tue 23/09/2014

Maestro at the Opera, BBC Two | Opera reviews, news & interviews

Maestro at the Opera, BBC Two

Opera deserves better than untrained celebs conducting arias at Covent Garden

Craig Revel Horwood: Toreador?

Even in this age of desperate reality TV, you have to have doubts about any show that tries to convert “celebrities” into serious contenders in an alien field. Is it serious or a padded-out joke? To an extent we’ve been here, or close by, before. Can it be four years since the first Maestro came to our screens, featuring eight celebrity contestants vying for the chance to wield the baton at the Proms and, eventually, launching the winner, Sue Perkins (narrator this time), on a new career as a comedy conductor?

On the basis that if it worked once as a novelty, it might work again given a decent interval, the BBC have dusted down the formula and given it an extra gear.  Last time the contestants “only” had to conduct an orchestra at the Proms. This time it’s opera - an aria in the Royal Opera House, no less. Even the judges are vying for celebrity status. What is Sir Mark Elder as host and chairman of the judges doing in this malarkey?  I’m all for building bridges between the cultural elite and the popular, but I’d rather keep Sir Mark for what he does best – conducting the Halle Orchestra (and others) and opera proper.

The problem with the show is basic: what is the point and who cares anyway?

Anyway, in this first of three programmes, we got to meet the celebs – the effervescent singer/actor Josie Lawrence, the Oxford Maths Professor Marcus du Sautoy (also seeking TV popularity), choreographer Craig  Revel Horwood (Strictly Come Dancing‘s Mr Grumpy, aiming to exhibit some humility) and Trevor Nelson, the Radio 1 DJ who thinks classical music is posh. Throw into the mix a few other celebs, like Lesley Garrett, enthusing about the genre, and Sir Antonio Pappano, intermittently giving some constructive narrative, and you get a bit of top-spin. Mind you, in this muddled production, director Sam Grace dispensed with them part way through.

No one ever said conducting was easy and the programme did provide some insight into the demands - knowledge, technique, energy, stamina and communication skills. So, we watched as the participants grappled with the demands from the basics, through intensive training at the Purcell Centre, on to working with singers, conducting an orchestra and, finally, facing an audience and the three judges: Elder, soprano Danielle de Niese and double bassist Dominic Sedis (both pictured above right with Elder). Nerve-wracking to be sure.

Each was given an aria to work on – and perform. Lawrence, a conductor feeling for the singer and the song, tackled the "Habanera" from Carmen. Nelson took a minimalist and detached approach to "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi. Du Sautoy, likened to “an axe murderer” by the Purcell tutor, seemed to take Donizetti’s Lucia seriously, though somewhat cold and scientific. And. predictably, Revel Horwood was camp and extravagant with "The Toreador Song" from Carmen.

The climax was, of course, the firing of one of them, rather like The Apprentice, though not as gripping. The judges went into a huddle. There was a hush in the hall. Elder pronounced du Sautoy and Revel Horwood to go forward. The orchestra voted between the other two: Lawrence survived, Nelson got fired. And, in true pop style, there was much whooping from the audience.

But the problem with the show is basic: what is the point and who cares anyway? In that sense, for this viewer at any rate, the supposed competitive element is missing. It’s only supposed to be an hour of light entertainment at the end of the week. But the opera world deserves much better representation than this.

Comments

I watched the first episode

I watched the first episode of this series despite myself (a seasoned operagoer, frittering away my pension on tickets) and then kind of had to see the other episodes...... The last one had me whimpering, with my blood pressure way up with the worry of it all. At one point I was watching through fingers covering my face - not because the two remaining contestants were bad, but this was for real. I love the ROH, and I couldn't imagine what Craig & Marcus must be going through. I agree to some point that it might bring non operagoers in - and if only a few were so inspired it must be good. However, I was thinking most of the time, "what is the point of this exercise?"

As a veteran opera goer,

As a veteran opera goer, music graduate, teacher and amateur conductor I have listened to Boheme numerous times, without once thinking about the technical dfficulties of conducting Act 2. I watched this with initial scepticism, but growing admiration for Craig RH. He was transformed from a bottom -wiggling naughty boy into a bona fide conductor. (ps I once had the chance to work for Mark Elder but turned it down as the pay was so bad - worst mistake of my life?)

I'm not sure why the review

I'm not sure why the review refers to Donizetti's Lucia. The aria conducted by Marcus du Sautoy was Una furtiva lagrima from l'elisir d'amore; one of the most famous arias in the opera repertory and definitely not from Lucia

I cannot find on any site

I cannot find on any site when the next opera will be so rudley interrupted. You don't mess with Opera Goers

A friend was at the Friday

A friend was at the Friday night's production. Simply Monstrous that the Covent Garden audience had to suffer such unwarrented disruption. Meant that people missed their last train home, had to find a hotel room. The managemant say they will return the price of the ticket. Certainly that but better still NO more such ruined evenings. Let the BBC properly fund the reality show -yuk- not off the back of a bona fide Opera House audience. Disgraceful! I am now worried that tomorrow's La Fille du Regiment will be similarly disrupted. Cannot find anywhere on line when the next crass performance might be Can you help?

While it is a shame that the

While it is a shame that the audience were inconvenienced by the competition they were forewarned and could have chosen another night. I say three cheers for the four celebrities who had the courage to step out of their comfort zone and to tackle such daunting challenges. My admiration for conductors like Mark Elder is enhanced and every time I go the opera in future I shall be more aware of what it takes to provide the flawless performances that we have come to expect. ... and who knows, may be the series was watched by some people who have never been to the opera. Perhaps they will now be tempted to put their toe in the water. If so, Mark Elder has achieved something very worthwhile.

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