It is easy to make fun of ITV1’s new show, Popstar to Operastar. The budget is low, the standards are lower, the celebrity judges are almost as short on celebrity as they are on expertise, and the contestants are suitably ill-equipped for the challenge ahead of them.
I’m trying really hard not to take the bait for three reasons:
1) When we say “you don’t understand how difficult opera is” we mostly just make ourselves look like snobs trying to protect our precious music from being enjoyed by people who don’t understand it on as many levels as we do. Katherine Jenkins sells more records than Rolando Villazon. Popular opera is a thing. There are people out there that like it. We should probably spend our time trying to understand it instead of complaining about it.
2) The execution is no worse than almost anything else on British TV. This mess isn’t a comment on the state of classical music. It’s an example of the state of television, where an increase in bandwidth has fragmented the audience, and falling ad revenues have cut the budget for everything. Of course they wouldn’t do this well. They hardly do anything well any more.
3) The show only narrowly misses the point. Should an insufferable interior decorator be able to judge a good performance? Yes, he should, but only if there’s a good performance in front of him. I’ve always taken the position that most opera singers aren’t good enough to sing opera. I’ll admit that’s an extreme viewpoint, but Danny from McFly doesn’t stand a chance. They should make Rolando Villazon and Katherine Jenkins sing to the panel of novices, and have the audience guess what the hell they’re singing about. The person that convinces them that “La donna e mobile” isn’t about elephants gets to keep their career. I know which one I’d be betting on.
The trailer (consuming 85% of the budget) makes it look quite fun.
The show itself is excruciating.
In case you have any doubt at all about the sacrifices Katherine Jenkins will make for her art (and what passes for quality entertainment these days), skip to the end of this clip to see, well, I’m not even going to try to describe it. Europeans: this sort of thing is the reason Americans think we’re weird.