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Garðar Thór Cortes
Birth name Garðar Thór Cortes
Born 2 May 1974 (1974-05-02) (age 35)
Origin Reykjavík, Iceland
Genres Classical music
Occupations Opera and classical crossover singer
Years active 1999–present
Labels Believer Music Group

Garðar Thór Cortes (pronounced [ˈkarðar tʰouːr ˈkʰɔr̥tɛs]) (born 2 May 1974), is an Icelandic tenor of Icelandic and English parentage. A former child actor, Cortes subsequently trained as a singer in Vienna, Copenhagen and London. He has performed various leading tenor roles in operas, as well as a leading part in The Phantom of the Opera in London's West End. While insisting that he is first and foremost a classical opera singer, it was with his classical crossover album Cortes, released in Iceland in 2005, that Cortes came to prominence. His debut album in the UK, also titled Cortes, was released on 16 April 2007 and entered the UK classical chart at number 1.


Family, early life and education

Cortes was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, on 2 May 1974 into a musical family. His father, Garðar Cortes Snr., was a world-class tenor who founded the Icelandic Opera, the Reykjavík School of Singing and the Reykjavík Symphony Orchestra. According to Cortes, his father had the same stature as Pavarotti and Domingo, and once when he was ill while performing in Oslo Domingo stepped in for him. "He sang the main spinto tenor roles, including Caravadossi [from Tosca], Otello, Alfredo [La Traviata] and Canio [Pagliacci]. He'd go away to sing Otello in Helsinki and he'd be there for several weeks, and he became so homesick he couldn't do it, so he didn't go as far as he should have and stopped." His English mother, Krystyna, was a concert pianist who studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. His sister Nanna Maria is an operatic soprano, while his younger brother Aron Axel is studying to become a baritone. When commitments permit, the Cortes children perform in the chorus when their father is conducting an opera.

Cortes spent six months at a Hertfordshire private school in England when he was aged nine and 11. He insists that there was never any pressure on him to become a singer. "At home, mum was always playing piano and dad was singing. I'd listen to dad's records of other tenors and whole operas but I also had a huge pile of Bon Jovi, Queen and Shakin' Stevens albums. I absolutely loved Prince and when I was 10 I was convinced I wanted to be a pop star. Then I got bitten by the acting bug."

At 13 he won the lead role of Nonni in Nonni and Manni (known in German as Nonni und Manni) (1988–1989),[1] an Icelandic TV series about two children living with their mother and grandmother in the late 1850s which was filmed in Iceland, Norway and England and highly successful in Europe. Cortes got the part because he could speak English and ride horses bareback: "It was great fun: we had all sorts of adventures with polar bears, an erupting volcano and getting lost at sea with whales tipping the rowing boat over. I'd always loved movies but it didn't ignite until then." Actor Einar Örn Einarsson, who played Manni, remains Cortes's best friend.

Soon after he turned 18, Cortes decided he wanted to be a singer. "I loved acting but I realised I couldn't live without music. What decided me was the amount of times I have cried over a phrase in an opera or the piano. In opera you can combine the two and, apart from Domingo, there aren't that many singers who are good actors." He spent four years at his father’s school in Reykjavík and then won a scholarship to the Hochschule, or University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna, but left after six months to study privately with Professor Andrei Orlowitz in Copenhagen. For the next five years he spent two weeks in Denmark, then flew home to earn enough to pay the tuition and the airfares. He sang at funerals and weddings, appeared as Tony in West Side Story at the National Theatre in Reykjavík in 1995, and for five summers worked with disabled people. At the opera he was the toilet cleaner, the usher and the doorman. Recalling his father's advice about the hardships of a musical career, Cortes has commented: "Even though he told me it was difficult, I still wanted to pursue this road. But looking back, you realise he was right, it is bloody difficult! Excuse the language."[2 ][3]

Other teachers that he had the opportunity to work with included David Maxwell Anderson, Stuart Burrows, Paul Farrington, Paul Whynne Griffiths, David Jones, Kiri Te Kanawa and Robin Stapleton.

Professional singing career

In 1999, Cortes won the lead role of Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, in The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre in London's West End. It was in this role that he discovered his ability to sing high notes. "I'd been having a bad evening and I was miserable, felt I wasn't even good enough to be in the chorus. Then in my next scene I went up to the C sharp and it just stayed there. Christine, the soprano, was walking towards me and her mouth fell open and she whispered to me, 'Wow, is that really you?' I've had those notes ever since."

However, when invited to extend his contract, Cortes declined. "I took a couple of days to think it over but it wasn't a difficult decision. I knew I wanted to move on. It was one of the things I had to do on my journey but I loved opera more." He won a scholarship to the opera course at the Royal Academy of Music, where both his sister Nanna and mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins were at the time. At the Academy, roles he sang included Florville in Il signor Bruschino and Fenton in Verdi's Falstaff.

