After the fiasco of Popstar to Operastar, the BBC is having a go at finding an opera star of the future. Dame Kiri leads the procedings and the winner gets to sing at Proms in the Park and to take a three-week course at the Solti Te Kanawa Academy in Italy. It is called, of course, The Kiri Prize.
It still seems extraordinary that the public by and large thinks operatic singing can happen by magic. It doesn't. It takes years of hard work and careful voice management and...well, it's likely you know this already because you're reading my blog, but why Radio2 has to grab a gimmick like this is mystifying, because the existing operatic and vocal competitions are already finding new stars all the time. Like this one:
The Kathleen Ferrier Awards at the Wigmore Hall are just over and the winner is the South African baritone Njabulo Madlala (above). Hilary Finch was seriously impressed by him: read her review here. Meanwhile Placido Domingo's Operalia is running at the moment - this is the contest that helped to find Villazon, amongst others. Final is on 2 May. Cardiff Singer of the World found Hvorostovsky and Terfel in the same year, and has also kick-started the careers of Inger Dam Jensen, Karita Mattila and more recently Elizabeth Watts.
There are plenty of wonderful young singers in the world just waiting for a chance to be heard. But I'm not convinced that The Kiri Prize is necessarily a good way discover them. Just imagine the pressure to go crossover on the spot. Any successful youngster in Britain is almost expected to throw themselves instantly over the waterfall that is our seemingly insatiable appetite for the downmarket and the naff. And from that position it's almost impossible to move anywhere but further downmarket: what chance now that the classical market will ever accept Katherine Jenkins as a true operatic mezzo? But as Madlala has just proved - and he comes from a South African township - the best route is always up.
[UPDATE, 3 MAY: On the other hand...Please have a look at the comment below from 'Anon', who is participating in the contest. His/her experience suggests that it is not as downmarket as the outward aspect might lead us to believe - good news indeed.]
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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