Friday, 04 May 2012

Television Reviews: 4 May

Written by Michael Moran


Baton down the hatches

Michael Moran stays at home for a night at the opera

Michael-Moran1Conducting an orchestra is one of those jobs that looks, at first blush, almost comically easy. We can't have people thinking that though. Once we allow that brandishing a stick at a roomful of violinists is easy it's but a short step to thinking that watching TV and dashing off a few bons mots isn't particularly hard, either. And once people start thinking that way, what kind of world are weliving in?

So I was quite pleased when, in 2008, the BBC had the idea of handing a bunch of celebrities a baton each and ushering them into a concert hall to do their worst. But after only one run Maestro seemed to vanish – leaving Sue Perkins the undisputed champion of the amateur wand-wavers.

Against all expectation, Maestro has now returned, retitled Maestro At The Opera (Friday at 9pm, BBC Two). My TV watching expertise told me almost immediately that this new series requires plucky celebrities to conduct an entire opera company.

We have just four contenders for the crown. The sole female entrant is Josie Lawrence, once best known for her improvisational comedy on Whose Line Is It Anyway? but now probably more easily recognised by a wider audience as Manda Best from EastEnders. I'm not entirely confident of success for Josie. Not when she was, in her words 'shaking so much she couldn't do the triangles'.

Soul and funk DJ Trevor Nelson is perhaps looking for the surprise connection with classical music that served jungle and breakbeat DJ Goldie so well in the first series. Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood pops up to add another string to his reality bow. He has choreographed operas in the past, but my personal tip for triumph is Marcus Du Sautoy, who brings his prodigious mathematical skills to bear on the challenge.

Members of the orchestra are interviewed after the performances to give appraisals of the hopefuls' efforts so far. Alfie Boe and Lesley Garrett are also waiting in the wings with expert analysis.

For opera neophytes it's an engaging introduction. Even serious aficionados, given that everyone involved approaches the enterprise with such good-natured enthusiasm, can't fail to be charmed. Maestro At The Opera educates, informs and entertains. Perfectly Reithian. Well done BBC.

If Maestro At The Opera whets your appetite for the lowdown on high culture it's worth noting that Sky Arts is running L'Opera National's performance of John Neumeier's La Dame Aux Camelias (Saturday at 4.45pm).

It's immediately followed by an illuminating 'making of' documentary that shows just how the Dumas novel, which also inspired La Traviata, was adapted for the ballet. For lovers of ballet, especially lovers of ballet who want to know how it all happens backstage, it's three solid hours of luxury.

But remember, watching TV all day isn't easy. Honest.

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