sat 20/04/2019

Popstar to Operastar, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

Popstar to Operastar, ITV1

Popstar to Operastar, ITV1

How did they manage to find so many singers who can't sing?

Rolando Villazon and Katherine Jenkins prepare to mentor the unmentorable

Naturally it would be impossible to reach an objective verdict on what is the worst programme ever shown on television, but it is at least safe to say that Popstar To Operastar is determined not to get left behind in the race to the bottom. This could also be said of some of its contestants, whose unfamiliarity with the concept of "singing" seemed surprising in people who perform music for a living, albeit of the non-operatic kind.

Not that the concept is necessarily a bad one. The notion of recruiting a bunch of pop singers and bussing them over to the operatic sphere could have been a device for shaking up a number of preconceptions. It could have blown holes in the idea that opera is either boring or "elitist" by advertising its emotional reach, its drama, and its unmatched melodic splendour. And while everybody knows that singing opera demands specialised skills, surely experienced singers from a different discipline could make a plausible stab at it?

It was on the latter issue that Popstar failed so catastrophically. There are pop singers who might take to opera fairly comfortably. Leona Lewis or Mary J Blige, perhaps, or Michael Buble or recent X Factor winner Joe McElderry. Michael Bolton sings operatic pieces regularly. But an air of desperation and compromise hovered over the contestants who'd been selected for the show, as if everybody who might have been able to make the thing work had smelled a rat and turned it down.

Let's face it, the production team must have resorted to dog-sleds, snowmobiles and abseiling down the inside of volcanos to come up with this bunch. Marcella Detroit hasn't crossed the public's radar since she quit Shakespears Sister in the Nineties, yet here she was, obviously petrified, trying to sing Bellini's "Casta Diva", "the Holy Grail of divadom", as floridly attired judge Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen put it. Vanessa White from The Saturdays (perpetrators of six Top 10 singles, as she reminded us) sang "O mio babbino caro", and sounded like a bunch of alley cats stuck on a hot plate. Alex James, Blur's bass player, can't sing at all, so he enacted "Figaro's aria" from The Barber of Seville as a farcical comedy routine.Another problem was getting the judging tone right. This might have been easier if they'd found the right judges in the first place, but bumptious rock singer Meat Loaf contented himself with bawling out his verdicts like a small-town Sheriff from Alabama, while Llewellyn-Bowen made excruciating attempts to deliver Wildean bons mots. The singers were struggling so badly with the material that nobody had the heart to tell it like it was, and in a rational world, all of them would have been voted off at the end of the show instead of just one. That was Alex James, by the way.

The two singing "mentors", Katherine Jenkins and Rolando Villazón, could be seen furiously improvising ways not to say "you were ****ing terrible!" I loved Villazón's ingenious observation that James "embraces the singer that he is!", while Jenkins retreated into the security of telling the contestants they weren't breathing properly or needed to expand their diaphragms more.

The hosts weren't much help. Alan Titchmarsh - doesn't he do gardening programmes? -  kept announcing that we'd either heard or were going to hear "eight outstanding performances", with the brazen yet misplaced confidence of a man declaring the end of boom and bust. Myleene Klass has lovely teeth. Next Friday I'm going to watch Dan Snow's programme about the Royal Navy instead.

 

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Comments

This review is absolutely spot on - and repeats just about every word I said after watching this programme which I summed up as absolute rubbish. How could it be anything else when you look at the choice of some of the "contestants", the presenters - who on earth decided on Alan Titchmarsh for this type of programme - and two of the judges, namely Meat Loaf (did he make a sensible comment all evening?) and Laurence Llewellyn Bowen. The whole shambles was not helped by a screaming juvenile audience. I suspect Rolando Villazon and Katherine Jenkins will rue the day they agreed to participate in this absolute dross. Like the author of this review, I will not be tuning in again.

It's interesting to read the comments about this series and how it's received by the discerning viewer and the opera world. But actually everyone needs to realise that it is very difficult to put opera on TV in a meaningful way because either it plays to it's own audience, which is quite specialist and small (nothing wrong with that) and it doesn't reach beyond, or it heads off in the other direction, infuriates the opera audience, and is seen as dumbing down this fabulous art form. It takes years of careful training to be an opera singer, and actually it's the same to be a great "pop" star - but they are totally different techniques. There is no fast-tracking in either . It takes work, dedication, extreme skill and natural talent. The good people just make it look easy! The truth though about Popstar to Opera Star, whether or not we think it dumbs opera , people who would never dream of going to an opera have said to me that they find the series fun and entertaining. So I feel despair, because I love opera and I think the real thing is fun and entertaining! What else do you need ? But to take it to the wide audience you have to put it on TV. and then the problem begins. My big struggle, having worked in an opera company and now in TV, is how we bring this great entertainment to TV in a meaningful way without wrecking it. Putting theatre on TV is difficult because it's transfering mediums. Surely the craft of television is great enough to bring Opera from stage to screen magnificently ? I hope the massive new BBC initiative: A Passion for Opera, arguably the biggest series of original opera programming ever on TV, in which the great artists of opera of all generations, and the opera community invite us backstage to talk about the real thing and how opera is made, will manage to speak to the opera-lover audience as well as the new opera audience by just being as it really is, a fabulous and compelling entertainment with some of the most exciting stories and beautiful music you will ever hear. And as for the TV world, I challenge you producers and directors, how are we going to crack this thing once and for all.....come on!

I really do not like opera at all, but I do like Popstar to Operastar, I find it entertaining and will try not to miss it. I hesitate to say it, but perhaps this is a way to show our non-opera audiences that it's actually not bad at all. Can this be a bad thing - no. Opera is often seen as quite elitist, this brings it down to earth where ordinary mortals can appreciate it a bit more. Only criticism I can make is that I would actually like to see a bit more of what happens during rehearsals and training etc.

"Operatunity" got it more or less right - hard work and real experts on hand to explain clearly what was needed (Mary King of ENO excellent at that, and was also good on Cardiff Singer of the World). "Maestro" got it right, too, in another sphere. The trick's the same in any supposed specialist field: find people who really know their stuff (or, ahem, their technique, Miss Jenkin) and can put it across clearly, simply and without patronising or bouncing off the wall in faux enthusiasm. And singers who can be taught. Adam hits the spot in the singers (Leona, Joe, Buble, Bolton) who could have an interesting shot at it.

Ever thought of crawling out of your own @rse? I thought not!

Yes Toby - this program is a load of 'crap' as Adam described in his excellent review

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