Having finally got round to watching the first episode of BBC2's Maestro at the Opera on the iPlayer, I can't say I'm impressed. The celebrity competition format doesn't bother me, and the individual celebs themselves are far more personable than you find in most programmes of this type.
But for a show that's supposed to demystify the black art of conducting, it's a dismal failure. And as for tempting opera virgins to give it a go, I'm not convinced that a few scrappy snatches of popular arias will change anyone's mind. Charlotte and Jonathan on BGT have probably done ten times as much to promote the art - and with greater skill.
The various experts say it's hard, the contestants say they're nervous, and that's about it. As in the earlier series, Maestro, nobody outlines what a conductor actually does, nor the practical activities necessary to bring a performance from page to stage.
Instead, it's intimated that nothing matters except body language. One contestant is criticised for moving too much, another for moving too mechanically, yet I can think of highly successful conductors (Andris Nelsons and Bernard Haitink respectively) who've risen to the top of their profession despite these 'faults'. Can that really be all there is to this taxing profession? Although it's mentioned in passing that the contestants rehearsed with the orchestra, there's no indication of what went on. Did they establish tempo, balance, phrasing, expression and ensemble? Or did they simply practice standing there waving their arms about?
You wouldn't expect a programme about climbing Everest to consist of a bloke standing at the foot of the mountain telling you it's very big. But that's how Maestro at the Opera tackles conducting.
I can't say I'm disappointed, but that's only because my expectations were low in the first place. On the plus side, Danielle de Niese has emerged as the surprise star of the judging panel with her observant, constructive and tactfully-put pronouncements.
The excerpt above is the only one I could find online; it should give non-UK readers some idea of the general standard of the show.