to hear in any theater or arena in the world, even in Japan, when the public hear these melodies, written right here in Italy, they go into ecstasy. Our voices also contribute, it is clear, and to hear young people with these voices …. but it is clear that if we didn’t sing this kind of music, it would be much more difficult.
Piero is very modest! Their voices are very important. They brought bel canto back to life in a unique way! Bravo!
So, let’s move on! Where do you begin?
Their first stop was Miami. It was like stepping into a dream for them. Everything in America was different from Italy. The streets, the houses, the cars, everything was different. But above all, they really could not comprehend all that was happening to them. After Miami they went to Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, they were invited to participant in the charity event “We Are the World 25 for Haiti”.
They took Los Angeles by storm. This is truly the beginning of IL VOLO!
By now, they were in a whirlwind!
Piero recalls, “We were fifteen and sixteen when we found ourselves in this American dream. We had signed a contract with a record company that includes famous artists like Beyonce and many others. We were invited by the record company to a party. We turned and saw, Quincy Jones; we turn around and we saw Rihanna; we turned and shook hands with Lady Gaga. We talked with them, some singers who were idols for us and for our peers.”
In fact, the guys only began to understand that something was changing when their first record came out. The boys had met all the big names and performed with them in We Are the World, but reality had not yet set in. Let’s hear what Ignazio had to say about this….
“It was already in May 2010 and the Il Volo album was about to come out all over the world. Maybe I was too small and naive, but I did not feel the anxiety of the job like today. The first major television show we appeared in, in America, was American Idol, the world’s most famous music talent show.”
And what a performance that was. They sang “ ‘O Sole Mio” and in that moment, they captured the hearts of thirty million people. Not to mention Ignazio giving five to Steven Tyler. But that’s another story!
During the last three episodes of American Idol’s tenth season, they performed and promoted their first album, Il Volo.The international edition of the album was released on April 12, 2011.
In its first week, the album reached the tenth spot of Billboard 200 and topped the Classical Albums chart. The album also entered the top ten in other countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and it peaked at number one on the Austria Albums Chart. It would later be certified platinum by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.
Back in Italy, in their hometowns, the people were ecstatic. These three teenagers had achieved what only a few Italian artists had achieved, success in America!
By now, every program in America wanted them. The phone was ringing off the hook! They appeared on The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Early Show. There was no stopping them. The people of America had spoken and what they were calling for was, Il Volo. And slowly, the rest of the world also recognized their achievements.
The chatter began about these three teenagers with voices like “angels!” But what’s most important is what happened to the boys! These boys who came to America thinking, “who will know us there,” were now becoming a household name. And how did that happen, a little thing called PBS…
Next week we follow the guys to Detroit where they stepped on the stage at the Detroit Opera House and sealed their fate!
We continue to follow their footsteps Through the Fields of My Mind….
This is the first anniversary of my column with Il Volo Flight Crew. Through all the chaos, it’s been a wonderful year for me for many reasons! First and foremost, I had the great opportunity to write about three amazing young men and I got to meet you, the fans, and I had the opportunity to get acquainted with many of you!
Last year at this time, we were thinking this will be over in a few weeks! We know how that turned out! But it seems our greatest concern at the time, was for Italy. Many of you were writing on Facebook how concerned you were for the guys. My column was a direct result of your concerns.
I started by telling you the guys were at home and safe! And, thanks to the generosity of the guys, we were able to follow them on Facebook and Instagram almost daily! My suggestion was we should think about more positive things. So, the column began with us concentrating on where it all began and all the wonderful events in the lives of these young men and even sharing some recipes and interesting facts about the regions they live in.
On this first anniversary I have been invited to start a new column called,Through the Fields of My Mind.In this column, I will be a looking back on some of the memorable moments in the lives of our guys! I will write stories about some of the events that are now forgotten. We will look back while looking forward. I believe or I should say I hope, we are coming to the end of all the sadness in the world and, we are all looking forward to the concerts resuming!
While searching through old videos and newspaper articles I’ve come across some really beautiful pictures and stories that I know you will enjoy as much as I have enjoyed seeing and reading them. I look at the old pictures and I say is it possible that 12 years ago this all began with three teenagers who stole the hearts of the American people.
