There’s just something about a guy with a great voice belting out a high C. Whether it’s the visceral thrill of the vibrations, or the suspense (will he crack the note?) or simply the passion of what’s being sung, the tenor voice has always held the world in thrall.
This weekend, South Sound music lovers will get to hear 10 of them all at once, as the double-platinum Aussie group the Ten Tenors returns to the United States with a new, all-Broadway show, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
If anyone ever doubted that watching 10 men sing in the stratosphere would be an internationally popular item, the Ten Tenors have proved them wrong. Begun when some mates at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music banded together to earn some beer money, the show has seen 14 years of international rock-star success. They’ve sold more than 3.5 million concert tickets across seven continents, made four gold and two platinum albums, two gold and one platinum DVD, appeared with Oprah, performed with the likes of Willie Nelson and Lionel Ritchie, and earned themselves more than 15,000 likes on Facebook, where fans gush with multiple exclamation marks about “hot Australians.”
But the group has done a lot for classical music, too. Performing in suits like a high-octane glee outfit, the Ten Tenors (whose members sub in and out over the years) sing everything from Puccini to Queen and musical theater to Meatloaf, garnering descriptions like “truly incandescent” (Daily Variety) and “pure electricity and undeniable drama” (Los Angeles Times).
But despite the hunky hype, when it comes down to it, the individuals in the Ten Tenors are more standard guy than sex symbol: They’re boyfriends, husbands, fathers; guys who like a beer while watching football. They just happen to have world-class voices.
We talked to Ben Clark, a 29-year-old who has sung with the group since 2008 – except for some newlywed time off in 2011.
Q: You just arrived in the United States for a brand-new tour. How’s it going?
A: It’s really great. We did some Christmas shows in Palm Desert, (Calif.) – that’s like a second home for us in the States – then we came back home for Christmas and spent two and a half weeks in January getting the new show together. This year we have four new guys; it’s a big change. I’m one of the longest-serving current members of the group now.
Q: Tell us about the show. It’s all Broadway, right?
A: Yes, it’s a different angle, about 90 percent musical theater. But we also include a couple of our “greatest hits” that we feel encapsulate the Ten Tenors: “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen) and “The Boxer” (Simon and Garfunkel). The rest is from the jukebox musical era, which is great as we can include stuff by Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons, some English rock. I’m also looking forward to going back to my roots – I trained as a musical theater singer.
Q: Do you have a favorite song?
A: I’ve always loved “The Boxer,” it has a soft spot in my heart. And “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables.
Q: While you took time off from the Ten Tenors in 2011, you got your very first opera gig singing Tamino in Opera Australia’s tour of “The Magic Flute.” How do you handle the vocal crossover between singing, say, Adele, and singing Mozart?
A: You sing in a different part of your voice, using other muscles, depending on the style you sing. I was taught by a classical teacher, but I sang musical theater through school and college. Having a really sound fundamental ability to sing helps me switch into pop-rock. And any operatic ability I have is all down to the Ten Tenors – before I joined them, I’d never sung in any language other than English. It’s been a really amazing experience, a fantastic journey, that’s for sure.
A: You guys will be here in the South Sound right in time for Valentine’s Day. Is there anything inherently sexy about the tenor voice?
A: The success of the tenor voice is that we walk a tightrope every time we sing. I’m not a woman and I’m not trying to solve that equation, but the fact that we are taking risks is what’s appealing, I think. It’s true that it’s always the tenor who’s the love interest in opera or musical theater. It’s also something to do with good writing. But people love that adrenaline rush – is he going to get that note, is he? Then he gets it, and there’s that joy and sense of release. The sexy part, I’m not sure. But it’s definitely appealing.
Q: How does it feel to be singing surrounded by nine other powerful tenor voices blasting away on stage?
A: Well, we perform with mics and earpieces, so you just focus on what’s going into your ear. But the ambient stage sound gives you a great vibe. We never try to outsing each other – everyone has his moment. We’re a group, we harmonize, the voices blend and gel. That’s the sound of the Ten Tenors.
The Ten Tenors
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia
Tickets: $49-$78 general; $44-$70 senior, student, military; $24.50-$39 youth
Information: 360-753-8585, washingtoncenter.org