Entertainment & Arts

Popstar to Operastar: Making opera more popular?

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Media captionAndy Bell swaps dance beats for opera

Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame performing Offenbach's Barcarolle. A former Pussycat Doll singing the role of Carmen.

These unlikely performances were seen on the first edition of Popstar to Operastar, the ITV1 show which sees high culture collide with reality television.

Back for a second season, the show has been promoted to the lucrative Sunday evening slot, previously inhabited by the likes of Dancing On Ice and The X Factor.

This season, those stars performing operatic arias to win the approval of the judges and the public include Joe McElderry, ironically a former winner of Simon Cowell's talent juggernaut.

But does this show stand any hope of making viewers more likely to attend the real deal, or is it reducing opera to the lowest common denominator?

Christopher Millard of The Royal Opera House has an upbeat view of the programme's contribution.

Image caption Ex-Pussycat Doll Melody Thornton tried her hand at Carmen

"Anything that introduces anyone to something they haven't encountered before and then decide to take further is a great thing. Popstar to Operastar does that.

"Art forms like opera are shrouded in mystery and mystique and these programmes explain what the life of an opera star is like.

"There is an appetite for opera and now it can be seen in cinemas, people are going."

But Mr Millard strikes a note of caution about just how far Popstar to Operastar will motivate ordinary TV viewers off their sofas and into an opera house.

"We don't have any expectation that a TV programme is directly going to affect our box office."

He adds it is "asking a lot of the programme" to lead viewers headlong into the world of opera.

"They're creating some great Sunday evening TV."

John Allison, editor of Opera Magazine, takes a dim view of marrying reality with opera.

"TV and opera can go together in all sorts of creative ways, but this is out of touch with what opera is all about and the incredible degree of professionalism required," he explains.

"Not only are the contestants hopeless as potential opera stars, but they are frankly failed pop stars.

"The whole thing is quite gruesome. It seems to involve just untalented mediocrities."

He adds that some opera professionals may "feel slighted" by this "flippant representation" of the art form, while the show's coach and judge Katherine Jenkins has yet to grace the operatic stage.

Mr Allison also believes that Popstar to Operastar is not the best way to bring opera to a wider audience.

"Last year, there was a season of opera on the BBC that did some good, interesting work and I'm sure drew a lot of people in. At least that took the art form seriously.

"There are some other places where people might encounter opera. There are far better ways to get them interested."

Mr Allison also says the BBC's Cardiff Singer of the World competition is a good example of opera on TV, which showcases "properly trained and serious artists".

Opera converts

US singer Marcella Detroit, who took part in the first series and finished in third place, has evidence that the show succeeded in creating new opera devotees.

"There were fans of mine who were saying they never enjoyed opera and learnt to appreciate it because of the show.

Image caption Rolando Villazon and Katherine Jenkins act as the show's mentors and judges

"I had a lot of people say they hadn't been interested in it and enjoyed what I was doing. They said they would listen to some more opera and look into going to some productions.

"It was the hardest thing that I'd ever done musically but rekindled my love for classical music which I'd always appreciated."

The star, whose lilting vocals graced the hits of pop duo Shakespears Sister, acknowledges the opposition to the first series of Popstar to Operastar and its huge challenges - but is adamant that it serves a purpose.

"There were a lot of purists saying this was impossible for these singers to do justice to and didn't know why we were attempting it.

"They may think that but they're missing the whole point - it's about bringing that kind of music to people who may not have enjoyed it, understood it or appreciated it before."

Popstar to Operastar is shown on ITV1 on Sunday evenings at 2000 BST.

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