It seems like yesterday they walked out on that stage at the Detroit Opera House for their first PBS special and sang their way into our hearts. I remember as each one began to sing it took my breath away. All I could think was “If they’re this good now, what will they be like in 10 years?” You know the answer! “Even more amazing!”
The nice thing about all this is we got the opportunity to watch them grow into fine young men. We listened as they grew into their, absolutely, amazing voices. We took them into our hearts and our families. Many of you think of them as your sons and grandsons and refer to them as such even though you have never met them. Many fans have written to me to tell me how the guys helped them through some of the worst moments in their lives. The loss of a spouse or a child! Some said they helped them recover from major surgeries. And some even said, through their music, they helped them through long hospital stays. It was the best therapy anyone could receive. It’s no wonder they feel like they are a part of their families. In some cases, they are the only family that these people have and, our guys don’t even know how much their music has helped these people, especially, over the last year when many of the fans were home alone! But they certainly know how much they are loved by their fans!
I also invite you to share stories with me. Sometimes when I write an article, fans write to me and say, I was at that concert! If you have anything to contribute, I would be happy to read it. I can’t promise I can include everything because my space is limited but I would be happy to hear what you have to say! I have set up a special email for this column. You’re welcome to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let me say one thing that will not be included in my column and which I will not answer questions about in emails. That is anything to do with their love lives. That includes, your opinion of their love lives. First off, I am not privy to any of this information and, if I was, I wouldn’t share it with you anyway. Their love lives are private, as they should be. So, for this one time only I will answer three questions:
Do they have love interests?They certainly do!
Are they flirtatious?All the time!
Do they love their women?Each and every one of them!
And that’s all you need to know and that is my final word on their love lives! If they want you to know anything about their lives, they will certainly share it with you. Actually, they have been very generous with their private lives. They post pictures of their families and events that they attend alone and with their families. They try as much as possible to keep you in the loop! This is something other entertainers don’t do for their fans.
I, along with my colleagues at Flight Crew, will try to keep you updated on all that is going on in Il Volo land. For now, we await the new album and look forward to the June 5th concert, at St. Peter’s Square, honoring the memory of Ennio Morricone.
See you all next week when we start our journey down memory lane passing Through the Fields of My Mind….
Nine years ago, PBS introduced America to three teenage Italian boys, Il Volo.
Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca grew up on PBS. From their first concert on October 27, 2011 at the Detroit Opera House, they won the admiration of the American people. These three teenagers stole the hearts of the American people and they continue to do so today. They have done 6 concerts with PBS over the past 10 years. Their last concert in 2019 in Matera, Italy was to celebrate their ten years together as Il Volo.
They introduced America to a new style of music. Operatic pop and classical music! A very different kind of music for teenagers. Il Volo’s aim was to show young people how good this music is. They won over the children, parents and grandparents. They were an immediate sensation. America fell in love with them.
On the Ninth Anniversary of Il Volo’s concerts on PBS, let’s look back at how they started on this road.
Over the last year I have shared Il Volo’s life story with you, their fans. Now it’s time to go back and see how they landed on this road. Let’s travel back in time to where it all began in Naro, Bologna and Montepagano!
Piero’s best memories as a child were his Sunday dinners with his family which included every family member from his great grandmother, Lina, all the way down to his cousins who were more like brothers and sisters. And he recalls summers in the countryside with his entire family. Piero says, “I swear they were perhaps the most beautiful days of my life, and I will never forget them.”
Let’s take a closer look at one of these stories.
Piero’s discovery starts in the Garden of Pietro Ognibene’s (Piero’s Grandfather) house.
As was his custom, Piero’s grandfather Pietro, would come out on the terrace every morning and find a cool place to sit. Pietro always had a recorder with him. He has been blind for many years and he uses the recorder to record music, recite poetry and compose songs. Piero says, “When I think back to the first images I have of him, he is sitting on the terrace in the country with a stereo in his hands.”
