Art vs. schlock: comparing Met Opera's 'The Audition' to UK's 'Pop Star to Opera Star'
Last night, I happened to catch a repeat broadcast (on WETA) of "The Audition," Susan Froemke's recent documentary about finalists in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
It wasn't the most interesting or informative show of its type, but the more I saw the young singers preparing their arias for the big finals, I kept thinking about the tripe currently on telly in the UK: "Pop Star to Opera Star." The video clips of the latter are popping up on YouTube, and I've had a morbid curiosity to check them out.
Can't say I know anything much about those pops stars, but I do know they can't sing opera after a few short weeks of coaching. Who could? And why should anyone attempt such a thing? And what's a real, honest-to-goodness tenor star,
Rolando Villazon, doing as a judge/coach on that travesty? Yikes. The end of civilization is a lot closer than I previously thought.
How moving it was, by comparison, to see the late, so promising Ryan Smith -- the tenor died from lymphoma a year after winning the auditions -- deliver "Federico's Lament" with great emotional power onstage, or, during a coaching session, deliver a subtle, rapt account of "Che gelida manina" that seemed incredibly personal.
The rather highly strung Michael Fabiano was another impressive tenor, not to mention the boyish Alek Shrader, who pulled off the nine high C's of "Pour mon ame" with an infectious spirit. And how eloquent Angela Meade's "Casta diva" was, how beautiful of tone and thoughtful of phrase.
Here were budding artists determined to improve, to master the fine details of the operatic art, to give themselves wholly to it. And then there are those silly pop stars play-acting (play-singing?) on TV, while viewers at home dial in their votes, "Idol"-style, and while the studio audience demonstrates an absurd Pavlovian urge to applaud any note of any type, at any time during a performance.
Marcella Detroit gets through an abbreviated "Casta Diva" by the skin of her throat. Darius croons "Nessun dorma," producing ecstasy in the studio audience, even though the tenor aria has been transposed into his baritone range and he still can't make much of a sound. And what to make of bouncy Danny Jones warbling "La donna e mobile"? Oh, dear.
It's all just too damn stupid for words. I wanted to believe there would be some redeeming value in all of this, that this pop-to-op exercise might a) treat opera with full respect and b) reinforce what makes opera great, challenging, rewarding, special. I can't detect any of that from the video clips, and based on those, I'd hate to sit through the whole show -- how much of Meat Loaf's inane comments form the judges box could any sane person take? Oh yes, Meat Loaf is one of the judges. 'Nough said.
Judge for yourself. I've posted a summary clip of "The Audition" and a few from that other thing: