Il Divo brings holiday vibes into Christmas at Ocean Casino-Resort; Winter Poker Open shuffles into Borgata

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for the harmonizing quartet.
Il Divo.
Il Divo.Natalie Schiller

Il Divo is all-in on Christmas this year.

Not only is the internationally acclaimed quartet currently on a road trip dubbed the New Day Holiday Tour, but it has also released A Merry Little Christmas, a four-track offering featuring harmony-heavy versions of the seasonal standards “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year.”

But considering there are enough such songs to fill sleigh-full of records, how did Il Divo decide on these four chestnuts?

“I think we settled on those four songs because they have kind of a nostalgia,” offered baritone Steven LaBrie during a recent phone call occasioned by his troupe’s Dec. 9 performance at Ocean Casino Resort.

“Christmas for me is all about nostalgia. It's about childhood memories. It's about family time, opening your first Christmas present, things like that. And I think, music is really what brings you back to those memories.

“And so, we really wanted to include some fun, playful songs on this Christmas EP.”

Normally, “fun” and “playful” wouldn’t be applied to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” the evergreen yearning ballad that was originally recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943, and which perfectly captured the melancholy that tinged America during World War II—especially at Christmas. But in the hands—and vocal chords--of LaBrie and tenors Urs Buhler, Sebastien Izambard and David Miller, you can rest assured this isn’t your great-grandfather’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” as it’s rendered in quite an unexpected (for a Yuletide tune) manner.

“We were in the car and we had settled on this song, and Sebastien said, ‘I really want to give it this Bossa Nova Brazilian feel,’” recalled LaBrie, who joined Il Divo in 2021 following the COVID-19-related death of original member Carlos Marin at age 53.

“We were not convinced. He was like, ‘Trust me on this, trust me on this.’ So he worked with [producer Carlos Fernando Lopez] to give it that feel. It has this really kind of sexy vibe to it. And when he played it for us, we're like, ‘Oh yeah, that is so cool.’”

According to La Brie, the EP’s other three tunes aren’t quite as radically re-structured.

“‘The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year’ has this big band feel to it,” he said, “and the other two are a little more on the traditional Christmas-nostalgic side. But ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ we had to give a huge climax, big high notes, you know, the whole shebang.”

LaBrie added that all four numbers will be performed at Ocean in addition to other holiday songs and a heaping helping of  signature pieces including “Ave Maria,” “My Way” and “Regressa a mi.”

The end of the holiday season will hardly signal a retreat from public earshot for Il Divo: On Feb. 9, they will release XX: 20th Anniversary Album, which features such tracks as “Always On My Mind” (popularized by Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee) and is sung in English and Italian, and a Spanish rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” as well as an original tune, co-written by Miller, Izambard and Lopez, called “Despertar Sin Ti.” The package’s first single, a cover of Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy” was recently released.

“We basically just came with music that resonated with us,” said LaBrie. “We all picked songs and we whittled [the list] down until we finally came up with nine songs that we really wanted on the album. And then there was [“Despertar Sin Ti”] which is beautiful.

“We really wanted to bring a cinematic, epic feel to this album,” he continued. “Twenty years is a big deal, so we wanted to really go into it with all the bells and whistles.

“We're super-proud of what we came up with. The four of us worked super-hard; we were really engaged with the entire process—from the [instrumental] arrangements to the vocal arrangements, to the harmonies. Everyone worked together to bring this to life, and we accomplished it. We're super happy with it.”

For tickets, click here.

Big deal at Borgata

January 1 is not only the start of the new year, it’s the day the Borgata Winter Poker Open kicks off at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Between then and Jan. 26, the Big B will host 42 contests, including 22 main events, with a combined guaranteed prize pool of $10 million (the other 20 contests are secondary and satellite contests). The ultimate throwdown is the Borgata Winter Poker Open Championship, a five-day No Limit Hold’Em challenge starting Jan. 22 that has a $5,300 buy-in and a $3 million guaranteed pool.

Would-be Phil Helmuths can avail themselves of packages that include entries to multiple tournaments, a Borgata hotel stay and other travel benefits. BetMGM Poker is also staging nightly qualifiers for entry into the Kickoff, Almighty Million, Mystery Bounty, and Championship events.

Borgata Winter Poker Open hopefuls can compete for seats online on the through the BetMGM Poker app.for as little as $2. And there will be 16 different opportunities on-site to qualify for main events, seven of which may earn players a seat in the Championship. 

For more info, click here.

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