Icelandic heart-throb Cortes trades opera stage for the streets

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The Independent Culture

One young busker is likely to grab the attention of the notoriously indifferent crowds around Leicester Square underground station next month.

Not only has Gardar Thor Cortes, the latest sensation to hit the classical charts, had his voice compared to a young Pavarotti, but his looks have earned him the moniker "the James Bond of opera". Cortes will be performing a string of unorthodox dates when he takes to London's streets to highlight the plight of the homeless.

After his debut album took him to the No 1 slot and went double platinum, Cortes has become used to commanding thousands of pounds in fees to perform alongside such high-profile stars as Kathryn Jenkins.

But the tenor, twice voted the world's sexiest man in his native Iceland, has agreed to perform for free in an attempt to bring classical music to the masses and support a good cause.

In co-operation with the charity Shelter, the singer will be busking at spots around London alongside the charity's "Wall of Shame" - which aims to persuade the Government to provide 20,000 extra social homes each year to help the one in seven children in Britain who are homeless or in bad housing. First launched six months ago, the wall is an interactive white screen which people are asked to transform into a red wall of hope by using thousands of bricks customised with signatures and messages of support.

The charity welcomed the call by Gordon Brown, the prime minister-designate, for 200,000 new homes to be built a year and his pledge to take one million children out of overcrowded, dilapidated or unsafe homes by 2016. But it said that a further 20,000 rented homes were needed for the most vulnerable.

"This announcement will be the first step towards tackling the chronic shortage of social housing, which sees 1.6 million households languishing on council house waiting lists," said the chief executive of Shelter, Adam Sampson. The Chancellor must now prove his commitment to housing by making the necessary funds available in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and delivering a detailed timetable of where these houses will be built, and when."

Cortes will begin his busking tour at lunchtime on 1 June, and will first perform outside Leicester Square station.

"It is a whole different experience to look the public in the eye when you perform in the street, and something I am not used to, but I do believe that opera is the music that reaches out into the hearts of the individual," he said yesterday.

"It is also music that very few get to experience, and so I do hope the British public enjoy my street performances."

Over the following days he will be performing at a variety of venues, including mainline railways stations, supermarkets and shopping centres.

The 32-year-old, who has captured the public imagination with his crossover album, has been credited with drawing a younger crowd to opera music. Later this year he plans to perform at more conventional concerts, alongside the likes of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Lesley Garrett.