After leaving the Academy, Cortes worked across Europe, playing lead tenor roles in operas by Verdi, Rossini and Donizetti in opera houses in Germany and Scandinavia. He also sang Mendelssohn's quartets from Elijah with his sister at Carnegie Hall, New York City. Other engagements included José in Carmen Negra, Curly in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, The Young Man in Dokaðu við, the Italian Tenor in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier for the Icelandic Opera, Ferrando in Mozart's Così fan tutte for Co–Opera Ireland, Rinuccio in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi for Nordurop Opera, and a Verdi Gala at The Anvil in Basingstoke, England. His concert repertoire includes Bach's Mass in B Minor, St. Nicolas, Dvořák's Requiem, Verdi's Requiem, Handel's Messiah, Elijah, Puccini's Missa di Gloria, Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle and Stabat Mater, and Saint-Saëns' Christmas Oratorio and Les Noces.

His debut concert in Reykjavík in 2002, where he was joined by Katherine Jenkins, was a triumph. Cortes returned the favour as a guest performer during Jenkins' autumn tour in 2006. He was hailed for his commanding performances of Puccini's aria "Nessun Dorma" and widely admired for his brooding good looks. Highlights of his career in 2004 and 2005 included his first appearances with English Touring Opera singing Ferrando in Così fan tutte, and at the Rossini in Wildbad Festival singing Conte Alberto in L'occasione fa il ladro. He recently performed the role of The Duke of Mantua in Verdi's Rigoletto for Opera Nordfjord.

Cortes was approached by Einar Bárðarson, manager of Icelandic girl band Nylon, who suggested that he make a record like Andrea Bocelli or Josh Groban. The songs, including Lucio Dalla's "Caruso" and Ennio Morricone's "Nella Fantasia", Malavasi's "Romanza", David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager's "The Prayer" and some Icelandic numbers, were chosen by Cortes, Bárðarson and Björgvin Halldórsson – the "Frank Sinatra of Iceland" – to best show off his voice. The record, eponymously titled Cortes, was released in Iceland in 2005 and turned out to be the fastest-selling ever in that country, achieving double platinum status in three months. He was also voted sexiest man in Iceland twice in one year in separate polls.[3]

His single "Luna" (2007), featuring English soul singer Heather Small, reached number two on the Icelandic online music charts. His first album in the UK, Cortes, which was released on 16 April 2007, entered the UK classical chart at number 1 and the UK albums chart at number 27, a first for an Icelandic artist.[3][4] It remained at number 1 for two weeks – the weeks ending 28 April and 5 May 2007 – on the official ClassicFM chart.[5] It has since gone double platinum.[6]

Despite his classical crossover success, Cortes has said, "I don't want to go too far down the pop side because then I think I would lose credibility in the classical world. If the album [Cortes] does well, hopefully I could use that to my advantage, but I'm a classical opera singer – that's what I do, that's what I am."[2 ] His ambition is to sing Otello at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London.[3]




Information Track Listing Singles
  • Released: 2005 Iceland
  • Peak position: #1
1. Nella Fantasia

2. The Prayer
3. Skýið
4. Caruso
5. Bæn
6. Lontano
7. All I Know of Love
8. Romanza
9. Love is a Miracle
10. Bláu Augun

  • Caruso
1. Nella Fantasia

2. Hunting High and Low
3. Luna (with a special appearance by Heather Small)
4. Love is a Miracle
5. Caruso
6. Romanza
7. Lontano
8. Where the Lost Ones Go (duet with Katherine Jenkins)
9. Nessun Dorma
10. Granada
11. Con Te
12. Skýið

  • Luna
  • Hunting High and Low


Information Track Listing
Cortes (2005)
  • Released: 2005 Iceland
  • Peak position: [Unknown]
1. Caruso
Cortes (2007)
  • Released: 2007 Iceland
  • Peak position: #2 Icelandic online music chart
1. Luna
Hunting High and Low
  • Released: 23 July 2007 UK
  • Peak position: [Unknown]
1. Hunting High and Low

2. All I Know of Love (featuring Selma)

Personal life

The Cortes family is one of the less than 5% of Icelanders who have surnames. Although Cortes's maternal grandfather was Polish and the family is a mix of Danish, English, Icelandic, Italian, Spanish and Swedish, they do not know how and where the family name "Cortes" comes from. Cortes speaks fluent English, and at home members of his family converse in a mixture of Icelandic and English – often in the same sentence.[3]

Cortes loves to watch movies – "everything from slushy romantic comedies to shoot 'em up cop thrillers" – and to spend time with his actress wife, Tinna.[2 ]



Further reading

External links


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