Opera: season with fear

I read the news that the BBC is launching a new series across its major networks devoted to opera with some trepidation. Not because opera is not perhaps my favourite art-form, hem hem. I welcome any cultural exploration on the television – I’m currently watching Francesco’s Venice with great enthusiasm, as well as Owen Sheers’ Art of the Sea – and classical music, for my money, is often poorly over-looked by television outside of the BBC  Prom season.

But as I read the article in Gramophone, my heart sank.  As part of the season exploring opera, Rick Stein will be offering a “look at the parallels between food and cooking, with a gastronomic look at Italian opera,” I learn. And the titanic, sprawling controversy that is the music of Richard Wagner will be investigated by – Stephen Fry.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love Stephen Fry. But if I want an analysis of Wagner’s music, an examination of his mammoth operas and an insight into the innovations he wrought in harmony and tonality, I might not look to Stephen Fry straight away. Nor do I expect profound insights into the Italian opera tradition to be revealed by focusing on cooking with Rick Stein.

I like the idea that classical music, even opera, is the subject of a season of programmes: hell, I might even learn to like opera myself. But if ‘twere done, then ‘twere best done properly, by specialists who really know their stuff. The promised programmes by Antonio Pappano, investigating the role of opera in the musical life of the country, sounds excellent. But the nation-wide search by Radio 3 for the nation’s favourite operatic aria fills me with dread: presenter Rob Cowan talking of ”an exciting battle for the top spot” when the top ten are announced in June.

I’ll be watching, and listening, with interest. But a little trepidation too. Will you ?

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