Out of tune is out of tune…whoever is singing.

”That’s DREADFUL!” my wife yelled at the television this weekend, as I was watching bits of this year’s Glastonbury Festival. ”It’s SO out of tune!”

album coverTo be fair, she was right: and she’s a professional singer, so she should know. I was disappointed as well; we were watching Elbow’s slot, which was shockingly out of tune. I’ve written elsewhere about my enthusiasm for Elbow, with their intelligent lyrics and songs that reward multiple hearings, and their album, Build A Rocket, Boys!, released earlier this year, has kept on growing in my affections. But this live session was pretty frightful: so I turned it off.

So I was outraged when, later on, we changed channels to – Popstar to Operastar, which my wife watches religiously. For anyone who hasn’t suffered this travesty passing as popular entertainment, stars are plucked from the world of pop, and each week have to sing an aria from classical opera or other well-known piece; previously, these have ranged from Nessun Dorma to Volare and the ‘Love Theme’ from The Godfather. Some of them are popstars long confined to Pop Jail, who are looking for a platform to revive a career long since passed into the doldrums. I have little time to listen to music as it is, and I certainly don’t want to hear people singing pieces badly when I am able to.

In their defence, it is something of a challenge for pop singers to master major arias in a week, particularly if the songs are in a foreign language, but it’s a pretty terrible panoply of pop singers willing to sacrifice their dignity on a Sunday night. One risks hearing music being sung badly whenever you turn on the radio – and Radio 3 can be just as guilty as ClassicFM of broadcasting performances by singers which are astonishingly mediocre – or going to hear live performances; it’s part of the joys (and perils) of being a music consumer. But turning on a programme where you’re guaranteed to hear performances ranging from the cringingly mediocre to the breathtakingly awful – senseless, surely. (And don’t start muttering about ‘The Journey’ and ‘How Far They Come,’ it won’t wash).

Here’s a small example: try to stick with it for as long as you can…

So I can’t fathom why my wife watches it, or indeed why anyone would. Especially when she wants out-of-tune live stage sessions by Elbow turned off. It doesn’t matter what you’re singing, or to whom: out of tune is out of tune. Elbow were somewhat disappointing: but Popstar to Operastar is simply hideous.

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3 Responses

  1. I hate ‘Popstar To Operastar’! It’s ‘I’m A Celebrity…’ for people who want to think they’re way above the rest of us. I did see the series where Marcella Detroit of Shakespear’s Sister was on, but she had an advantage over everyone else vocally. In this current series I resent the audience whooping crazily when the barely talented Joe McElderry is on.

    Another example of a professional singer being horrendously off-key is Ian Gillan of Deep Purple singing ‘Black Night’ on a recent Montreux Jazz Festival performance (around the 90’s) – the Vintage channel used to show this a lot and I am surprised Deep Purple didn’t exercise more quality control before allowing this out.

    • Its nature as a singing contest has been replaced by its function as a popularity contest, whereby viewers vote for their favourite celebrity rather than who performs the best. I’m reminded of John Sargent in ‘Strictly Come Dancing;’ another instance of the public expressing their affection rather than choosing the best dancer.

      It’s time to stop pretending such shows are about talent.

      (I’ll have to hunt for the Deep Purple footage: it sounds horrendous!).

  2. I watch it, because to quote Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, there is a ‘fascination with the abomination’!
    It is imposssible in the space of the length of the series that any of these pop stars will have learnt what it takes many years to fine tune [pardon the pun] and begins with a beautiful instument. There is the most important issue – which appears to be forgotton on this show.
    My interest also is ignited because as a singing teacher of degree students, I often suggest they watch to view faults we may have discussed in their lessons.

    The most ludicrous thing that itrritates me beyong measure is that the pop stars still sing with microphones against the pared-down orchestra, which has them failing at the first of many hurdles! You’d be laughed off the stage if noone could hear you in an opera house! Quality of tone appears to be forgotten in the ‘crash course’ offered by the mentors – one of whom has never been an opera star at all!
    Perhaps the expectations of the series might be altered if it was called something other than ‘Popstar to Operastar’ – this concept can only fail.

    However, any show that proves how difficult it is to conduct, be a classical singer, be a professional dancer has to be good for the Arts. Then when the audience see something of quality, they know the years of blood, sweat, toil, financial impoverishment and love that have brought it to this point. It is proof of the old addage – ‘you get out what you put in’.

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