Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A pain in the arias

Just when you thought that the dead donkey of reality TV had endured its final flogging, along limps one more attempt at stirring emotional contestants, excitable audiences and humourless judges into a grey sludge of schedule-filling desperation. ITV's Popstar to Operastar (is that even a word?) takes successful pop singers and, well, you can probably guess the rest from the title.

But even though the show itself is as surprising as an episode of The Waltons, its nothing compared with the painfully predictable outcry from the opera enthusiasts who rushed to condemn this bastardisation of their art.

Leading the charge like Braveheart in a cravat, is Telegraph 'culture critic' Rupert Christiansen, who adopts such an elitist air it's likely he'd turn himself away from his own birthday party. You see, Rupert 'gets' opera - he can name-drop Die Meistersinger von N├╝rnberg, whereas the rest of us have trouble telling Westlife from Boyzone.

The contestants are 'hysterical', the audience 'moronic' and the judges 'mediocre' - but the show's greatest abuse is the way it handles the music itself. Reading the bitter, angry article, you can picture Rupert, indignantly coughing up globs of Foie Gras, as some oik out of Pop Idol butchers that song off of the football:

"All it presents is a few B and C list celebrities singing some familiar operatic numbers, using mikes. There is no attempt to present anything in dramatic context, and the arias are cut and transposed."

Honestly, next you'll be telling me that the celebrities on Masterchef aren't really chefs.

Whatever you do, don't try and tell him that it's about 'bringing opera to the masses' - "I shall explode" he promises. In fact, Rupert believes that the show will put people off opera, "confirming prejudices that it is something naff, cheesy and banal".

I think he's got it wrong. It's the aloof, inaccessible snobbery that people find so off-putting, and the idea that you need to have written a Masters thesis on La cambiale di matrimonio to even be able to buy a ticket. In fact, precisely the kind of supercilious tone that he evidences throughout his critique.

Once again, it's a case of real culture versus popular culture, and for Telegraph readers there can only ever be one winner. Broadsheets frown on 'dumbing down' and the need for emphasis through repetition.

So it's ironic that Christiansen was recycling an almost identical article that he'd published two weeks previously, slating the show for exactly the same shortcomings. Although at least in the former piece he was imaginative enough condemn the series without having actually seen it.

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