On this morning Piero is the garden on the Altalena, an old fashioned swing that is hanging from a mulberry tree, and on the terrace, Pietro is preparing to record a song. It’s just a little song. The song is only two lines and it is pure Sicilian. Pietro begins to sing. E lu suli talia, talia, talia. Sopra ‘sta petra luci ci duna, that is and, the sun, look, look, look, to this stone gives the light.
Piero recalls, “I was swinging on the swing, I was about four or five years old, I was really, very small. I listened to him a little and at a certain point, when he stopped singing, I started: E lu suli, talia, talia, talia. Sopra ‘sta pedra luci ci duna. What can I tell you? It just came out like that.”
His grandfather turned off the recorder and called his wife. Rina came out on the terrace and he asked her, “Unni è Piero?” (Where is Piero?)
She replied, “In Altalena” (He is on the swing)
Pietro asked, “Ma cu cantava? Iddru?” (But who was singing? He?)
She replied, “Eh, si.” (yes)
He told Rina to call him.
So, Piero got up and went to his grandfather. Pietro lifted him up and put him on the table next to the recorder and told him to “sing the song again.” Piero sang the song exactly as his grandfather sang it. He listened to Piero sing the song and then he made the decision to go to his friend Antonio’s house to record it.
Antonio a friend of Pietro had in his home what was called at that time a “recording studio”. It was not very big but, it did have a bigger stereo and a microphone. So, that afternoon they recorded Piero singing his grandfather’s song in Sicilian. But it didn’t stop there!
The meeting with Mimmo Riolo, in the Garden of the Riolo House.
The next day Pietro and Piero went to the countryside to the Riolo’s house. Piero’s grandparents had a country house and the Riolos were their neighbors. Pietro had a good relationship with Mr. Riolo, they were family friends. At the Riolo house, they all sat together under a carob tree because the air was always fresh under that tree. While the men talked, Piero ate prickly pears.
Pietro said to his old friend, “You know, Mimmo, yesterday I discovered that my grandson has a nice voice.”
Mimmo thought about it for a moment and came up with an idea. “I want Piero to listen to one of my favorite singers.”
Piero recalls, “And this is how I listened for the first time to Un Amore Così Grande by Mario del Monaco. And I learned it right away, but right away. My grandfather was very proud. And something told me the next day we would go to record Un Amore Così Grande at Antonio’s house.”
The day after they visited Mr. Riolo, they went to Anotonio’s house to record Un Amore Così Grande.
That evening the family met for dinner in the countryside, as was their custom, in the summertime.
In the Garden of Piero’s Grandparents House
This evening would be the beginning of Piero’s journey to stardom. After dinner all the kids played soccer while the adults went outside to chat and enjoy the cool of the evening on the terrace. But this evening would be a little different.
On the Terrace of Piero’s Grandparents House
When they finished dinner, Pietro called his wife. “Rina, get the recorder.” Rina brought in the recorder and placed it in front of Pietro. The recorder was already prepared with the cassette. Pietro turns to Piero’s dad and says, “Listen to this voice, Gaetano.” He pushes play and starts the recording of Un Amore Così Grande.
Gaetano is amazed, like he has just heard a good thing, and he says, “It’s beautiful, who is it Daddy?” (he calls his father-in-law Daddy.)
Pietro says, “Piero.”
Gaetano has a questioning looking on his face “How did Piero?”
Pietro says, “So”.
On that night Piero’s life changed!
In Ignazio’s story, I found out that he is an excellent writer. He is the only one who wrote his story. Ignazio is very articulate. His words just fly off the page. Ignazio’s mother says and I agree, “Ignazio is very serious and responsible.”
Let’s see how Ignazio views this time in his life.
Ignazio says, “My story is not a fictional story even if it seems to be one of those dreams that you never want to wake up from.”
Ignazio learns to play Nina’s piano
Ignazio remembers, “When I was three or four years old – I played with the piano my parents had given my sister, Nina. My mother says I was one years old when I played. Nina taught me to play Happy Birthday with one finger.”
Ignazio’s School in Bologna
Ignazio says, “I do not remember the first day of school, but I certainly did not take long to get noticed. If you’re thinking of scenes of me being put in the middle of the class to sing, forget it. I had a passion for music but, I had an even greater passion for pranks. I tell you, since I started talking and walking, mine was an escalation of agitation.”
