When professionals can’t do it either…

A friend of mine who works as a professional chorus member recently ended up travelling home on the train alongside a string-player, who had played on the dread ITV ‘Popstar to Operastar‘ programme that week. In talking about their respective jobs, the string-player was expressing her absolute shock at the manner in which one of the singing coaches on the panel  had needed to record their aria.

Popstar to Operstar logoEach week, both of the professional singers on the panel act as vocal coach or mentor to some of the ‘celebrities’ battling to put to the sword another famous aria before the great viewing public; sometimes, as a ‘this is how it should be done’ demonstration, one or other of them will perform an aria for the audience. The aria is pre-recorded, and then broadcast during the programme.

Now, this particular string-player was recounting how one member had got up to record their aria, and nailed it in one or two takes. The other, however, had to record their aria line by line.

Let me repeat that: line by line.

If someone sets out to act as a vocal coach, mentoring people through the myriad intricacies of classical singing and performance technique, with a recording and performing career of their own, is it not reasonable to assume they can deliver the goods when required ? I’m not sure precisely how many lines were in the aria they were recording that week, but that does seem an excessive way to have to record the piece.

I have no evidence to support this story; it’s simply been recounted. I’d love to know if it were true, though…


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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