Dame Kiri te Kanawa switches from opera to soap opera this autumn with a part in the next series of Downton Abbey. Her one-off role won't draw too heavily on her acting talents - she plays an opera singer who entertains a private gathering of posh titled folk.
Also recruited is tenor and Proms favourite Julian Ovenden, who has turned his classical training to the dark side with a highly successful career in musical theatre. Duet, anyone?
Obviously, the programme makers have had to be selective, and a US bias in both the music explored and the talking heads who explain it ultimately make the series less of a historical overview than an attempt to contextualise contemporary American art music, in the fashion of Alex Ross'sThe Rest is Noise.
Nevertheless it's worth seeing, at the very least for the amount of rare footage dug up. Stravinsky discussing The Rite of Spring and Gershwin playing tennis with Schoenberg are amongst the early highlights.
The first of three episodes was sneaked out last night - watch here if you missed out.
Their next task is to race round London sourcing props for Calixto Bieito's upcoming ENO Carmen as cheaply as possible. The team that returns to the Coliseum with
the most items for the least dosh wins.
His Zurich Opera Tosca and Carmen will be shown in full, in HD, and without breaks, together with the first and last act of the Met's Faust. In between we're promised an interview, a serenade and "musical surprises".
I'm not sure if/how you can get hold of this outside Germany, so any ideas are welcome.
Thanks to reader Michael for the following technical details about Tele 5 access in the UK:
Tele 5 Deutschland is
available, free to air
in standard definition only, on the 19.2 E Astra 1M satellite. This satellite
carries nearly all the German TV channels including ARTE. In the UK a 60 cm
dish pointing in the right direction is usually sufficient. Technical details
for Tele 5 Deutschland are: frequency 12480, vertical polarisation, SR 27500,
FEC 3/4. There is also Tele 5 Austria in standard definition on the same
satellite at 11244, horizontal polarisation SR 22000 FEC 5/6.
The HD channels for Tele
5 are encrypted and require a viewer card from the likes of Sky Germany.
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.
Once Act 2 of the real show is done, Maestro Bychkov will make way for the BBC's contest winner, who will 'conduct' another Act 2, this time purely for the BBC's cameras. After this, the real show will resume with Act 3.
This arrangement avoids the need to build the complex Act 2 set twice in one night. But it may not go down well with certain customers, or to be totally accurate, their husbands. They had expected the filming to begin after Act 4, leaving them free to escape it altogether and go home at a more reasonable hour.
Luckily there are usually some highly-recommended divorce lawyers in the audience.
Thanks to reader hippoes for pursuing this with the ROH:
If you've watched anything at all on BBC TV over the last few days, you're no doubt already heartily sick of the trailer for Maestro at the Opera. If not, here goes.
The three part series is ostensibly an opera conducting competition between actress Josie Lawrence, Oxford professor of mathematics Marcus du Sautoy, DJ Trevor Nelson and Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, but along the way we are promised interviews and anecdotes from people who actually know what they're talking about. Sir Mark Elder, Danielle de Niese and Concertgebouw bass player Dominic Seldis are the judges.
The first hour long episode will be broadcast on Friday 4 May at 9pm on BBC2/HD and repeated on Monday 7 May 2012 at midnight on HD.
Part of the final show will be filmed at the Royal Opera House on Saturday 5 May, after that evening's performance of La bohème (already sold out).
Opera is the focus of the next episode of the Sky Arts series First Love, in which celebs revisit their earliest attempts at music making, with professional assistance. The aim is to survive a buttock-clenching live performance at the end of the show.
The Lady Frederick Windsor, aka actress and former budding soprano Sophie Winkleman, is the willing victim this time round. Her challenge is to sing Quando m’en Vo from La bohème at the King's Head opera pub. She'll be mentored by Sarah Tynan, who has sung Musetta, and advised by Marina Poplavskaya, who hasn't (as far as I know). But at least Nice Hair should be guaranteed.
I asked for a clip from the show, but apparently they have none, so you'll have to make do with a photo. (Rather like trying to sell a car without offering a test drive, so serves them right if nobody watches.)
The show is first aired on Sky Arts 1 on 28 February, with repeats to follow.
I wonder when Rolando Villazon was taking his first tentative steps towards a career in opera if he ever dreamed that one day he'd find himself beneath the searing lights of a Salford theatre with a microphone clamped to his jaw, Hayley Westenra at his side and HRH the Princess Royal tucked away somewhere in the audience.
Last night's Royal Variety Show, all four hours of it, was recorded by ITV to be shown in an edited version (i.e. possibly Rolando-less) on 14 December. Personally I think you'd have to be a very, very big fan.
Terry Gilliam's Nazi-tasting ENO production of The Damnation of Faust is to air on BBC4 this autumn.
The director himself will introduce the work for TV.
In recent years, opera on BBC TV has been the near-exclusive preserve of the Royal Opera House. While ENO have teamed up with Sky Arts for a series of gimmicks like '"3-D Lucrezia" and "Multiview Bohème", I can't remember when one of their productions last aired on a terrestrial channel. Could this signal a longer-term switch in BBC affiliations?
Nearly a year later than originally advertised, finally Graham Vick's 2009 production of Otello for Birmingham Opera Company makes it to the teeny-weeny screen. Set in a former industrial plant, the action unfolds in and around the audience. On the iPlayer until 26 February.