Ignazio Joins the School Choir
“With the passage of time, I found something good to do at school, that is, an activity that was able to hold my interest enough to prevent me from slipping into some disaster. I joined the school choir. I always liked to sing, to be ‘in the middle’ of the music. And more and more passionately I began to understand how to make better use of Nina’s famous pianola. I learned how to start the musical bases and flip through them. And that’s when I discovered La Donna È Mobile. I liked it so much that I sang with the base and invented words. I don’t remember the words but, it certainly was a song about Pavarotti. Having seen Pavarotti on TV, I knew he always had a big handkerchief so I would invent text and sing on the air La Donna È Mobile.”
In 2004 at the age of 10, Ignazio’s family moved back to Marsala and opened a Pizzeria.
While the pizzeria grew, a passion grew within Ignazio. It was a passion for electronics and music.
Ignazio’s mother opens Pizzeria dei Desideri in front of their house.
In 2005 Pizzeria dei Desideri was completed and, within a few months Caterina already had regular customers and since the pizzeria was right in front of the house, when Ignazio sang, the customers heard him.
One day a gentleman said to Caterina, “You know, my daughter is studying singing, why don’t you come with your son once? Even just to try.”
Ignazio’s Meeting with Lilliana Andreanò in Marsala
Ignazio recalls, “I remember it as if it were yesterday…. I was eleven. I wore a yellow shirt with green stripes, fashion was never my strong point. Arianna, the daughter of the pizzeria customer, who had heard me sing, and her mother and I waited in front of the school for more than twenty minutes for Liliana Andreanò, the singing teacher. Lilliana Adreanò, arrived in a grey Opel Astra. She got out of the car and immediately entered the school.
Ignazio says: “I was worried, almost embarrassed. Hard to believe, right? Even as a child I’ve never been the type to be speechless. Lilliana begins to talk about music, what kind of songs I like to sing. It was already a strange thing because usually I just sang, no one asked me why and how. You know, Liliana I like to sing Giorgia’s songs.”
Lilliana said: “Strange for a kid to sing this kind of song.” She asked, “And which song of Giorgia would you like to make me listen to?”
Gocce Di Memoria (Drops of Memory), Ignazio said. “I didn’t even have a doubt. I start singing and Liliana was amazed by my extension but asks me to try a male song too. I thought a little bit and then I said to her: sometimes I even sing Con Te Partirò by Andrea Bocelli. I started singing and, when I finished Liliana told me: ‘Ignazio, this is your musical direction’.”
Ignazio continues: “From that first lesson I began to study songs like Il Mare Calmo Della Sera, Un Amore Così Grande and all those that came to mind, and I liked it. It approached that genre that was not lyrical, it was modern music but with something classic. With Liliana I found myself, very comfortable. We understood each other immediately because she is a sociable person, simple, as are all of us in my family.”
After several lessons, Lilliana proposed that Ignazio take part in a bullfight (competition) organized in Paolini.
Ignazio says: “I wasn’t completely convinced that I wanted to get on a stage. Until that moment I had only thought about singing, but I had never seriously thought that all that singing one day could bring me into the spotlight.”
Ignazio performs in his first Competition in Paolini
Ignazio says, “I was about to get on the bullfight stage. My legs were trembling, the butterflies in my stomach were no longer butterflies but crazy swallows.
I decided to participate with the song by Bocelli Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye), a song that I had studied and re-studied with Liliana, but as soon as the music started I had a terrible fear of forgetting the words. So, what did I do? I looked down all the time. So, the audience, the place, what happened around me while I was singing, it’s not that I do not remember anything, I just do not know because I only saw the tips of my feet.
Fortunately, however, I remembered all the words and it is not so obvious because sometimes it happens that I forget the words even today now that I have become professional, the emotion continues to take us despite everything and.… I came in third.”
Once the ice was broken and the stage panic was over, that ended up being just the first of many competitions for Ignazio.
