« Leonard Slatkin returns to the podium for first time after heart attack | Main | Pianist Byron Janis gives expert interpretation of what interpretation means »

January 5, 2010

Reality show on British TV: Pop Star to Opera Star

Well, I'll say this for British TV -- at least they recognize the existence and appeal of opera. The latest manifestation of a reality/talent show over there is called Pop Star to Opera Star, debuting Jan. 15 in ITV.

The gimmick: Pop singers are mentored in the art of singing a few opera arias. The mentors include one of today's big-name tenors, Rolando Villazon, on the mend from throat surgery that curtailed his booming career. His participation provides a remarkable level of respectability for this project.

Make that the main level, really, since the other mentors include

crossover tenor Andrea Bocelli (his ardent fans may not notice or care, but this guy isn't really close to being a top-notch opera singer) and another crossover sensation (at least overseas) named Katherine Jenkins, who doesn't appear to have any substantive operatic credentials.

It all sounds like a half-hearted attempt at going operatic, but it's still more than you'd ever get an American commercial TV reality show to do, so that's something, I guess. Rupert Christiansen offers a preliminary assessment of the show in an article Monday in the Telegraph.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:23 PM | | Comments (5)


nd the real future of opera, the students working their tails off (and going into debt for it) at the conservatories all over the world couldn't get five minutes of coaching with Mr.Villazon,et all, not to mention the benefits of the public exposure. I'm tired of all of these "forced reality" shows which exist solely for the entertainment of an ignorant public. But then,given all of the hype about Susan Boyle, I shouldn't be at all at the appearance of yet another piece of "manna for the masses" drivel.

What it takes to become an opera singer really hit me when I read William Murray's book, "Fortissimo". Additionally, since I started following developments in local opera, I note sometimes a long overlap for individual singers between continuing studies at the music schools and becoming active in the professional performance circuit. Is discovering a potential opera star really a possibility on these TV shows? Any comments about the career of Mario Lanza, which might be a precursor to the current TV trend? (I have an uncle who worshipped Jussi Bjoerling but despised Lanza.)

So far, none of the reality shows has produced a bona fide opera singer, just crowd-pleasing belters, like Paul Potts. And the newest show isn't even trying to find real talent, but will, I assume, help teach pop stars (and the audience) that opera singing is tough work. Mario Lanza would have probably done pretty well on these shows if he were around today (in the UK, more than here). He had immediate crossover appeal. The vocal talent was there, but not the discipline or natural taste to make him a likely star in opera houses. He did have, of course, everything it took for a movie career in his day. I admire your uncle's taste. Bjorling was king. TIM

I thought the premise was interesting, so I watched the first episode tonight.

It's a scabrous monstrosity from start to finish. To take just one of the many ghastly elements, every high note a contestant sings is greeted by screaming and cheering from an audience that sound like they have been pumped full of amphetamines and wired to the national grid.

Avoid, if you value your immortal ,

The last word of your message didn't come through, but I'll assume it would be 'soul'. Regardless, I'll take your advice. Thanks very much for the report. TIM

Relax, Cliff! I wasn't able to watch the whole show, just bits and pieces on YouTube. But here we have an audience of people who probably have never heard opera before, much less sat through one, who are listening to young, attractive and popular singers try their best to sing an aria, and learning about what makes a good performance from Rolando Villazon, no less! Remember that 150 years ago, opera stars *were* popstars. I only hope that at some point Villazon performs on the show so the audience can hear what a real singer can do. Seems like great fun to me and it would be great to have a US version (with Renee Fleming as a judge!)

Being in the US, I also only watched bits and pieces on YouTube. Pretty ridiculous really.

The real question I have is whether or not a show like this would make anybody to pick up a real opera CD or maybe go to opera. If it does, then maybe it might be worth it. But I have my doubts.

As to absense of any kind of any attempt at anything operatic on the US public television - I am not sure this show is the type of opera exposure I'd want in the US. Still, given the effect anything operatic has on popular talent shows, I think it's past time the networks gave real opera singers some time on TV. I'd prefer something more tasteful though, maybe a real opera singer as a guest star during finals of some shows?

Regarding Mario Lanza. While he wasn't singing in opera, he clearly had more talent and style than most of today's POPera stars. None of us heard him live, anyway, so do we really know how he sounded? One shouldn't forget that a number of famous opera singers, for example, Dorothy Kirsten, spoke highly of him.. More important difference from today is that at the time both the media and the public knew the difference singing in opera and "playing an opera singer on TV" or rather in the movies. At least this is what I believe, this was before my time. Today though all these crossover singers are labelled "opera stars" and public buys it. This is why I'd rather we don't have this type of rubbish on TV but rather some legitimate opera singers.

Thanks for the very wise words. I've put off looking up clips of that show, since I feared exactly what your described, but I'm sure I'll weaken soon. TIM

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected