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A life on the high Cs; Three years of success with an operatic boy band has left Jonathan Ansell with a taste for success. Emma Pinch reports.

Byline: Emma Pinch

WITH 1.5m album sales and four sell-out tours, G4 were one of X-Factor's cast-iron success stories.

The four classicallytrained opera singers had everything going for them - musically, they were the cream of the crop with bona fide skills and qualifications, and they formed as student pals at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

But, together, Jonathan Ansell, Mike Christie, Tom Lowe, and Ben Thapa lasted just three years.

Jonathan Ansell, the band's high tenor, is refreshingly frank about why they split.

"We were starting to get frustrated with each other," he confesses. "The amount of time we spent together just meant the small things were driving you mad.

"Just silly things, like how Ben always left his clothes on the floor and if you were in a room you would be treading over it all. Things like Matt always having his tie on wonky. Just before a big concert, you don't want those niggles."

With his angelic looks, Ansell was promoted as the lead singer. Was there a degree of jealousy in the ranks?

"The guys were really good about that. It wasn't what any of us planned, and X Factor thrust me as front man and I ended up titled as that, and the only one with blond hair and all of that. Ben had perfect pitch which enabled us to sing a capella. We all appreciated what each other brought to it."

Ansell is the only one of the foursome to pursue a career in opera. His solo album, Tenor at the Movies, went straight to number one in the Classical Chart and stayed there for three weeks. He's got a second album out later this month.

The freedom, he says, is liberating, but he'd never intended on pursuing a solo career.

"We had no real plan at any point," he says. "We ended up on X Factor quite unexpectedly.

"The split came when we were literally just having a chat. Someone said 'I'm working a bit more on my property and finding it hard to get to all of the rehearsals'. All of a sudden you think 'should we just walk away from it and be proud of what we've done and not let it decrease in quality?'

"Before we had to discuss what we all wanted as a group. Being on your own, you can be really honest about how you feel.

"I've got an incredibly high range and in G4 I was permanently up there. I'm showing all of my voice now."

He's currently touring with A Night At The Opera, which he describes as "all the big tunes that you know from the world of opera compressed into one show".

"It's not just a gala performance, there's also a narrative in it. All the characters are there and you go on a journey with them. It's kind of like the opera you normally go and see, but you know all of it rather than waiting two hours for the aria you recognise."

Isn't he worried he's helping dumb down opera?

"People say it's dumbing down, but ultimately audiences at grand opera are depleting. It's quite daunting going into a big operatic show and you feel you have to be posh and be rich. What's important is to bring opera to a wider audience and that has a knock-on effect for grand opera. People listen to me and think 'I like that song' and I say, 'do you want to hear a different version of it and maybe get Juan Diego Flores who is an amazing, amazing tenor'."

He himself is a big fan of Pavarotti's recordings, and his dream is to play at Covent Garden, but he has no immediate plans to join an opera company.

"I'm incredibly young for that. If you're a male, your voice doesn't mature until your early to mid-30s. People never heard Pavarotti's voice until he was 36. I'm 26, so I'm incredibly young in the world of opera."

In a world that invented the concept of the diva, Ansell insists he won't be getting precious about his voice ahead of their big shows.

"I live by the philosophy that you have to abuse your voice to make it resilient, so it'll always be there for you.

"So I go out and have drinks with friends and some of them smoke and you stand with them and it's not the end of the world. People wrap themselves up in cotton wool, who won't be in an air-conditioned environment, won't talk on a plane, won't go out drinking. A lot of singers are like that, but ultimately if they get a small cold their voice won't work.

"Longevity - that's what I want."

A NIGHT At The Opera, starring Jonathan Ansell, is at the Philharmonic Hall on November 11. Box office 0151 709 3789


G4 before the split - Ben Thapa, Jon Ansell, Matt Stiff (who replaced Tom Lowe), and Mike Christie
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 7, 2008
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