As to Gianluca I was surprised to find out he was such a romantic. Everything that is important to him is a passion. He invests himself in what he loves and believes in: Family, Music, Country and Soccer! Above all, Gianluca loved to sing. Music was his whole life! Gianluca said, “Singing makes me feel good.”
Garden of Gianluca’s house facing the beach of Roseto degli Abruzzo.
Gianluca says, “I am from the town of Montepagano, Abruzzo. To be precise, I grew up, in Montepagano, on a hill two hundred meters as the crow flies and ten minutes by road from the sea, and Roseto degli Abruzzi.”
Gianluca continues, “My life as a child seems so far away. I remember very little of my childhood! I’m not like Ignazio I was born and raised in Montepagano. I was traveling only with dreams. What made me dream? Music naturally. Dad and mom realized that I had something special in my voice when I started to sing at the age of three or four years.
Town Square of Montepagano
My parents tell me when I was three years old I sang O Sole Mioin the town square in front of all the elderly gentlemen friends of my grandfather who, sitting around the bar table, were listening to this little boy with such a particular voice.”
Gianluca continues, “This was my first audience but, of course, I don’t remember it. My grandfather wanted me to study music, he always told me: ‘Gianluca, study the piano, study an instrument.’ I’ve never done it. It would be a dream to sit down on the piano and start playing and singing.” (Since this statement, Gianluca has studied piano and now he plays quite well.)
While his grandfather made him listen to classical music, Pavarotti and music from the Fifties-Sixties, his father made him feel Fabrizio De Andrè, Francesco De Gregori, Giorgio Gaber, Antonello Venditti and, as he grew older, he became more passionate about singing, including the great American classics, first of all, Frank Sinatra.
Gianluca says, “I never, never would have thought that…. I could make music my life. I only sang because it made me feel good. Then what happened? I do not know exactly, because everything happened very quickly.”
The phone call that changed it all!
“It was 2008 when my father received a call from Licia Giunco.”
Who is Licia Giunco. She’s an incredible woman, known throughout Italy for being the creator of an annual event called Sport for Life, a great international ice-skating gala. For the gala, skating champions come from all over Europe to participate. The reason for Mrs. Giunco’s phone call was Gianluca’s performances with the choir.
“We have a great talent here in Roseto,” Mrs. Guinco told Mr. Ginoble. I would like to bring him to RAI (Italian TV Station).”
Gianluca says, “My father had never thought about it. My parents had never even imagined that I would participate in competitions, let alone send me for an audition for television.”
“Let’s try,” Mr. Ginoble replied, “It would be a great opportunity.”
Each boy has now been set on the road to PBS so where did they go from here?
Over the years, each boy approached his musical education in a different way.
After his discovery in the garden, Piero embarked on a classical music education. He began piano lessons at the age of 8. At 10 years old he joined the Little Singers of the Philharmonic Association – Santa Cecilia of Agrigento. And then he began the competitions around Sicily.
Ignazio continued his singing lessons moving on to other teachers as he progressed. He took three years of piano lessons. His relationship with Lilliana Andreanò continued. She advised him every step of the way right up to his audition at Ti Lascio Una Canzone which she convinced him to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
Gianluca, unlike Piero and Ignazio, never had a singing lesson or piano lesson. Gianluca joined the Piccolo Choir of Roses. At one of their events, he was discovered.
As you know, the three teenage boys came together on the Ariston Stage in Ti Lascio Una Canzone for the performance of O Sole Mioand stepped off the stage and embarked on the road to stardom.
They came in first, second and third. Gianluca, Ignazio and Piero. But the biggest prize was becoming Il Volo.
They signed a contract with Universal and recorded their first album.
In 2010 when they arrived in America, they took it by storm. After their performance on American Idol, they sky rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts.
What happened next? And, so, we arrive at PBS. But let me turn the story over to the guys. They will tell you about what happened after Ti Lascio Una Canzone.
“Spotlight” Producer Paul Larson just minutes before going on stage at Place des Arts in Montreal, Quebec spoke with the guys about their career after their performance on PBS. So, I invite you to watch this amazing video and listen to what the guys have to say about their beginnings and their future!