Magazine article Newsweek International

Northern Exposure; Iceland's Top Musician Isn't Bjork but an Opera Singer with the Looks of Brad Pitt and the Voice of Pavarotti

Magazine article Newsweek International

Northern Exposure; Iceland's Top Musician Isn't Bjork but an Opera Singer with the Looks of Brad Pitt and the Voice of Pavarotti

Article excerpt

Byline: Ginanne Brownell

Here's a bit of Icelandic trivia: who has the country's fastest-selling record of all time? It's not Sigur Ros or Nylon--two successful pop acts that have broken out in the past several years. Nor is it Bjork, who is by far Iceland's biggest musical export. Give up? The honor goes to a 32-year-old opera singer by the name of Gardar Thor Cortes, who happens to break every stereotype in the classical music book: he's got smoldering good looks--he was voted Iceland's sexiest man twice in one year--and there is nothing stuffy about him. He did, after all, spend a year on the London stage in the title role of "Phantom of the Opera" and counts Bon Jovi and Prince among his favorite acts. "There is a lot of snobbery around classical music that I do not think should be there," Cortes says, lounging in a hip black suit at his record company's office in London's Soho. "Number one is the music and the drama and the passion because that is what really counts."

What counts now for his career is how well his debut album, "Cortes," sells abroad. In Britain at least, where it's being released this month, Cortes has the home-court advantage; his mother is British, and the tenor himself spent a few years at a British boarding school. Audiences got a taste of his classical side last autumn when he toured the country with the popular Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins. Critics have hailed him as a stunning new talent embodying the "spirit of Pavarotti" with a robust range and heartfelt resonance; Einar Bardarson, the managing director of Cortes's record label, Believer Music Group, thinks Cortes has the goods to become a major crossover star. "We hope he will be one of the pinnacle voices of the early 21st century," he says. "We are looking at him as someone who has a lengthy career ahead of him."

Cortes understands how fickle the music business can be. His parents were both students at the Royal Academy of Music; his mother is a concert pianist and in his prime, his father--who founded the Icelandic Opera, the Reykjavik Academy of Singing and the Reykjavik Symphony Orchestra--was considered a world-class tenor in the same league as Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. …

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